District 5 County Board of Supervisor candidates Ellen Beraud and incumbent Debbie Arnold met Feb. 12 at yakʔitʸutʸu Hall for their first on-campus forum. The candidates addressed key issues including homelessness, affordable housing, cannabis and fracking.
The County Board of Supervisors is a five-member board that legislates San Luis Obispo County by setting policies and priorities for the community, according to the county website. San Luis Obispo has five districts and members serve four-year terms. This March, District 1, District 3 and District 5 have seats up for election.
The yakʔitʸutʸu residence halls reside in District 5, the only on-campus housing within this district. The other on-campus housing falls under District 2 – however the District 2 supervisor position is not up for election this year.
The forum was moderated by communication studies senior and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Chair of the External Affairs Committee Kylie Clark. The questions Clark asked were compiled by the ASI External Affairs Committee, with one question submitted by a student through social media.
In her opening statement, Arnold explained what her ranching lifestyle has been since graduating from Cal Poly and living in San Luis Obispo County. She also talked about what her political experience has been so far and the voices she represents as the current District 5 Supervisor.
“I feel like I bring a voice — a voice for the agriculture community, a voice from a working mom, a grandmother now — just a regular ol’ person from the community,” Arnold said. “I encourage all of you at some point … to think about [running] because that’s what we need: regular people giving their time so that we can be well-represented in government.”
In her opening statement, Beraud highlighted some of the key issues that her campaign addresses, but she also said that there is a need for new leadership. She said that San Luis Obispo County used to be a leader in a lot of things, but she said she thinks that the county has fallen behind.
“In my mind, we can’t afford four more years of inaction,” Beraud said. “We can’t afford to sit back and let some of these things that have bubbled up and become crises in our county.”
Both candidates were given three minutes to answer each question.
The questions kicked off with a broad question of what the candidates thought were the three biggest issues Cal Poly students are affected by in the county.
Arnold responded first, saying that housing, public transportation and government regulations are the three biggest issues for Cal Poly students. Beraud agreed with Arnold that housing is an issue for students, but she said that public safety and climate change are what she hears community members want to address.
Homelessness and food insecurity
One of Beraud’s main points was that more of the county budget needs to be allocated to address homelessness.
“When you look at our budget, the budget of the county is a reflection of your values, and right now the priority on the budget is roads,” Beraud said. “When I talk to people, they’re not thinking about roads, they’re thinking about people and they’re thinking about what we can do.”
Beraud also said that the county needs to provide more services, such as mental health and addiction services, to reintegrate homeless people into society. She added that the county should provide more affordable, transitional housing.
Arnold, who is the former Chair of the Homeless Oversight Council, disagreed with Beraud. She said that the county has been “amazing with their approach to the homelessness issue.” She said that the county has spent millions of dollars every year to provide mental health and addiction services for the homeless population.
Arnold said the county should create more homeless shelters in the northern part of the count,y as well as partner with law enforcement to ensure safety for homeless people and others.
When answering a question about affordable housing, Arnold explained the faults of rent regulations. She said she has seen examples of rent increasing more than normal because of how high the rental price increase cap is. She said she believes in “less fees and less regulation” to increase the building of new housing and ensure housing stays affordable.
Beraud said that rental cost increases are telling of the high demand for housing, so she said the solution is to limit the number of vacation rentals in the county and to increase a diversity of housing options like mobile homes and micro houses.
Beraud, who received $10,000 in donations — the highest total campaign donation of any supervisor candidate — from a person tied to the cannabis industry, according to the County-Clerk Recorder’s Office Campaign Finance portal, said that cannabis should be embraced in the community to diversify the economy. She said that since cannabis is taxed, “the more success we have in cannabis, the more that we will reap the benefits from the revenues.” Although, she said she has recognized some “glitches” in the regulations for cannabis, she said she thinks that it is a market that should be included in the community.
Arnold said when marijuana was first legalized in 2016 that she heard from many medical cannabis businesses when drafting the county’s ordinance for cannabis. As she said she is “pro-business,” her focus was to integrate the already existing cannabis businesses into the new laws.
Arnold said that a conflict she has seen with the legalization of cannabis and the inclusion of dispensaries in the county is zoning. Arnold added that cannabis cultivation is not compatible with certain crops and that it is not appropriate to have dispensaries near already existed buildings and businesses.
Arnold started her answer by disclosing that she was the “one lone vote” in the 2017 vote for the Phillips 66 Co.’s rail spur that would transport millions of gallons of oil to the Nipomo Mesa Refinery. She said that the refinery is one of the biggest tax assets for the county and the rail spur would aid in that.
Although Arnold said she does not support new oil drilling wells, she said she does not think the current oil drilling wells should be shut down.
Beraud disagreed with Arnold and she said that public safety should be valued before tax revenues, as the rail spur could be dangerous to the community and people. She said that she does not support the expansion of fracking as it has detrimental effects on the environment, specifically the water aquifers.
Beraud also addressed the Paso Robles Water Basin. She said that best management practices should be used in order to get the basin out of overdraft.
Once all the questions were asked, the forum concluded with a five-minute closing statement from each candidate.
Arnold used her time to correct statements made during the forum, such as explaining what a world heritage site is and denying accusations that she is serving big corporate interests. She also mentioned a few of her accomplishments while working as a supervisor, including the creation of the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, being named Hero of the Taxpayer by the Central Coast Taxpayer’s Association and increasing funding for law enforcement.
Beraud addressed the differences between her and Arnold in her closing statement, referencing some of Arnold’s policies that she does not think are benefiting the community. She said that her campaign is focused on serving the people so that everyone can succeed, mentioning her focus on the issues of accessible and affordable childcare, affordable housing and climate action.
Computer science freshmen Daniel Nire said that it was helpful to hear from both candidates and that they both seemed very genuine.
“I’m more interested in seeing each of these positions,” Nire said “It really matters to me a lot where my first votes are going to go to.”