The following post reflects the questions and the general thrust of the candidates’ answers. They are not exact quotes and are not meant to be; however, they are accurate based on my notes and having attended the forum. AGP Video video taped the entire forum. You can watch entire forum on streaming video by clicking here. It helps if you have high speed internet. The three candidates for 4th District Supervisor squared off at the NCSD building Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in a moderated candidate forum. Below is a shot of the three candidates giving their closing remarks.
Katcho giving his closing remarks. Katcho’s Official Website
Chris McSweeny giving his closing remarks.
Judith Wirsing giving her closing remarks.
There were several questions each candidate answered. Unfortunately, the questions were prepared well in advance of the forum and the questions were given to each candidate to allow them to prepare their responses in advance. This was particularly helpful for one of the candidates (more on that later); however, it did very little to let the public know about how well versed the candidates truly are in the issues affecting Nipomo and the South County. Nevertheless, any forum that allows the public to meet the candidates running for office is a good thing. I will post the questions posed and brief responses of each of the candidates, as well as my thoughts on their responses.
Question 1: The South County is at 60% build out. In the future are you in favor of General Plan Amendments (GPA’s) that allow more density?
Candidate McSweeny: He is against GPA’s. He looks at projects like Crystal Oaks and the Woodlands and sees high density. Nipomo cannot continue to approve GPA’s and remain rural. Both Mr. McSweeny and Ms. Wirsing in their opening remarks made it very clear that they are single issue candidates. That single issue is Growth.
Candidate Achadijian: Katcho pointed out that not all GPA’s necessarily result in higher density. He takes each GPA as a separate issue and considers it on its own merits. He pointed out that he supports the projects the community supports, and that he does not support projects or GPA’s not supported by the community. His examples included Cypress Ridge, and Nipomo Hills. Neither project received community support. As a result he did not vote for these GPA’s. He also pointed out that twice he has been instrumental in lowering the growth cap in Nipomo, and also restructuring the TDC program.
Candidate Wirsing: She does not support GPA’s. She said there would be no GPA’s if she is a supervisor. She claims that since 1989 Nipomo has experienced explosive growth. Her entire campaign, like Mr. McSweeny is based on Growth, with a sub issue of Water. She claims there is “uncontrolled growth” but has not defined what it is. She talked about pumping depressions of the NCSD wells, and supplemental water.
My impressions: I think it dangerous to take a position as a candidate that under no circumstances will you support a GPA, before even knowing about what the project is, or the reason a GPA is sought. Not all GPA’s necessarily result in greater density. Katcho seems to have a more reasoned approach to GPA’s. If the GPA is supported by the community and the NCAC, then Katcho will support it. It the community does not support it, then Katcho will vote against it. This has been his track record, and is the common sense approach.
Question 2: If the community opposes a GPA, how will that affect your vote?
Candidate Achadijian: He does follow NCAC recommendations, as cited in the example above. He again pointed out that not every GPA means density. He cited the example of a resident on Cactus Street to change the zoning from commercial to a residential zone so the young couple could borrow money from the bank and stay in their home. Every GPA has to be looked at on its own merits.
Candidate Wirsing: Claims there needs to be reform, and that there will be no GPA’s. She then talked about bringing stability to the community without water moratoriums. Growth needs to come under control. Supplemental water is not a foundation for growth. She then showed her graphs about the pumping depressions, and another about water levels. If we don’t keep our water at safe levels then we will have sea water intrusion and we won’t have a healthy community.
Candidate McSweeny: He actually got an answer back to the focus of the question. He believes it important to listen to people and find out what they want. He knows the advisory council listens to many people, and then acts upon a majority of the people. He will listen to the NCAC on issues, and will also go out and listen to people himself.
My impressions: I think Katcho’s answer matches his record as 4th District Supervisor. He answered the question directly, and completely. He did not side track the question to talk about unrelated issues. Ms. Wirsing was the exact opposite. She talked about charts and graphs showing pumping depressions and water levels. She also discussed sea water intrusion, and the health of the community. She again repeated her claim there would never be any further GPA’s. Apparently she would rather have had that young couple have to move out of her home, absent the GPA the community supported as did Katcho. Mr. McSweeny actually brought his answer back to the topic of the question. He answered the question well, and directly. Both he and Katcho appear to be close on this issue; but, I’m not sure how his earlier disapproval of GPA’s fits this response. It seems that if the community wants a GPA, then the supervisor ought to support it.
Question 3 The Nipomo growth cap is 1.8%, but the growth on the mesa is at 7% how can this be brought under control?
