Betty Winholtz and Jack Smith have fresh ideas on how to make Morro Bay more responsive to residents by actually solving problems. Their opponents in the November 2nd election don't. The election of Winholtz as mayor and Smith as a member of the City Council presents the best chance Morro Bay has of being run more efficiently and effectively in this time of recession and reductions in city revenues. It's that simple.
Residents and taxpayers will benefit directly from their being seated alongside holdover Council member Noah Smukler to provide a much more
intellectually capable, enterprising, thoughtful, questioning, and independent majority on the Council, dedicated to finding the most cost-effective and practical means of serving the people of Morro Bay.
A major topic of private discussion around town is Winholtz's opponent, Bill Yates, who served three terms as mayor before being defeated by present mayor Janice Peters six years ago. One question with Yates is his reputation as a bully among some residents, who watched him perform as mayor from 1992-1996 and 2002-2004. His target, by most accounts, has been primarily women, including Peters who has accused him of "bullying of city staff" and "chauvinism . . . in his treatment of female council members." At least some of this was seen at Council meetings, which not only helps explain why Peters defeated Yates, but why some regarded him as the most unpopular member of the Council in memory.
But the much bigger question is the city's financial health.
Last June, the Council cut almost $1 million in spending to adopt a final $25.7 million, 2010-11 budget, which resulted in the elimination of
three employee positions, the reduction in working hours of three others and numerous other staff cutbacks, and city services were curtailed—including the Dial-A-Ride transportation system that seniors rely on. That's the precarious measure of the city's financial picture, due mainly to
reductions in tax revenues from the recession.
Winholtz has specific ideas on how the Council should help businesses attract more customers, which would generate more city revenue
through more sales:
--Promote shopping locally.
--Focus more attention on businesses in the North Main Street and Quintana Road neighborhoods.
--Consider substantial rent credits to businesses operating on city lease sites.
--Build a public restroom downtown for shoppers and visitors in order to make such a facility accessible.
Also, lots of people have talked for many years about the city having a vision for Morro Bay with little to show for it. Winholtz lays out a
very specific one.
As mayor of Morro Bay, she says she will:
--Work to preserve our small town character by actively supporting the development of ordinances that ensure that the size of a structure is
suitable for the size of its lot.
--Encourage residents and developers to build projects that respect the rights and quality of life of the neighbors.
--Work to ensure that development does not create parking and traffic problems in our neighborhoods.
And, she asks residents to:
--Think, when you build and remodel, of the impacts on your neighbors, then design and build accordingly.
--Work with the neighbors when designing your project.
She has more ideas on community service, city finances, Dial-A-Ride, the planned wastewater treatment plant upgrade, affordable housing, local business support and public health and safety on her website.
On the wastewater treatment plant, the largest capital project in city history at a projected cost ranging from $20 million to $31 million, Winholtz favors any sdvanced design that costs the least, protects the health of residents, is most effective in processing sewer waste, and meets California Coastal Commission standards. Yates has repeatedly said he supports what a Morro Bay city staff member has termed a "traditional design" that apparently fails to meet those high standards.
Probably no other Morro Bay candidate has ever laid out what she sees as the issues facing the city, what she would do to deal with them, and how that would benefit residents. That's because, by tradition, candidates for public office don't talk specifics—if they talk at all about issues.
Winholtz's opponent, Yates, is a good example of that traditional politician. His web site is minimal in the way of issues and solutions. He offers little more during public appearances, particularly in terms of specifics.
Another thing that is different between the two is Winholtz has been serving as a member of the Council for the past eight years. She knows the current ins and outs of the city. Yates left the Council four years ago and lacks the valuable contemporary experience Winholtz has. As she has pointed out, state requirements have changed, making running a city more complex.
Jack Smith is a pioneer in promoting tourism, drawing thousands to Morro Bay through his innovations and the support of volunteers and sponsors. He is a big advocate of eco-tourism, or what he calls active tourism, which consists of more contemporary attractions, such as surfing, stand-up paddle surfing (also known as SUP), mountain and road cycling, kayaking, hiking, kiteboarding, and sailing.
