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SLO County Board of Supervisors' new progressive majority moves to reverse conservative decisions

A map of the newly-drawn SLO County districts.
County of San Luis Obispo
A map of the newly-drawn SLO County districts.

The new progressive majority on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is moving to discard the county’s current district maps, along with other county policies and measures put into place by the former conservative majority.

At the first full board meeting of the year yesterday, Supervisors Bruce Gibson, Dawn Ortiz-Legg and newly-elected Jimmy Paulding directed county staff to enter into settlement negotiations with the nonprofit SLO County Citizens for Good Government. The group is leading a lawsuit alleging the current district map was gerrymandered and violates California election law.

During the last round of redistricting in 2021, the conservative majority on the former board majorly redrew the county’s five districts. Opponents of that vote, including the two liberal supervisors who voted against it, allege that the map was gerrymandered in favor of conservative voters.

They say the former conservative majority of Debbie Arnold, John Peschong and Lynn Compton redrew the lines to create three Republican-leaning districts and two Democratic-leaning districts, locking in a conservative advantage until the next round of redistricting in 2030.

Those supervisors have stood by their decision, but their majority is now over. Compton was defeated last year by former Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Jimmy Paulding, which shifted the board to a progressive majority made of Paulding, Dawn Ortiz-Legg and Bruce Gibson.

The map drawn by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce made more minor changes to the existing districts.
SLO County
The proposed map drawn by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in 2021 made more minor changes to the existing districts.

On Tuesday, that majority voted to enter into settlement negotiations with SLO Citizens for Good Government, the group leading the lawsuit. That starts the process of potentially discarding the map and redrawing the district lines again, though it’s not clear if or when that could happen.

The new liberal majority also moved forward on several other fronts. They will hold a hearing on repealing a planting ordinance allowing certain farmers to pump an extra 20 acre-feet of water from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is critically overdrafted primarily from agricultural pumping.

They also stripped Supervisor Debbie Arnold of her position on the Paso Basin Cooperative Committee, with Bruce Gibson saying that she had made no progress on resolving the groundwater issue. Arnold issued a “plea” to stay on that committee, saying, “Achieving sustainability for the Paso Basin has been a focus for me for over a decade.”

Gibson, Paulding and Ortiz-Legg also want the county to re-enter the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA), the countywide waste agency that the former majority withdrew from in 2021. Other moves by the new board include lowering the limit on campaign contributions and changing a bylaw to allow a simple majority to continue board meetings past 5p.m.

In a rare move, the board will meet again this weekend on Sunday, January 29 at 10a.m. The full meeting from Tuesday, January 25 is available here.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came 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.
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