Candidate Wirsing: The new growth cap needs to be taken seriously and be counted. We will follow the South County General Plan, and not GPA’s. Since 1999, when Katcho took office, uncontrolled growth has continued. The ground water basin was in overdraft by this time. The Woodlands was approved with special treatment. The Woodlands doesn’t have to keep any pumping records. The Woodlands was exempted from the growth cap. Again, there is uncontrolled growth. To be a supervisor, one needs to take in the whole picture.
Candidate McSweeny: Not everything is covered by a growth cap, i.e., low income housing. You need to look at the big picture. Again, there is a water shortage and an infrastructure problem. Things will get worse. Perhaps we need to reduce the growth cap, and bring everything else in line. The present administration has not done that. Are you happy with what you see?
Candidate Achadijian: The reason that the community grows beyond the growth cap, is that state law exempts low income housing and secondary dwelling. The county does not control state law. The Woodlands was in the making for over 16 years and did not go forward until they had a Memorandum of Understanding with the local NCSD elected officials. If you want to change the impact of growth caps, then change state law.
My impressions: Again, Ms. Wirsing spent a great deal of time discussing water shortages and uncontrolled growth. She did not address the exceptions to growth caps such as affordable housing or secondary dwellings. She talks a great deal about uncontrolled growth, but doesn’t bother to define what that means, or say how specifically she can or will as a supervisor make there be actual growth that correlates exactly to the current growth cap. Both Mr. McSweeny and Katcho understand that not everything counts under the growth caps, despite Ms. Wirsing’s instance that it be so. Mr. McSweeny does suggest a lower growth cap, than even 1.8%. He doesn’t explain how he will convince two other supervisors on the board to go along with that suggestion, while at the same time lambasting the entire “administration” or board of supervisors of essentially being pro growth. Mr. McSweeny asks, do you like what you see? You need to do more than ask rhetorical questions to be an effective supervisor.
Question 4: If Nipomo incorporates, how will this affect the county, and do you want Nipomo to incorporate:
Candidate McSweeny: Incorporation would not affect the county much. It is up to the people in the community on whether to incorporate. There is not a sufficient tax base to support incorporation. He believes incorporation is good, for local control issues. When there is economic feasibility we should talk more about incorporation.
Candidate Achadijian: This is a local decision up to the local residents to decide. The county won’t and can’t decide this. All the county can do is put the issue on the ballot. Incorporation will not affect the county because the law requires a revenue neutral incorporation.
Candidate Wirsing: As a resident she would want the ground water to be stable, the infrastructure to be adequate, flooding issues addressed, and the impacts of future development addressed. Incorporation would be decided by the vote of the people.
My impressions: I actually liked Mr. McSweeny’s answer the best on incorporation. He was the only one who actually addressed the biggest benefit to the community: local control. Katcho will support incorporation if the community supports incorporation. This is consistent with his style of governing and his past statements on the issue. I believe Katcho is supportive of incorporation generally, based on my past years of working on this issue with him and others. Ms. Wirsing’s response didn’t make much sense to me. Is she saying all of Nipomo’s problems with ground water, infrastructure, and flooding have to be resolved before Nipomo incorporates? Ms. Wirsing has long opposed incorporation. Her opposition is a matter of public record, in local letters to the editor. In short, Ms. Wirsing is no friend to the incorporation movement, even if there were sufficient funds and tax base.
Question 5: When will water extraction from the mesa be at 6,000 acre feet per year?
Candidate Achadijian: If he could predict the weather this would help knowing about how much recharge the basin is getting. The NCSD is really in control of local water issues, such as the supplemental water agreement with Santa Maria, which will really help determine safe water yields. The county supports the NCSD efforts for supplemental water. The new water should not be paid for by current NCSD residents.
Candidate Wirsing: The current water basin is in a delicate situation. Population is the number on factor in its current health and status. Rainfall is crucial in recharging the basin. Santa Maria is selling 3,000 acre feet of water per year to Nipomo. Rainfall is not a reliable source of recharge for the basin. Out of control growth must be curtailed. The current supervisor must think out of control growth is a good thing.
Candidate McSweeny: Can’t control the weather; but, we can plan in advance up to 20 or 30 years into the future. We obviously need supplemental water. There is no good quick answer to this problem. It will take further research. There are varying opinions on water. He doesn’t really know who is correct.
