The Atascadero News sat down with San Luis Obispo County District 5 Supervisor incumbent candidate for a Q & A
ATASCADERO NEWS: What is your campaign slogan?
DEBBIE ARNOLD: I guess I’ll put my four killers in there — I want smaller, more efficient government, I want to ensure that we’re being responsible for taxpayers’ dollars and eliminating programs that haven’t worked. It’s important to me that… transparency in government and so forth and that I can really be a good representative to the people that I represent, which is the constituents.
AN: What is your campaign platform?
DA: It’s about smaller, more accountable government, it’s about prioritizing road maintenance, public safety, the things that I think are the basic government responsibilities, it’s just to ensure that we remain transparent for our constituents to engage with their local government.
AN: What one part of the County government would receive more attention if you were elected?
DA: The one thing that gets neglected when voters expect us to do a better job is infrastructure maintenance and especially roads. This county has over 1,000 miles of roads. It’s gotten very expensive for cities and counties to maintain that infrastructure, yet as a tourism-driven economy here, some of our roads are really just not even safe. We’re starting to fall below what anyone would agree is safe on a lot of our roads, so it took me five years of asking, sometimes begging, to actually list that as a priority.
AN: If elected, do you plan to promote any changes to existing taxes? If so, why?
DA: I have been one that has resisted going out to the public for extra tax money all along. And people tell me, “Yeah, but you’re dreaming if you think you’re going to get the state to shape up and start putting the tax where we hope they would go, or where the public is asking them to put money.” At the state level, we had a $21 billion surplus this year. It’s hard to justify going and asking people to dig into their pockets again. The economy will prosper and there will be more money in the tax coffers if we let people keep their money and make their decisions.
AN: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?
DA: So I just mentioned the roads, they really need attention in this county. And I’ll continue to ask and try to prioritize those in our county budget.
Industry, Economy & Jobs:
AN: What is your industry, economy & jobs forecast for our area of SLO County?
DA: We know we’re in transition and that we’re losing one of our largest private sector employees in PG&E and we know that’s going to make a difference to our economy, those are high-paying jobs. And Diablo itself is a highly taxed asset, far beyond anything else in the county, so that’s going to be an adjustment. But the county has, with the 1090 money that we expect to be used just for economic development, we’re working with various nonprofits, the Hourglass Project is a big one, and the Economic Vitality Corporation and the different chambers, to try to boost some of the economic development.
AN: With respect to the closing of Diablo Canyon, what are our most significant opportunities for developing stronger industry for our North SLO County to compensate for economic losses?
DA: Again, I think that’s just attracting and creating a business-friendly environment and if we go back to the taxes, I think we really just have to be careful about what kind of policies we implement when we’re in a position to be trying to attract new businesses. So, for me, I always think of, “OK, if I was a new business coming to this area what would I be looking at, what would I be looking for?” So, I think that all the normal things, zoning for and making available actual venues to attract businesses in but also making sure that our taxes are reasonable and they can see a pathway to come here and be able to function here and succeed here.
Cannabis in North SLO County
AN: What is your position with regards to the cannabis industry in the North SLO County?
DA: What is your position with regards to the cannabis industry in the North SLO County? It was a new industry so all the regulation and all the process was kind of new to everybody, including the planning department. But at that time I was one that thought, “you know, I’m a pro-business person.” And we have had people doing legal cannabis business in this county for almost 15 years and that would have been the medical cannabis industry. By nature, that would have been the small entrepreneur and again, it would have been the medical cannabis. We knew we had delivery businesses and employees and the whole nine yards.
AN: How would your presence on the BoS impact future decisions about the cannabis industry?
DA: The cannabis industry has been given some, really a lot of leeway that I’ve never seen any other industry or project given. As a matter of fact what we were discussing yesterday was the abeyance resolution, which was created at the very beginning. You’re right, cannabis industry. You’re right to complain. This is all very confusing, it’s hard for you to get into compliance and now, some of you have your ongoing businesses and the whole idea was to allow you to continue so we’re going to create this abeyance resolution and that will allow you to operate why you’re in the permitting process. Who gets to do that, right?
AN: What is the County’s opportunity for creating or improving affordable housing in our area, and how would your work on the BoS address our future housing needs?
DA: We have been working for years now with the building community. No one in the government is going to take a hammer and nails and build anything, right? We just have to balance the needs of the building community with the demand. Speaking of demand, I’ll say, and I think we all would agree, this is such a wonderful place to live, the demand will never cease. There will always be people who want to come here and the market will always. But trying to work through the challenges, on the coast we know that a lot of our housing industry… second homes or vacation homes or rentals, those kinds of things.
