The Paso Robles Press sat down with San Luis Obispo County District 1 Supervisor challenger for a Q & A on local issues
PASO ROBLES PRESS: What is your campaign slogan?
STEPHANIE SHAKOFSKY: Independent leadership and integrity
PRP: What is your campaign platform?
SS: We want good government reform and transparency. We want lobbyists, paid consultants who lobby supervisors and staff — to register so people know who is paid to go to the 4th floor, door-to-door, and peddle influence. It is a fairly common practice to register lobbyists so we know who it is. We also want a release of elected officials and department heads calendars on a monthly basis after the fact so we can see who they have been meeting with.
PRP: What one part of the County government would receive more attention if you were elected?
SS: I’ll pick the biggest issue, not necessarily the closest to my heart — which is homelessness — but because it is the biggest issue, water. We cannot grow intelligently unless we really get a full understanding of our aquifer and resources. We have been, by the data we have, taking more out of our aquifer that mother nature has been putting in on an annualized basis. It’s unsustainable … so that is the planning department.
PRP: If elected, do you plan to promote any changes to existing taxes? If so, why?
SS: Not at this point in time. I would take a serious review of where we are in our current tax base and what should be modified, but I don’t have any plans.
PRP: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?
SS: Clearly, we have a growing homeless and affordability crisis — people talk about infrastructure as streets, roads and dams, but if you talk about housing and mental health facilities, that is probably the highest priority and would be my highest priority as a supervisor and finding resources to address that issue. I don’t the County does a very good job at assessing where funds are available for affordable housing, homeless shelters, and homeless services. There are a variety of pots at the federal and state level that local communities can access.
Industry, Economy & Jobs
PRP: What is your industry, economy & jobs forecast for our area of SLO County?
SS: The wine and tourism industry is a big-boom industry and needs to be supported in an intelligent fashion and going back to the water issue is critical for the maintenance and continued success of our wine industry and I’m very worried about where our groundwater plan is headed. Right now it is totally focused on irrigators and asking for a cut back which could be damaging to the industry if it is not done in an intelligent way and use the best practices for water management.
PRP: 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?
SS: Right now, our economy is really strong. Our airport is booming. Tourism is booming. There are opportunities for Cal Poly, clean tech, and high tech campuses coupled with the growing wine industry. The wine industry is great for tourism and needs to be supported, but sometimes the jobs are lower paying, not head-of-household job. That is the real challenge for us now. How do we capitalize on the local university and our booming economy to bring higher-paying jobs.
Cannabis in North SLO County
PRP: What is your position with regards to the cannabis industry in the North SLO County?
SS: I supported Prop 64, and the legalization of adult recreation use and I particularly support the decriminalization of cannabis. It should have happened 30 years ago. But the concern about or current board of supervisors is that they wrote an ordinance and didn’t do a full stakeholder outreach and wrote an ordinance basically with the industry and what came out was the allowance of large indoor manufacturing facilities that only need to be set back 300 feet from family residences.
PRP: How would your presence on the BoS impact future decisions about the cannabis industry?
SS: At a minimum, I would increase any setbacks from 300 to at least a 1,000 feet, and I would seriously consider the ‘Denver model’ which says it is fine as long as it is in an industrial area. There are other issues, and unfortunately, there are other issues. It is one of the reasons I was recruited to run because the cannabis thing was done without full outreach. The way Prop 64 was written is that you cannot sell cannabis with pesticides or herbicides, but the problem is when you have a cannabis farm go in next to an avocado grove and they have to spray and any pesticides drift onto the cannabis, they are liable for that million-dollar crop.
PRP: 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?
SS: I’ve talked a lot about encouraging from the private sector more mixed-income projects where you may allow a developer to build 100 new apartments at market rate, but require 10 to 20 percent set aside for affordable housing that is totally subsidized by the private sector. So if they are charging market rate for 80 percent of their housing, it is subsidizing the other 20 percent. We are seeing that a little bit here in the Paso Robles area, but it is something that needs to be fully adopted.
PRP: What is the biggest threat to our local water supply, and what can be done to protect/preserve/improve it?