My impressions: First, I think the question presupposes a critical fact, that 6,000 acre feet extraction is a safe yield. I’m not sure that is accurate, and I don’t think anyone else knows. But, the fact remains the county has little control on local water policy. While water and growth are important 4th District issues, they are not the only issues. The local NCSD, of which Ms. Wirsing is a board member has the absolute authority to declare a water shortage such that it would require a halt to all building, immediately. Yet, Ms. Wirsing for all her talk about water shortages has never once, to my knowledge, introduced such a resolution to the local NCSD board. No one seemed to know if the figures used are correct, or how to insure this extraction level if in fact the figures are accurate.
Question 6: South County infrastructure has not kept up with new home construction. How would you correct this?
Candidate Wirsing: The current supervisor lives 20 miles away. The supervisor needs to drink the same water, and be affected by the same traffic problems we do in Nipomo. Out of control growth affects CDF and sheriff response times. Flooding and draining problems plague Nipomo. She claims Katcho has set aside $1.8 million to solve Nipomo’s flooding, then within a few days wants it all back in a tax assessment. She lives in the 4th District, and Nipomo for 17 years. She talks to the residents and knows what they want.
Candidate McSweeny: Infrastructure needs to be addressed. They have not collected enough money from the developers to build the roads. There is a lack of planning. The Woodlands developers will make a great deal of money on their project. Why didn’t we get their money up front? These developments should pay for the infrastructure for their developments. They need to pay their own way and not get a free ride. The logical resolution is to stop building right now and let infrastructure catch up. He admits this is not feasible.
Candidate Achadijian: Katcho points out the Woodlands was something he inherited. Regardless, the county is now working with current developers to improve infrastructure. There are new formulas now in place. One example is the extension of Mary Avenue to Hill Street. Willow Street is being expanded, before any development is put in around it. While more development is part of the problem, it is also part of the solution in helping generate revenues to build the roads.
My impressions: Ms. Wirsing forgets that the 4th District encompasses more than just Nipomo. It includes Oceano, Edena Valley, and other unincorporated areas in the south county. Katcho lives in Edna Valley, which is within the 4th District boundaries. People in Oceano could complain Ms. Wirsing lives in Nipomo, if they were short sighted enough to think that actually made a difference for the 4th district supervisor. Her initial personal attack against Katcho on this question reveals just how one dimensional her thinking is. She is focus solely on Nipomo, and solely on Nipomo’s growth and water. This does not bode well for the rest of the 4th District, if she is elected to this position.
Ms. Wirsing next attacked Katcho for his role in providing $1.8 million in flood relief funds. Her claim is that he wants a tax assessment to get that money back. The facts are that the County has allocated almost $3 million for flood relief county wide. Nipomo gets the majority of that money, $1.8 million. That is quite an accomplishment, given the realities that there are flooding problems all over San Luis Obispo County. There are other communities with other supervisors who rightfully get to share in these county funds.
What Katcho proposed for Nipomo residents to consider is that in order to raise further needed funds for flood control, perhaps the Nipomo residents should form a special assessment district to have a local body in charge assisting with the local flooding problems. There are other such special assessment proposals in other parts of the south county. The fact is that government services cost money. Someone has to pay for them. The local Nipomo flooding problems will not completely be solved by the allocation of this $1.8 million. How best should Nipomo approach the remainder of the problem? Well, one solution is to form such a tax assesment district to pay for the flooding solution. You can read further about the facts of this issue here. Katcho’s is a reasonable proposal, and one that allows Nipomo residents affected by flooding an opportunity to deal directly with the problem. If the affected residents are not interested in this possible solution, they can vote against the assessment, or not even consider it at all. Contrary to Ms. Wirsing’s suggestion, neither the county or Katcho is seeking to take back the $1.8 million allocated for the Nipomo flooding areas. Again, her comments reflect a poor understanding of this important local issue.
Mr. McSweeny, while admitting that infrastructure needs to be addressed did not really provide a realistic solution. His one solution, to stop building completely, by his own admission is not feasible.
Question 7: Camino Caballo will be used as an outlet from the Woodlands. There is little or no traffic enforcement. How will you help us?
Candidate McSweeny: There is an issue with fast traffic. He suggests stop signs and speed bumps where kids are dropped off and picked up from school. Another idea is to set up a radar unit like they have on Los Berros.
Candidate Wirsing: Nipomo wants to retain its rural character. Now as a community we must deal with the harsh realities of the Woodlands and their special status. They were to put up $44 million for Willow Road; but not it is only $4 million. Camino Caballo will take 15 % of the Woodlands traffic. This is about 450 cars each day. She will fight to keep Camino Caballo unpaved, and speak with the Woodlands Homeowners Association asking them not to use Camino Caballo. As a supervisor she will reach out to the sheriff’s department to patrol this road. When new developments come in the future it will have roads, water, and sewer systems before it is built.
