Voters fine-tune several North County councils and boards

Given the snaillike speed in counting nearly 500,000 absentee and provisional ballots, it’s taken the better part of two weeks to learn the final outcome of several tight countywide races. But it was clear from the very first tally election night that North County voters were keen on doing some fine-tuning of several boards and councils.

No doubt the most dramatic case was the ouster of longtime Encinitas Councilmember Jerome Stocks, whose dual roles as that city’s current mayor and SANDAG chairman weren’t enough to convince voters to renew his contract for four more years. But Encinitas voters went far deeper than thanking Stocks for his years of service. Stocks and retiring Councilmember James Bond are being replaced by Lisa Shaffer, a self-styled “pro-conservation and pro-business” advocate, and Sierra Club-backed printing executive Tony Kranz. Together the two newly electeds join Teresa Barth to form a slow/no growth council majority, bent on preventing “overdevelopment” of a city pretty much built out.

At the county level, GOP stalwarts were dismayed, if not slightly shocked, by Steve Danon falling prey to Dave Roberts in the bid for the 3rd Supervisorial District seat. Danon, on leave as Rep. Brian Bilbray’s chief of staff, had been running as long as anyone can remember, attending countless events from Boy Scout dinners to Rotary meetings, chamber mixers, and street fairs while visiting precincts and meet and greets almost daily. He had the endorsements of the deputy sheriffs’ union, the county Republican Party and Lincoln Club with a robust mix of conservative and moderate mayors and councilmembers, a former governor, and an array of other political celebrities.

In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. Roberts, whose chief campaign backer was outgoing supervisor, Pam Slater-Price, and assorted environmental groups, will step down as Solana Beach deputy mayor and councilmember to become the second supervisor with his surname and the first Democrat on the nonpartisan board since Leon Williams nearly two decades ago.

But it wasn’t just council and county board races that made this year’s election a bit different. Two politically obscure boards, Palomar Health District and Palomar Community College, saw successful challengers oust veteran incumbents.

Incumbent Palomar Health board members Dr. Marcelo Rivera and Nancy Bassett lost to Cal Fire Capt. Jeff Griffith and Sabre Springs physician Aeron Wickes for no reasons that were apparent in the campaign, except that Griffith had the backing of the nurses’ union. Incumbent Linda Greer did hang on for a four-year term on the seven-person board. Rivera, Bassett and Greer had labored mightily to pass a bond measure in 2004 and then oversee the construction of several medical facilities throughout an 800-square-mile service area, including the region’s “hospital of the future” — the 288-bed Palomar Medical Center, which opened this summer at a cost of just under $1 billion on an Escondido hilltop.

The Palomar Faculty Federation union used heavy signage to snatch two of the three open seats on the Palomar College Governing Board, beating incumbents Darrell McMullen and Rose Marie Dishman. In the midst of the political coup, incumbent Nancy Chadwick survived as the top vote getter. The faculty union has gained a firm foothold in the college’s governance.

In both Oceanside and Escondido, there’ll be no need to order new name plates for city council chambers in those burgs. Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood and Councilmembers Jack Feller and Esther Sanchez easily won their races. Wood’s mayoral challenger, Councilmember Jerry Kern, though defeated by Wood, stays in place for another two years.

Escondido council appointee Mike Morasco was that city’s top vote getter over Councilmember Olga Diaz, both of whom won the two open slots over a weak field of civic rookies. Morasco, along with Mayor Sam Abed and Councilmember Ed Gallo, now have free course to pick a kindred spirit to replace Marie Waldron, who was handily elected to the 75th Assembly District.

Escondido voters also approved Proposition N to update the city’s General Plan, which opens up several hundred acres for employment lands in its center city core and key freeway access areas. But they rejected Proposition P, a “home rule” proposal to make Escondido into a charter city. That ballot question had an “Oh, by the way” clause that stipulated future councilmembers would be elected by districts rather than at large. That proposal didn’t sit well with the city’s conservative base, which no doubt explains the measure’s defeat. The district election option was an attempt to satisfy the charges raised in a voting rights act brought against the city. The question now is what the city can do to either fight or settle a costly court battle with an uncertain ending.

Meanwhile, 2012 once again proves the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s point: “All politics are local.”

Daniels, principal consultant of Dick Daniels Public Relations, has been a public relations practitioner for 35 years and was an Escondido city councilman from 2006 to 2010.

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