The Atascadero News sat down with San Luis Obispo County District 5 Supervisor challenger for a Q & A
ATASCADERO NEWS: What is your campaign slogan?
ELLEN BERAUD: Smart, Honest Leadership
AN: What is your campaign platform?
EB: We need change in District 5. What we’ve seen so far has not brought us further along in terms of building our economy and protecting our environment. Those are not front and center in District 5 and they should be. We have to be a government that works for the people.
AN: What one part of the County government would receive more attention if you were elected?
EB: Climate Action Plan. When I was on the City Council, the County was the leader. They really brought the cities together to come up with the climate action plans 10 years ago. The cities have taken it seriously, especially the City of SLO, which has done a lot for climate resiliency. We have done some, because we always have wildfires, and making sure we are prepared for wildfires is one of the steps we take when looking at changes to our climate. No one seems to know what we have done for climate change at the County level.
AN: If elected, do you plan to promote any changes to existing taxes? If so, why?
EB: Taxes are not something one person can change, and go on the ballot for voting. I don’t have any I plan to promote any taxes. There are optional taxes communities choose. There was a sales tax proposed and defeated, which was targeting roads. The incumbent was against it and made an effort to defeat it, which doesn’t make sense because it would be decided by the voters and she should be listening to her voters. Now, the County is losing about $25 million per year in matching state grants.
AN: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?
EB: For District 5, one of the most pressing needs is the connector between Atascadero and Templeton, by SpringHill Suites. It would greatly increase the number of people who could commute between Atascadero and Templeton. Kids, bicyclists — right now, if you are a bicyclist, you have to get on the freeway to get from Atascadero to Templeton. The other is ongoing needs is for safe bridges and coordinating with Caltrans. There is a lot of deteriorating off ramps at the junction of bridges. I work here and live here, so I see it.
Industry, Economy & Jobs
AN: What is your industry, economy & jobs forecast for our area of SLO County?
EB: I know we are struggling with affordability, so when we look at strengthening our economy in times of recession, we need to have diversity of different types of products so when wine grapes are doing bad, maybe other industries can be doing better. I have a electric contracting business and during the recession there was no remodels going on but the wine industry was doing great and we did tasting room lighting. We are faced with the challenges of cannabis and hemp and we need to face those and come to an agreement with our community so we can move forward.
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?
EB: Diablo Canyon is certainly the biggest challenge facing the county. The County is the lead agency overseeing that process, so one thing I’m interested in when we have job generation in the decommissioning process we keep the money local by hiring local and employing our union families to do that work. In the North County, we need to keep doing what we do well, which is agriculture and tourism and how they intersect. We need to get that groundwater basin to sustainability. In terms of Diablo, we need to look at what we have there. Can we create another Montaña de Oro Park?
Cannabis in North SLO County
AN: What is your position with regards to the cannabis industry in the North SLO County?
EB: Well, cannabis is legal so we don’t have a black market. I do believe it is better to have cannabis without all the chemicals – and the black market you don’t know what is in it. I’m a parent and we were all concerned about cannabis as a gateway drug, but when we look at it from an economic opportunity perspective and medicinal use, I think there is a place for it in our society and voters voted for it. I think a lot of people utilized it for a lot of different reasons and didn’t want to use it illegally any more. Unfortunately, the ordinance they created is too onerous and takes too long.
AN: How would your presence on the BoS impact future decisions about the cannabis industry?
EB: As a business-owner, I know how difficult it is. It is not just the cannabis, but it is hemp — we grew hemp in our area, and no one seemed to mind, no all of a sudden it is a big deal. Can’t we all get together and come up with some ideas? The agricultural community is trying to come up with some neighborhood agreements about hemp. I think at some point those will combine — hemp and cannabis — hemp doesn’t have the same technicalities as cannabis, but essentially it is the same plant. I think people will be surprised it is not as scary as people thought.
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?
