I’m seriously considering a mayoral run in Morro Bay.
Normally, candidates will announce they’re running and skip the part about their deliberation process. But in the spirit of transparency, I decided to go public. Rest assured, I will not make any flowery speeches or make promises that I can’t guarantee on delivering.
For years, I’ve had a lot of people basically tell me, “You have a lot of words and a lot to say on policy. What are you going to do about it?” I found myself reaching out to local officials to no avail more often than not. Best I could get were officials who simply expressed acknowledgment or made some half-hearted promise to take corrective action. Then there was silence. Regardless of time, energy and resources spent to attacking problems, engaging in grassroots activism, building consensus and providing solutions, I’ve come across deep cynicism from leadership behind the dais. There is no dialogue. No debate. No meeting of the minds. An agenda is set. You either nod along to it or you get out of the way. No middle ground.
City of Morro Bay is no different.
We have a glaring communication gap between city leadership and residents — so much so that City resources are actually deferred to motivated private citizens who are left with no choice but to take action on their own all while City staffers are collecting exorbitant salaries and benefits. Controversial projects and initiatives are presented without adequate public noticing or a willingness to seek public engagement. And when the public is made aware of these projects, their concerns are largely left unaddressed and unacknowledged. Citizens have taken it upon themselves to educate and inform the community on significant development and policy updates. By the time residents are ably to fully wrap their mind around the issues brought before them, the die is already cast. The City Council votes almost unanimously on an expedited rubber-stamp process through Zoom meetings with limited engagement — all while residents are trying to figure out what is happening. And it feels as though residents are being systemically left out of the public process, which is the actual anthesis of what the public process is supposed to be about.
I was not actively interested in pursuing a seat on the Morro Bay City Council until the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Morro Bay has largely taken a backseat to the pandemic, believing that temporarily providing larger discounts on people’s water and sewer bills is the best and only accommodation they can provide to residents during an extended period of socioeconomic uncertainty. But what residents need is empathetic acknowledgment of their concerns and guidance to help them move forward with confidence. Morro Bay has a unique and eclectic mix of seniors on fixed incomes who are at-risk due to being immunocompromised and young families living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to live comfortably and safely within their means in one of the most beautiful cities on the Central Coast. In order to address concerns from these key groups, the City needs to establish an active dialogue with residents and provide the resources they need to make their lives better. We need to have an active dialogue on the data we receive from the SLO County Health Dept., what the data means for Morro Bay specifically, and what proactive steps we can take to slow the spread.
Interestingly enough, Mayor John Headding is a medical professional who is in a unique position to educate and inform the community during this prolonged medical crisis. Time and time again, he has refused to engage with the public on COVID-19. In fact, he’s noticeably absent during periods where we’ve seen record-breaking case numbers in Morro Bay along with drastically increased hospitalizations and deaths. Sadly, the mayor’s inaction is consistent with the inaction we’ve seen throughout his tenure.
Morro Bay heavily depends on a round-the-clock tourism economy to generate just barely enough revenue for the City to operate. Solely relying on tourism is not sustainable. We have to invest in a robust economic redevelopment plan along with an actionable framework for affordable housing that’s compatible with our city’s character. We need to develop policies that give newer and future generations a pathway to live and work here. For example, while the City is pursuing water independence with their Water Reclamation Facility, we need to be able to afford that kind of independence so we can truly be independent.
Lastly, we need to double down on transparency and accountability. In Oct. 2018, then-mayoral candidate Headding and then-Council candidate Dawn Addis attended a fundraiser for Helios Dayspring, a marijuana mogul at the center of an ongoing Dept. of Justice investigation. After attending their fundraiser and the media reported on that, both Headding and Addis updated their campaign filing statements to include Dayspring’s contributions. However, to date, neither of them have explained their personal involvement with Dayspring, how they got themselves booked into the fundraiser, and what went down at the fundraiser. Last April, Dayspring’s marijuana dispensary Natural Healing Center opened in Morro Bay. They were selected out of several applicants who were interested in obtaining a commercial cannabis permit despite scoring lower than them in criteria.
Despite clearing themselves with an internal review of their screening and permitting process, the City made no mention of Mayor Headding and Councilwoman Addis’ personal entanglement with Dayspring.
Last July, Dayspring was charged and later pled guilty to bribery and filing a false income tax return. He bribed late San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill and attempted to bribe former Grover Beach mayor John Shoals. Dayspring developed a clear pattern of securing favors from elected officials. Was our City Council or staff similarly compromised? The community wants answers on that and I certainly do.
And finally, we need to talk about infrastructure. There is undoubtedly broad consensus that we need a wastewater treatment facility that meets all regulatory and treatment standards. But there is plenty of disagreement as to the process that led us to this point. While recent violations at our new Water Reclamation Facility site were resolved and no fines were given, we need to have a better accounting of challenges associated with the South Bay site. We need to have a more comprehensive geological analysis of the site, which should include potential hazards of being sited closely to our National Estuary. Having a full accounting of what’s happening at the South Bay site will help restore community trust.
During the candidacy exploration process, I will focus on listening to what everyone has to say, including those who support the City Council and their positions.
Former mayor Jamie Irons once told me, “Conversation is the oxygen of solutions,” and used the relationship between former President Ronald Reagan (Republican) and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill (Democrat) to drive his point home. Under the Irons’ and Headding administration, that Reagan-O’Neill level of communication, negotiation and camaraderie with the community did not happen and has not happened. Should I ultimately decide to run, I will place strong emphasis on listening and obtaining community consensus as I believe those should be the primary driving factors for enacting meaningful policy. The positions I take and the values that I’d embody as a candidate will be community-driven, not agenda-driven.
Looking forward to hearing from Morro Bay residents!