SS: The biggest threat is over-pumping or over-use. This is an arid region, and we are currently — to the best data I’ve seen — taking more water out than is being put in. That is why we have to develop a sustainability plan. There is only two ways to go — you conserve more, or find more. Finding more water is really tricky and really expensive. There is talk about raising the height on the Salinas dam, and there is a lot of talk about the Paso Robles wastewater and using it for recharge or using the Nacimiento supply and mixing it with wastewater for irrigation.
PRP: What is the BoS role in improving the QoL on our roads as it relates to general traffic and road quality?
SS: A lot of the roads and traffic issues are under the jurisdiction of the cities but they get funding from the County and to the cities. Our biggest challenge, because we are a rural community, we don’t get our fair share of infrastructure dollars from Sacramento. We had a dust-up last year where they were going to take back an allocation that was going to widen 46 where the accidents were happening, and the action by the governor to sweep up all the transportation dollars to support mass transit in the urban areas, which is a laudable goal, but hello, we have real problems and real issues here, and we are growing.
PRP: 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?
SS: When I’m a tourist, in Tuscany or high-tourism destinations, I see the hotel fees and additional fees on tourism, and that is something that should be on the plate for us. It doesn’t seem fair that those who live here take the brunt of the tourism industry. It creates, particularly on Friday nights, traffic and wear and tear on our infrastructure. In Napa, there is a hotel tourism tax, and it is not popular with the hotels, but it is one way to gather the resources to supplement our need for better traffic and better infrastructure.
PRP: 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?
SS: Honestly, I don’t think there is a straight answer for it. Your higher paying staff come from people who have been there a long time, and have that historical knowledge base, and you ask anyone when you go to pull a permit, they tell you who to go to because they have been there 25 years and they understand, as opposed to the kid who hasn’t been there and is just checking boxes furiously and doesn’t understand the nuances and how to work with an applicant through the process. It is tricky, and you need to support your existing staff, even though they are going to be your higher paying because that is where the institutional knowledge and quality of client interaction comes in. The answer is, you need both.
PRP: What is the greatest concern facing our County now or in the near future? What is the solution?
SS: We talked about water and it is the most important issue for the North County and continuing our wine and grape tourism industry. Probably one of the larger challenges is the loss of good-paying jobs and cheap energy from Diablo Canyon. I started my career as a hydrologist with the USGS. They have a research facility in Menlo Park, and my research was on the movement of radionuclides through soil and into groundwater and I spent seven years studying them so I have a particular expertise — not that we have any moving at Diablo Canyon, but I have a lot of experience and expertise in understanding the issues.
PRP: What are your goals for term?
SS: Our groundwater management plan will come back in a year, hopefully approved by Sacramento, and needs to be implemented. That is where the rubber meets the road, where you need smart, thoughtful leadership to put a plan into place that can be put in place without crashing the economy or pitting home owners or small ranchers against vineyards. We need to work cooperatively with all the users of the groundwater basin and figure this out and move forward. That is number one. Number two is government reform and transparency — making sure we are operating in an open and transparent way, and my transparency reforms are on my website.
PRP: How do those goals affect the next 5-10 years of our region?
SS: Again, on the water issue it is huge. The state is requiring a plan to obtain sustainability in 20 years. Their definition of sustainability is you are not taking any more water out of your groundwater basin than mother nature is replenishing more or less on an annualized basis. To get to those numbers, there is a lot of work ahead. We are going to have to get there through conservation and perhaps finding some new water — the reuse of the wastewater — that is a huge impact on our economy for the next 10 years. Also, I just strongly believe in open and transparent government and I have a huge problem with our current supervisors lack of transparency.
PRP: 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?
SS: Replacing the current incumbent would be a huge stepping stone to reforming the current board. I think he is heavily influenced, and if he isn’t peddling influence, he is recusing himself. Two weeks ago, the County had an agenda item on their meeting to put a moratorium on their vaping products, which is very popular now in local cities to ban these products, because we know they are killing people and he had to recuse himself from the vote. The measure passed anyways, 4-0, but the issue is that for the north district, we don’t have representation. If he has to recuse himself, we have no representation, and it is unhealthy to have someone who has so many corporate clients — we know now that Phillip-Morris is one of his clients, and I assume will be a client in the future.