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Challenger Bruce Jones to face incumbent Bruce Gibson in SLO County District 2 supervisor race

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SLO County
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The SLO County Board of Supervisors adopted new district lines in December 2021.

In San Luis Obispo County, the ballot for this year’s November election will have only one open seat for the Board of Supervisors. It’s for District 2, which includes much of the county’s north coast, as well as some inland areas, including Atascadero and San Miguel.

KCBX News spoke to the candidates about their priorities ahead of the November 8 general election.

The District 2 race is a run-off from this year’s primary, and it’s between two Bruce's: incumbent Bruce Gibson and challenger Bruce Jones, who finished second in the primary.

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SCreenshot/League of Women Voters of SLO County
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Bruce Gibson participated in a forum moderated by the SLO County League of Women Voters on Thursday, Sep. 29.

Bruce Gibson

The incumbent supervisor has been on the board since 2006, though his district has changed along the way, most recently in this last redistricting cycle. The new map adopted by the board late last year — which Gibson voted against — removed areas like Los Osos and Morro Bay from District 2. It also shifted the district’s lines east to include Atascadero, San Miguel and smaller areas nearby.

This process was contentious, with the board minority of Gibson and Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg voting against the new map, alleging it was a move by the board majority to solidify conservative power in the county.

“That's the nature of gerrymanding," Gibson said. "It's a self-reinforcing system that sets a district boundary in place for ten years.”

There is a lawsuit underway challenging the new map on the basis of gerrymandering, though the three supervisors who voted for it disagree and have stood by their decision.

Gibson said he supports an independent redistricting commission in SLO County, which would draw district lines without political incentive for what he calls gerrymandering. Other counties, including Santa Barbara, have done this.

Gibson said one of his highest priorities is addressing housing costs and homelessness, which he jointly refers to as “housing the next generation.” He said the county government may not be able to “cure” the issues of increasingly unaffordable housing and rising homelessness locally, but that there are concrete steps it can take.

Some of those steps are laid out in the county’s five-year plan to cut homelessness here by half. Gibson said he is optimistic about the plan, which was adopted by the board in June. Among other things, it creates a Homeless Services Division within the Department of Social Services, seeks funding for mental health and substance abuse services, and sets a goal to complete more affordable housing projects.

“It's about housing folks in the prime of their working life, many of whom have young families. And it's a big issue that the county has an ability to affect, because housing is largely developed by private sector forces that are responding to the market. But the county working with its cities can do a number of things.”

Gibson said those kinds of efforts include increasing housing density, supporting public transportation and other measures.

Water supply is another key issue for Gibson. His district now extends far enough east to include parts of the critically-overdrafted Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. He said he has a previous record of improving the water situation in Los Osos by helping secure the water recycling facility there. 

Gibson acknowledges that neither the Los Osos nor the Paso Robles groundwater problem is fixed, but that he feels confident the county can help those areas reach solutions.

“We're seeing conservation, we're applying treated wastewater in the right places in the right ways to improve the water balance, and we're seeing the results of that. So it can be done.”

Gibson’s official endorsements include the SLO Tribune Editorial Board, SLO City Councilmembers Carlyn Christianson and Andy Pease, and SLO County YIMBY, or “Yes In My Backyard” which advocates for housing reforms like subsidized housing, tenant protection and greater housing density.

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Screenshot/League of Women Voters
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Bruce Jones participated in a forum moderated by the SLO County League of Women Voters on Thursday, Sep. 29.

Bruce Jones

Bruce Jones is this year’s SLO County District 2 challenger, having finished behind Gibson in the June primary. Jones finished with about 19% of the vote, while Gibson — the incumbent — finished with about 48%. That was a big lead, but this race is expected to be a lot closer than that, since the two losing candidates in the June primary have now endorsed Jones, which could help bolster his numbers.

Jones is a retired surgeon who has served on the Templeton Area Advisory Group, the elected volunteer body representing Templeton to the county.

On the redistricting issue, Jones said unlike Gibson, he’s generally happy with how SLO County redrew the maps and does not support an independent redistricting commission.

“If you had a redistricting commission that was made up of appointed members rather than people who have to act responsibly or they don't get reelected — I think you can depend more on elected officials," Jones said.

Jones said housing and homelessness are also a priority for him, and that he’s optimistic about the county’s current plan to cut homelessness by half, but worries that the county running its new Homeless Services Division through the Department of Social Services will make it too bureaucratic to work effectively.

“I think this is too important to be filtered through multiple layers of administration. I think it should be a department that is accountable to the chief operational administrator rather than filtered through other departments," he said.

Jones also said funding law enforcement and fire agencies is one of his top priorities.
“I think I think we have to have fire protection, and Cal Fire does a good job, but they need to have financial support to continue to do that. I think that the sheriff's deputy coverage is a little thin, and I would actually support some increase in that area of protection," Jones said.

Like Gibson, Jones emphasizes water as one of his top concerns, and would also like to see more water sources in the county through efforts like desalination and wastewater treatment.

"In our county, we discharge more treated wastewater into the ocean than we utilize," Jones said. "This could easily be used in agriculture and other areas.”

Jones’ official endorsements include the SLO County Republican Party, incumbent supervisors Debbie Arnold and John Peschong, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham.

The District 2 candidates share similar stances on the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant — which both candidates say they want to see continue operating, at least for now — but differ on other issues, like election fraud and security questions.

Jones calls for stronger voter authentication to assure the public of election integrity, while Gibson says elections are secure and accurate, and that the implication or claim that they are not is a political tactic that isn’t based on evidence.

Both SLO County District 2 candidates’ platforms, endorsements and contact information are online at their respective websites. The election is November 8.

Benjamin Purper came to KCBX in May of 2021 from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.