County Health Officer Penny Borenstein clarifies that the county has no intention to implement Vaccine Passports

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors held a regularly scheduled meeting on May 4 from 9 a.m until 11:35 p.m. The meeting opened with public comment, which focused mainly on item 13, the request for the Board of Supervisors to sign and send a letter to the State Water Resource Control Board opposing two applications to appropriate water for the Shandon-San Juan Water District.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson moved for approval of the consent agenda with exception of item 13. His discussion on item 13 indicated that there was not enough information on the item for the Board to make a decision and should be tabled for future discussion.

Supervisor John Peschong made a motion to support the letter of opposition, which was seconded by Supervisor Debbie Arnold. The motion passed 3-2 with Supervisors Gibson and Supervisor Dawn Otiz-Legg in opposition.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

Next was the county update from County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein. Borenstein spoke about the current cases, which is at 21,196 as of Tuesday morning, with one person in the hospital. Two more deaths had been added to the county’s total, bringing it to 260, which she stated means our area has faired better than most places around the country. Two testing facilities, one in Arroyo Grande and one in Paso Robles, no longer require an appointment due to the decline in traffic, but that appointments are still recommended to ensure your time and date.

Next, Borenstein turned to the topic of a vaccine passport to explain that while some countries may require U.S. citizens to prove vaccination before opening their borders, there is no intent to implement any such passport within the county or the country to restrict travel or services. In a private setting, businesses may expand capacity based on requiring negative test results or proof of vaccination.

Following Borenstein’s reports, the Supervisors heard two hours of public comment opposing the idea of a COVID Passport. Upon direction from County Council, Supervisor Ortiz-Legg made a motion to keep the 100 remaining recorded comments to be heard as part of record and listen to the live public comments before moving on to the next item of business as the county had already affirmed they would not be implementing the vaccine passport. Supervisor Gibson seconded this motion. The motion passed 3-2, with Chairperson Lynn Compton and Supervisor Arnold in opposition.

Following the live public comment, Arnold made a motion for the Board to oppose vaccine passports in the future being implemented in the county by any other government. The motion passed 3-2, with Supervisors Gibson and Ortiz-Legg in opposition as the motion seemed to simply be an opinion expressed which could be expressed better in other ways.

Next, the Board read the resolution recognizing May as Community Action Month in San Luis Obispo County, a resolution proclaiming May 2021 as “Mental Health Matters Month,” and a resolution proclaiming May 2 to 8, 2021 as “National Correctional Officers and Employees Week. Then there was a presentation from SLOCOG/Rideshare and acknowledgment of plans for “Bike There!” from May 20 to May 23.

The Board discussed an ordinance amending Section 2.48.095 of the County Ordinance Code regarding compensation increases for the Board of Supervisors. The last pay increase was in 2016, and the staff recommendation was to increase pay by five percent, keep Supervisors pay 25 percent higher than legislative assistant positions. Supervisors who wished could forgo the increase for the duration of their term. The motion was passed 3-2, with Compton and Peschong in opposition.

The hearing to consider adoption of resolution of necessity for the acquisition of real property interest required from Richard and Linda Fenske of the Santa Margarita Creek Bridge on El Camino was discussed, and Arnold, who typically is against any imminent domain or court action, decided that because the property was sold in 2020 when this project was already underway, she would move to approve staff recommendations. The motion passed 5-0.

The Board received and filed a report on SLO County Suicide Prevention strategic plan, as well as the initiatives to address regional homeless needs, which Gibson addressed the need to have more action-oriented items.

The Board heard and approved the recommendation to approve the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Annual Plan required by Senate Bill 823 – Juvenile Justice Realignment.

The Board had a hearing to consider a resolution to 1) approve the 2021 Action Plan allocating funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to eligible projects and programs; 2) amend the 2020 Action Plan for allocations and the 2018 Action Plan for a reallocation of a City of Paso Robles project; 3) tentatively approve the 2021 General Fund support for homelessness programs and services; 4) approve the Title 29 Annual Report and funding recommendations; 5) approve the Permanent Local Housing Allocation fund recommendations. A motion was made to direct staff to come back with a budget allocation and was passed 5-0.

The Board returned to item 25: Submittal of a report on elections and voting systems in San Luis Obispo County and request to provide direction to staff regarding which election model to use for future elections. It began with a report of the Dominion voting machines and the systems in place to audit ballots, protect the integrity of the count, and keep the systems secure, as well as the assurance that the machines are never on the internet. Next was a report on the Voter Survey that was conducted, which resulted in over 5,500 responses as of April 22. From this response, it was deemed that overall the confidence in the election is high, but when looking at party responses, the Republican Party had a great deal more mistrust. As stated in the report, “Unfortunately, the fallout of mis- and disinformation questioning the validity of the election has challenged the foundations that democracy rests on, resulting in mistrust in the election process by the public.”

Tommy Gong, the County Clerk-Recorder, spoke to the request to do an audit of the 2020 election, explaining that the time available for that audit has long since passed based on the rules stating that it must occur within five days of the election. At this point, there is no way for him to perform such an audit, either formally or informally; however, it is within the purview of the Board of supervisors to petition the courts to allow a recount.

Following the presentation, the Board went to public comment, which played for several hours, with one commenter stating that she had been on hold for eight hours waiting to make her comment. The public comment varied from those who wanted to keep mail-in ballots, but with stricter processes to attain a mail-in ballot, to those who wanted to revert to hand-counting the ballots, to those who are fine with the process as it stands.

Gong explained that to return to hand-counting would mean roughly 27,000 hours of labor which would cost the county around $300,000; additionally, he could not show data of when SLO county last conducted a hand count. Peschong inquired with Gong on how often he does a positive purge, removing those who have passed away or moved counties. Gong clarified that it is an ongoing process in which they get data from the state weekly to update their voter registration list.

Compton addressed the public comment saying, “a lot of issues that we have no control over, came up today,” some of which were state law, “and obviously there is misinformation… of the two options today they think one will take away their ability to vote by mail.. neither of them do that.”

Gibson requested the Supervisors to make clear their faith in the system with the statement, “I personally have no concerns about the integrity of elections conducted in San Luis Obispo County.” Supervisor Ortiz-Legg and Peschong agreed with his statement.

The Supervisors were split in their discussion between voting systems between 76 traditional voting polls open on election day, verse 20 voting center locations for four to 10 days to drop off ballots as well as mailing ballots to all registered voters.

Supervisor Ortiz-Legg made a motion to go forward with the Voters Choice Act and the voting center, which was seconded by Supervisor Gibson. The motion was not passed with a 2-3 vote.

Supervisor Peschong made a motion to continue with traditional polling places, with a budget augmentation for vote equipment needed. Supervisor Gibson requested adding to the motion sending ballots to all registered voters, which Peschong declined and maintained that only permanent vote by mail registered voters receive ballots in the mail. The motion passed 3-2 with Supervisors Ortiz-Legg and Gibson in opposition.

Lastly, Peschong asked to bring back for discussion at a future meeting different legislative election processes such as same-day voter registration, voter identification, and ballot harvesting, which passed 3-2 with Ortiz-Legg and Gibson in opposition again.

The next board meeting is set for May 18, and links to the meeting and agenda can be found on the Supervisor’s website.