Heather On The ISSUES
I believe the core responsibility of any government is the protection of its citizens. I am a strong advocate for public safety and a supporter of local law enforcement. During my time serving as Mayor of Atascadero, we increased funding and staffing for public safety, adding five new police officers and one new dispatcher. We also made additional investments in safety infrastructure like a new computer-aided dispatch and records management system that allow law enforcement to spend more of their time directly interfacing with the community and reducing crime.
As a County Supervisor, I will bring this same commitment to public safety. I will work collaboratively with the Sheriff’s Office to make strategic investments that enhance technology, improve operations, and lower response times.
Unfortunately, public safety is not simply an issue that local governments can exclusively control. The State of California implemented their version of criminal justice reform because they were spending too much money on state prisons. This pushed financial responsibility to local governments.
Consider this example from just over a decade ago. If someone was arrested by the Atascadero Police Department they were arrested with city resources. Then they would be booked into the county jail, defended and prosecuted with county resources. At that point, anyone sentenced to more than a year was sent to state prison and held with state resources. One arrest, three different jurisdictions paying the cost. The state did not like this and decided to force that cost to local governments who were making the arrest and trial decisions.
In 2011, AB 109 changed the rules for how these criminals were treated. Then, in 2014 the voters followed up with Prop 47 and in 2016 with Prop 57. This means that many individuals who would previously have been in a custody situation at a state prison are now the responsibility of local governments who do not have adequate resources to support these individuals or deal with the consequences of criminals who are left on the streets.
The bottom line is that for many years, the state has completely failed in their duty to rehabilitate the people in their custody. Now, we are facing the consequences at the local level. On the Board of Supervisors, we should acknowledge those failures, advocate for improvements, and work within our jurisdiction to minimize the impact to our local neighborhoods.
Homelessness is multifaceted. The un-housed in our community are not homogeneous so to make positive strides requires a balanced approach. Treating people with compassion must be the core of how we operate. At the same time, we must recognize and bring accountability to those who break the law.
In Atascadero, we proactively partner with community organizations that offer shelters, shower services and meals to those in need. We have partnered with the County’s Community Action Team, embedding mental health and crisis workers with law enforcement to provide help for some of the most vulnerable and fragile individuals in the homeless community. We also hired a second officer and a part time mental health worker to team up with a case manager from the ECHO Homeless Shelter.
It is these very actions, combined with enforcement of our local laws, that are creating a situation where more people are accepting services, getting housed or receiving shelter.
We must take a similar collaborative, compassionate, and strong approach to dealing with homelessness at the County level. Millions in taxpayer dollars and years of government bureaucracy have failed to solve this issue. It is time we look for creative solutions to achieve better outcomes for our community. I will be a strong advocate for attaining and providing grant funding for our key non-profit partners that are on the ground doing the work to help get people off the streets. This issue also spans across agencies. We need leadership on the Board of Supervisors willing to set direction across jurisdictions so that law enforcement, mental health practitioners, and non-profit organizations are all working together with the ultimate goal of getting people off the streets and into some form of transitional or supportive housing.
California has spent more than $20 Billion on homelessness over the past few years, yet the numbers still continue to climb. The reality is that a one size fits all solution for California is pointless. San Luis Obispo is not like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego and our policy solutions need to be different, too.
A Strong Local Economy
Businesses large and small provide residents with jobs, shopping, and recreational opportunities. Economic development is more than improving business for business’ sake or having a few more shops; it grows our local economy, which helps pay for the things we value as a community.
I have built relationships with business and community leaders county-wide that have contributed to increased investment in new and expanded businesses across all industries in Atascadero. We removed obstacles, provided guidance on relevant regulations, and developed incentives for businesses that now call Atascadero home.
At the local level, we can create even more economic opportunities by making our county attractive to successful investors. This can be accomplished with investing in improved broadband access for residences and businesses, streamlining the permitting and regulatory process at the County, and working with developers to get to “yes” on new job-rich commercial, industrial, and workforce housing projects. We can also work with Cal Poly SLO to provide a pipeline to local careers for graduates who want to stay in the area.
Fiscally Responsible, Transparent Government
I am a Certified Public Accountant. Early in my career I spent six years working for KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the world. I took many lessons from my training and experience there, auditing such entities as banks and mortgage companies, governments and hotels, ranging from privately held companies to publicly traded corporations with billions of dollars in revenue.
A key consideration when auditing an entity is to understand the way it operates. While every entity is different, a solid financial foundation with appropriate direction from the top is part of every great organization.
While I am not running to be the county auditor, I will certainly use my experience in audit to ask informed questions of the senior staff and department heads so that the public will be confident that every effort is being made to ensure our resources are being used properly.
Elected officials must always remember that the money we budget is the taxpayers’ money. That first and foremost needs to inform our fiscal decisions.
During my time as Atascadero Mayor, I helped ensure responsible spending, a balanced budget, and solid rainy-day reserves. It is because of such policies that the city weathered the financial challenges of COVID-19 without significant cuts to important services, like public safety. I will take a similar approach at the county level, ensuring we make smart, taxpayer-friendly decisions such as limiting our long-term financial obligations and avoiding unneeded government expansion. We need to require detailed justification for new annual spending, fully fund our reserves, and audit departmental expenditures each budget cycle.