EB: I’ve been part of nonprofits, and whether we call it workforce housing or next-generation housing, it is essential to our economy or if we want our own kids to stay in town. What is better than having your family around you, or your parents or grandparents living with you. We’ve taken some steps with secondary units ordinance, but it doesn’t quite fill the holes. So you have to have a lot of different things going on. Working with nonprofits, you have housing trust fund of SLO and Habitat for Humanity, People’s Self Help Housing. There are a lot of organizations but it takes a lot of coordination to make those things happen.
AN: What is the biggest threat to our local water supply, and what can be done to protect/preserve/improve it?
EB: Atascadero has been lucky in a lot of ways. We considered it a common commodity and resource and Atascadero Mutual Water Company has been very good stewards of our aquifer and been forward thinking in securing water from Nacimiento to keep our reserve charged. We are not completely separate from the Paso Robles basin but we are excluded from the groundwater sustainability plan process. But in the larger sense, it is something we have to wrap our heads around because it is so tightly ties to our agriculture industry in the North County and so many jobs rely on it.
AN: What is the BoS role in improving the QoL on our roads as it relates to general traffic and road quality?
EB: It is one of our major roles. There are only so many roads and travel ways that belong to the city. We have a lot of unincorporated area in our county. A lot of people think they belong to the city by they don’t, they are part of the county and we have a lot of advisory groups that look over the county. We have a huge role to play and are part of the regional planning for projects and work to get state grants and SLOCOG, and it is laborious but is one of the more important things we do.
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?
EB: That is why we have bed tax. We have to make sure we are capturing our tourism dollars. I don’t hear too many people say Atascadero has too many tourists. Atascadero is not as touristy as other parts of the County. I lived in more touristy areas, like Breckenridge, Colorado, where the bed tax would pay for a lot of infrastructure tourists would use as well as what residents would use. That is why cities keep building hotels, to get income to offset impacts of tourism. It will be one of the pillars of our economy. We are a naturally beautiful place.
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?
EB: That is always a balance. Public agencies are not usually over-staffed. We have to be fair with the wages we provide. When the cities were hurting, we asked people to not take raises, and I was furloughed as a state employee, and I don’t think government workers are spoiled. I think we need to be competitive or we are going to lose people.
AN: What is the greatest concern facing our County now or in the near future? What is the solution?
EB: There are so many broader issues, but what really got me in the race is a concern for our economy and people’s view of their local government. I got involved in Atascadero because I didn’t feel like people trusted our city council. It was kind of run by a ‘good-old-boy’ network and it was their way or the highway, and it would be better to open the doors of the city hall and make things more transparent. When I look at the Board of Supervisors, it is dominated by three people who drive the agenda and it really needs to be more of an open discussion by the community.
AN: If elected, what are your goals for the term?
EB: Realizing there is a change in leadership and we are a government who wants to be a leader on a lot of different fronts and we are looking for people to get involved and feel like they can come to the board and make suggestions that will be put into action. One of the top ones is the cannabis ordinance. The current ordinance has allowed people to operate while they are going through the permit process and they could shut you down before your hearing. And now they set a hard date there were so many problems with that and it needs to be addressed.
AN: How do those goals affect the next 5-10 years of our region?
EB: Going into the next 5-10 years with collaboration we can make strides in building a stronger economy. When I was in Atascadero, we did a survey of what people do for a living and a lot of them commute of course, but a lot of them worked from home and need good internet — do you know how hard it is to get good internet in Atascadero? So, realizing that when you live in a place like San Luis Obispo, you need to have good services. We need to know what services people need to be successful and how do deliver those services.
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?
EB: I had someone tell me ‘You’ll be the new swing vote,’ and that is fine. Back in the days of Jim Patterson, Frank Meacham was our swing voter. I want to be seen as someone who is reasonable and approachable and weighs the pros and cons. I know how to do a cost-benefit analysis and do what is best for our community. I don’t want to get into party politics and demonizing others or being uncivil. I want to do the work for the community and so I’m looking to meet with people who have the same goals as me and moving forward finding things that will work for us.