These activities are the new wave of the future, he believes—more attuned to the younger set—in addition to the traditional walking the beaches, dining out, and relaxing. Smith is convinced that new kind of tourism should be prominent in promoting Morro Bay and would be more effective. Smith staged the World Slalom Skateboarding Championships in Morro Bay between 2001-2005 and the National Championships in 2008. Each year the event attracted over 100 competitors from 15-plus countries and generated over $100,000 in revenue to Morro Bay businesses, he said.
Smith's next planned event is the 2010 Skateboardercross World Championship on October 9 and 10 along Morro Bay Boulevard between Shasta and Monterey, where more than 60 racers will compete head-to-head on identical 500-plus courses littered with ramps, banks, jumps and "whoop-de-doos." Each racer will be given two qualifying runs, with the top 32 skaters advancing to the head-head-round.
This kind of new thinking about tourism far overshadows the "let's promote tourism" cliche that opponents Nancy Johnson and George Leage talk about. D'Onna Kennedy has some specific ideas—like interactive science and arts and craft areas and walks focusing on the history of our town—that are more imaginative.
Yates champions tourism, but about all he can propose is "sprucing up" the Embarcadero.
Smith is a big proponent of establishing a maritime museum in Morro Bay to help attract tourists, along with all the other candidates. But no one has suggested how to get the idea off the ground.
Compared to Smith, the platforms of the other Council candidates, particularly Nancy Johnson and Leage, are unremarkable, and even less so for Leage.
The two candidates receiving the most votes will be elected to the Council.
During a mayoral debate on September 23 at the Business and Community Forum, Yates was asked about his relations with the city staff by Peters, who was moderating the debate, and Yates said, "I can't think of one staff member I don't get along with. I bully and push staff around?
Andrea Lueker reportedly has said Yates tried to intimidate her in private before she was promoted to city manager. Winholtz reportedly has said the same while she was on the Council. And former Council member Melody DeMeritt said she was bullied by Yates when she was a member of the city Public Works Advisory Board.
Last May, Peters described Yates in her column, called Morro Bay Musings, in the Slo Coast Journal this way: "when elected to a third term (as mayor), his temper tantrums both in public and closed sessions, and his bullying of city staff, were detrimental to city operations and morale. His chauvinism was obvious in his treatment of female council members and was made blatantly clear in his blog during the last election, when three of four candidates for mayor were female and Yates stated that the male candidate was the only one who 'looks like a mayor.'"
Some men also have been the brunt as well. Grant Crowl said he was stopped in mid-sentence by mayor Yates during the Council's public comment period one evening and told to sit down. He was just beginning to speak so his three-minute time limit had not even started to expire, he said. Yet, Yates told the audience during a debate with Winholtz that "I always treated everybody fairly. Everybody gets to talk" when he is mayor.
Yates showed plenty of sarcasm, ridicule and self-righteousness at that debate on Sept. 23, which some might see as borderline bullying.
He accused Winholtz of voting numerous times against waterfront and Embarcadero projects, which he said showed that "I am pro business and Betty has consistently voted against business."
She responded by pointing out that the projects she opposed sometimes reflected inappropriate planning and possible violations of the city's Municipal Code, which could cause them to be turned down by the California Coastal Commission, forcing the applicants to go through the approval process again, costing them more and unnecessary money.
Yates countered, "I knew Betty would have an excuse."
At that debate, Yates announced he had been endorsed by SEIU (State Employees International Union) workers in the city of Morro Bay. Two days later, on Sept. 25, SEIU Local 620's board of directors voted to endorse him. However, Bruce Corsaw, interim executive director of the local, said Winholtz might also be endorsed, if she submitted a request, and Winholtz said has submitted such a request.
But readers can judge for themsleves. The video of that debate can be accessed at SLO-Span and then clicking the election button at the top of the front page or through the Channel 20 Live Streaming link on the city's website.