Each county government is a part of the California state governmental system. As a result, county government implements programs required by the state and even some federal programs. Where we make a difference is how we administer these programs. This is about hiring good people and holding programs accountable to determined metrics that measure progress toward our county goals. Managing these programs in a fiscally responsible way also means fully seeking reimbursement from the state and federal government, including for employee benefits. Because we have our own pension system in San Luis Obispo County, we need to make sure that the pension and retiree health care reimbursements from our state and federal partners cover the entire cost of each employee, not only while they work for San Luis Obispo County but also after they have retired. This is just good fiscal policy.
In addition to fiscal responsibility, I feel strongly about maintaining a transparent, accountable government. Discussion leads to collaboration and “buy-in” with all sides involved. In Atascadero, we launched the “Talk on the Block” initiative in partnership with the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce. These gatherings provided a casual, comfortable environment for citizens to meet Council Members and city staff in their own neighborhoods, to talk about city operations, ask questions, and provide feedback. Residents expressed appreciation at having this type of access to their government, and it enabled the city to resolve neighborhood issues more quickly.
As a County Supervisor, I will be committed to regular communication with constituents and always being accessible to anyone who wants to be a part of the policy conversations we are having. I will maintain a top-down culture of accountability and transparency, so that staff understands they are required to provide access and communication to the public.
Providing Stable, Accountable, Responsible Leadership
Tone at the top is an important part of leadership in any organization. As Mayor of Atascadero and in all my roles, I attempt to set a good standard for openness and accountability.
The goal is to have every employee in an organization trust their leadership and know what is expected. This means that the leadership is asking good questions, coming to meetings prepared, and constantly analyzing how to get better and more efficient.
If the tone at the top is political or unprofessional it sends the message to every person working there that this is acceptable conduct for everyone.
I want every single employee in San Luis Obispo County to be focused on delivering effective services in a courteous and efficient manner. As a Supervisor I will work with my colleagues to set a tone at the top that is worthy of public trust.
People need to be treated with dignity. It’s not only the right thing to do, it is necessary. That’s how we create an environment of professionalism and mutual respect that allows our community to flourish and our county to get things done.
This includes my colleagues in local government, the people standing at the podium to offer public comment, and community members who seek county services.
My faith is important to me. Not everyone shares my same beliefs, and that’s okay. What I often find is that we have a shared view of honesty, integrity and compassion that transcends our individual beliefs and allows for good dialogue on a host of issues.
I learned a lot from my grandmother, Pauline. Born at the end of the 19th century, she earned a bachelor’s degree and was a teacher, something quite rare at that time. Today, she would be called “proper” because she treated people kindly and didn’t fly off the handle when something went awry. Grandma Pauline is my inspiration as a woman and my guiding light in how I treat others and remain professional even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Any unnecessary drama on the Board of Supervisors hurts the community in many ways. We have a beautiful county, and we need to attract the best and brightest to come and work for us.
As we recruit department heads and administrators we need prospects to see an example set by the board that expresses competence and effectiveness.The tone at the top needs to convey a place where people want to work.
As Supervisor, I will bring my professionalism and experience as a consensus builder to the table in an effort to develop the best organizational culture possible.
In the last decade we’ve seen the State take comprehensive measures to help protect groundwater resources by setting forth the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. This provides a degree of local control by requiring local agencies to form groundwater sustainability agencies and, based on the “health” of each water basin, to develop groundwater sustainability plans to protect water resources for the long term.
While water can be a complex issue with varying interested parties, the solutions to promote sustainable groundwater supplies are fairly straightforward. I support policies that return irrigation rights to the family farms who were disadvantaged by the County’s PRGWB Agriculture Off-Set ordinance. This requires County leadership to gain collective agreement among stakeholders and leadership, ensuring that those who want to use their land have the ability to do so.
I commit to work collectively with residents, property owners, local, state, and federal agencies to continue to diversify our County’s water portfolio. This requires a multi pronged approach focusing on things like infrastructure for groundwater recharge projects and increasing water storage; accessing supplemental water sources, such as recycled water from our wastewater providers and desalination, where appropriate, and; incentivizing voluntary conservation and fallowing of some agricultural land. A crucial component to achieve groundwater sustainability is continuing to seek out and secure all available grant funding from state and federal agencies to pay for these projects.
Using Technology to Improve Communication and Better Serve the Public
Our world has changed significantly over the past twenty years and technology is the base of that change. You may be reading this right now on a phone or tablet with more computing power than existed in the whole world just 50 years ago.
As an entity that serves people, we must take advantage of this.
People spend a large amount of time on their phones, so if we want to reach them effectively, we probably need to be sending them information on that device. From notifying people about when their library books are due to confirming appointments, we can use technology to make people’s lives easier and be more efficient in the delivery of County services.
Our unhoused population may not have much, but many of them have a cell phone. We need to look at creative ways to get information to them and from them, and their phone is the way to do it. This does not replace face-to-face human contact, but enhances it.
Investing in these technologies will allow us to better serve the public. We need to be smart about choosing investments in infrastructure or technology which may be a better choice in the long run. I will look for ways we can work this into policy making.
Communication with the public is key to successful implementation of programs and the smooth, orderly development of projects.
When a member of the public comes to the counter (in person or virtually on the website) we want them to get the information they need and completely understand the process so they can make decisions based on that information.
In the process of customer service, most people just want to get clearly explained, correct information in a timely manner. The county is currently attempting to implement a version of Six Sigma that is focused on eliminating errors in the process. That is a good place to start. I think there are many business owners and residents in our community who can offer insight to make our processes better. I will look for ways to continually improve the interaction that the public has with the San Luis Obispo county government.