Candidate Achadijian: Speed limits are set by studies of 85% of motorists speed average speed. He has sent letters to our state representatives complaining about the state formula used. It is state law that controls the speed limits. They are trying to change the current law.
My impressions: Mr. McSweeny has some common sense approaches to helping slow traffic with speed bumps and stop signs. Katcho also has some good ideas with working to change the formulas on changing the speed limits on some of the roads. Ms. Wirsing will need to review the duties of the sherriff’s department. In Nipomo, the sherriff has law enforcement duties, while it is the highway patrol that handles traffic enforcement.
Question 8: The Nipomo Regional Park is important to the community. What is your vision of the Nipomo Community Park?
Candidate Achadijian: His vision is what the community’s vision is. He has instructed county staff to conduct local meetings to get input on park uses. There are 154 acres of park land. The input from these meetings is being reviewed by environmental agencies at the county. They will then come back to the community with the options the community has suggested, and they will then ask the community what they want to do and how to spend the money. If non profit groups want to use the park, the county asks if the activity offers recreation to the parks, and who pays the costs. The Nipomo Native Gardens occupies 30 acres in the park. They pay their own utilities and permits.
Candidate Wirsing: The park is special; but, everyone is trying to take it away, like trying to build a high school on it, or give it away to private non profit groups. She will work hard to keep the park low key. There is not one park in Olde Towne or on the south side of Tefft where there are high density projects. The children here play on the street or commercial centers. We need to spread parks where they are needed, including pocket parks. Changing the subject she then commented that the state controls state roads, and the county controls county roads. Finally, changing the subject again she stated that if park funds were given to the Dana Adobe, and wants to know more about this.
Candidate McSweeny: He likes the scenery as it is. Teen centers and skate board parks should be located elsewhere. It really depends on what the community wants to see in the park. He will do what the majority wants to do with the park. He will need to get a little more involved. He doesn’t think many young people with young families will be moving to Nipomo.
My impressions: Katcho makes an excellent point about some uses of the park. The Nipomo Native Gardens has contributed a great deal to the ambience of their area of the park. I’m unclear about what Ms. Wirsing is getting at about not allowing non profit organizations use of the park. Would she ban October Festival put on each year by the Nipomo Chamber of Commerce, a local non-profit group? The October Festival is likely the largest single draw to Nipomo. The bottom line, is that it appears both Katcho and Mr. McSweeny agree that the park should be used for what the community wants, or the majority of the community wants.
Question 9: Should private non profit organizations be allowed to construct buildings for their own use on county property, and if so should they be charged rent?
Candidate Wirsing: No, they should not be allowed to construct.
Candidate McSweeny: No. Same response. Parks should be for people.
Candidate Achadijian: Supports some non profit use, of parks again citing the Nipomo Native Gardens.
My impressions: Same as above.
Question 10: Would you favor closing Oceano Dunes to motor vehicles?
Candidate McSweeny: No. It would be detrimental to the local economy. Even though he can hear noise where he lives in Cypress Ridge on the weekends, he believes people should be allowed to drive their vehicles on the dunes.
Candidate Achadijian: Thanks Bill Deneen for asking the question; however, the county has no control over the vehicle traffic on the dunes. The state owns and operates the dunes and the vehicle traffic; however, he points out the county would work hand in hand with the state to keep the dunes in good condition and ecologically friendly.
Candidate Wirsing: Believes this is a serious issue; but, understands both sides. We cannot take away the form of recreation from those who enjoy it. She is opposed to closing the dunes to vehicle traffic. She believes it is important to also protect wildlife as well.
My impressions: I don’t believe this is a very serious issue at all. And, as Katcho rightly points out it is a state issue. The question should not even have been brought up in this forum.
Question 11: Would you commit to something in writing to empower the county to enforce the proper maintenance of retention basins?
Candidate Achadijian: There are currently enforcement measures in place. Yet, he is open to any group in the community which comes to him with a request to update or create a new county ordinance, whether dealing with retention basins, or with his work with Ride Nipomo in the past.
Candidate Wirsing: She is against anything that places a lien on anyone’s property. All large lots should have their own basins, as well as large developments. Basins should be maintained. She has her own basin, and keeps it up in its original design. Education will go a long way to solve these problems.