AN: What is the biggest threat to our local water supply, and what can be done to protect/preserve/improve it?
DA: Up here in North County I have to say the Atascadero Mutual Water Company has done a fabulous job managing the water for the residents, or the water that they serve beyond the city here in Atascadero. Even through the drought, they were ready, the supply was good, everything was good, it’s so well maintained. When you get outside of the city limits into the unincorporated area, we encountered things we’ve never encountered before. Paso Robles is one of the largest aquifers in the United States and it seemingly had a supply that would last forever. Now, not so long ago, people knew when they bought a piece of property that it was usually cheaper if the water wasn’t dependable.
AN: What is the BoS role in improving the QoL on our roads as it relates to general traffic and road quality?
DA: As far as the road quality, we’re working really hard to improve that because it is starting to be in an unsafe state. The rest of it comes through our SLOCOG, and that’s a regional body that works with all of the seven cities and the county together to try to maximize the opportunities. In other words, if there’s only money to do one overpass, we’re all kind of trying to save up in our own little. That takes too long. So we are working the best we can with the state of California and the federal government to get as much as we can to make road improvements.
AN: Globally, tourism has led to problems that have motivated many cities to apply limits or reassess the approach to tourism promotion. How can we balance our economic dependence on tourism with the quality of life we enjoy?
DA: We’ve had those challenges now — I want to say, supporting Visit SLO and seeing it when it was created and now, it is doing a really great job on marketing the tourism opportunities here in the county, so we’ve got that going for us. Now, the rest of it is the quality of life and balancing that. We have had to work on that, in the Adelaida area for example, you might remember where we had that region, the folks that live there, saying, “OK, this is too much and we want you to stop or put more limits on event centers and those kinds of things.”
AN: When managing public agencies, is it better to have more employees at a modest wage, or fewer employees at a wage high enough to attract and retain quality applicants?
DA: Again, that’s a real balancing act, because right now, with such low unemployment all over California — I know we’re a great place, but there are apparently many great places because it becomes a “we can pay more, we can do more for you.” So, right now, the county’s working really hard to find other things that will attract people. In other words, maybe it’s not always about money but it’s about quality of life. So can you work at home? Or can your hours be adjusted? Or vacation time. We’re trying to find other ways.
AN: What is the greatest concern facing our County now or in the near future? What is the solution?
DA: I’m going to say maybe that is quality of life. I’m going to say that we need to continue to balance and kind of outsmart the good or bad problem depending on where you’re sitting, but I think very quickly, this is such a desirable place to live, that we could turn into something that doesn’t look like the county we all no. Although we do have a lot of permanent open space and that kind of thing. But as far as traffic and then water resources and all those things, we could create problems for ourselves if we’re not just careful and measured about the way we move along. I have big faith in ingenuity and technology.
AN: If elected, what are your goals for the term?
DA: I really want to work on our road infrastructure. I really want to ensure that we continue to provide fair distribution of our water here in the county, protect our groundwater resources for future generations here in the county. Those are two big goals. I think we can do a good job with the housing and providing housing for our citizens. But again, I think we need to be measured and not just go do something that we can’t scratch back if it doesn’t work out right. So those are goals for me.
AN: How do those goals affect the next 5-10 years of our region?
DA: Affordable housing is an issue and if we’re going to provide housing for these new employees and these new economic opportunities that we hope to get here in the county, we’re going to have to have houses. So, that I think is tied into what the county is going to look like and the economic prosperity. The water is an age old problem and if we don’t protect our own water and make sure we have a voice in that, I don’t know what the county would look like in 10 years if we let it go or do any further environmental damage to our groundwater. And as far as our roads go, that’s just a disciplined budget priority.
AN: If elected, how does your presence change the dynamic of the BoS and lead to the accomplishment of your goals for our region, and the improvement of our county’s future?
DA: With our County we’re starting in a really good place. At least we don’t have something that we have to work on fixing it, we just have to work on maintaining it. But I think, honestly, that my experience I had when I got elected … the learning curve would have been long and difficult … because every idea and every side of every issue is sold to you to be the better way … and I might have made some votes that I wished I could have taken back. But I’m grateful every day for the experience. Government is a lot of knowing the process so you can get in when you need to and aim where you need to aim to see happen what you hope would happen.