Candidate McSweeny: He is aware of basins, and their importance. He doesn’t know the current penalty or enforcement mechanism for retention basins. He doesn’t know if he would put anything additional in writing. If you violate an ordinance there are consequences.
My impressions: I think all three candidates adequately addressed this issue.
Question 12: What is your view of the Grand Jury’s report on the planning commission?
Candidate Wirsing: She is disappointed in the report. It appears to favor development.
Candidate McSweeny: He thought the inquiry was a witch hunt. The planning commision violated no rules or regulations. They are an advisory body. The Grand Jury didn’t listen to the commision and didn’t interview them. He was disappointed in the report.
Candidate Achadijian: He has put this issue on the supervisor’s agenda for a public discussion. He will reserve his opinion until he hears from the public. He will then express his opinion after taking public comment.
My impressions: I don’t see this as a critical issue facing our district. As Katcho said, the report reflects the jurors’ opinions.
Question 13: How would you keep Nipomo rural?
Candidate McSweeny: You need to keep away from the Woodlands projects and the Cypress Ridge projects, which is where he lives. You would need to keep one home on five acre plots. If you live in these types of projects you don’t expect to have horses or sheep. You keep the rural atmosphere by sticking by the plan. Don’t have people buy up lots and seek and GPA for development.
Candidate Achadijian: There are certain areas in Nipomo where you can have rural atmosphere and have livestock. You can choose to live there, or if you prefer you can choose to live in the more developed areas.
Candidate Wirsing: Before you know it no one is allowed a horse of 4H project. She again decries GPA’s. Developers decide to have these CCR’s that restrict certain livestock, and it’s not always consistent.
My impressions: I thought it interesting that Mr. McSweeny criticized the development where he himself bought property and lives. His own development is against Nipomo’s rural nature. Most folks in Cypress Ridge don’t even consider themselves as part of Nipomo.
Question 14: What role should the County play in obtaining supplemental water?
Candidate Achadijian: The county is already performing the role it plays in this issue. The county will be raising money to assist the NCSD in obtaining supplemental water.
Candidate Wirsing: As a supervisor she will step up to the plate. New developers will be required their fair share of supplemental water. But, she does not support supplemental water if it facilitates GPA’s.
Candidate McSweeny: The county should plan with water agencies, and communities, especially in Nipomo where there is a water shortage. It is really a simple planning issue. We need to plan just a bit better for the future.
My impressions: I’m not sure this is entirely a county issue. The local community decides whether it needs supplemental water, and if so, it undertakes, as Nipomo has done, to obtain the water.
Overall impressions: I think Katcho, our current supervisor and Candidate McSweeny had the better presentations. Ms. Wirsing, read her opening comments, each answer, and her closing remarks. This format benefitted her the most in that she had advance notice of the questions, which allowed her to research the answers and write them out ahead of time. Yet, she came across as unprepared. Each response was scripted, and read. There was very little independent thought or analysis evident in any of her pre written responses.
Most of her time, Ms. Wirsing spent personally attacking our current supervisor. He either lives 20 miles away, or he believes in out of control growth, or favors all GPA’s and a water shortage. Ms. Wirsing came across as shrill and angry; not thoughtful, calm, deliberate, or knowledgeable.
Of the three candidates, I believe Katcho to be the most prepared, sincere, and qualified for the position. He has an eight year track record of consistent commitment to our community, and all of the 4th District. He has a good working grasp of the important issues facing the county. He is not a single issue candidate, and realizes there are many facets to good governing, including hard work, listening, active involvement, and a willingness to provide selfless service. In the eight years I have observed Katcho, I have seen all of these important characteristics.
Mr. McSweeny, I think at some future time may make a good supervisoral candidate. He did not personally attack his opponents. His presentation was not shrill or angry. I think he could use a little more seasoning at the local level before jumping into the board of supervisors. Perhaps a stint on the advisory council would help immerse him in some of the county issues that are critical to our community, and allow him to get his feet wet before diving head first into the deep and turbulent waters of county government. I do think he is capable of the job, and might make a good supervisor in the future.
Ms. Wirsing, is woefully out of her league in running for supervisor. Her grasp of important county issues is almost non existent. In the nearly six years she has been on the local NCSD board, her colleagues have never elected her to serve as the board president to lead the board in its deliberations. There is a good reason for that. I think that fact speaks volumes about her experience and competence to serve as a supervisor at the county level. In my opinion, she lacks both.
Pictured above from left to right are Marianne Buckmeyer, Istar Holliday and James Pelkey who moderated the candidate form, and did an excellent job. Not shown is Ed Eby, who served as the official time keeper.