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Tuesday November 3, 2020 — California General Election

City of Morro BayCandidate for City Council

Photo of Laurel Barton

Laurel Barton

Retired Analyst/Grantwriter
3,100 votes (26.74%)Winning
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • Stay the course on the WRF. We need the low interest loans we have for this specific project to protect ratepayers from further increases. Other options increase cost and cause more delay. Reusing the old site is NOT possible.
  • To restore the services cut due to COVID, the city needs a better revenue stream. To avoid cuts to 24/7 public safety, I support Measure E-20 to raise sales tax 1%. Let the visitors help to pay for services they use.
  • We need to balance spending to improve residents' quality of life and existing businesses' prosperity, from better maintenance to fairer, faster permitting.



Profession:City government professional; Visalia & Tulare
City Councilmember, Visalia City Council — Elected position (1993–1997)
Senate Fellow, California State Senate — Appointed position (1992–1993)
Trustee, District 7, Visalia Unified School District Board of Trustees — Appointed position (1985–1987)


University of San Francisco Masters Degree in Public Administration (MPA), concentration: Public Administration (1983)
California State University, Fresno Bachelor's of Science Degree in, Plant Science, with a concentration on ornamental horticulture (1976)

Community Activities

Board Member & Volunteer Grant Writer,, Visalia Enchanted Playhouse Children's Theater (1999–2019)
Member, California Park & Recreation Society (2003–2017)
Board Member,, Community Services Employment Training (CSET) (2000–2012)
Member, Visalia Breakfast & County Center Rotary Clubs (2000–2007)
Member, American Society of Landscape Architects (1983–1998)

Who supports this candidate?

Featured Endorsements

  • Former Morro Bay City Council Member, Noah Smukler
  • Former Morro Bay City Council Member, Matt Makowetski
  • Former Morro Bay Mayor, Jamie Irons

Elected Officials (3)

  • Morro Bay Mayor John Headding
  • Morro Bay City Council Member Marlys McPherson
  • Former Morro Bay City Council Member, Christine Johnson

Individuals (17)

  • Rick and Karen Carlstrom, Residents
  • Cindy Betonte, Resident and Volunteer
  • Dana Mc Clish, Resident and Business Owner
  • Steve and Sharon Peck, Residents and local business owners
  • Doug Rogers, Resident and local business owner
  • Dawn Beattie, Morro Bay Resident
  • Marty Lomeli, Resident and Former Interim Morro Bay City Manager
  • Joanne Coghlan, Resident and Realtor
  • Bob Swain, Former Chair Recreation & Parks Commission
  • Barbara Spagnola, Vice Chair, Morro Bay Citizens' Finance Advisory Committee
  • Jane Heath, Local Attorney
  • Susan Stewart, Business Owner and Morro Bay Planning Commissioner
  • Homer Alexander, Board Member, Friends of Morro Bay Fire Dept.
  • Morro Bay Planning Commissioner, Joe Ingraffia
  • Morro Bay Planning Commissioner, Michael Lucas
  • Jan Goldman, Morro Bay 2017 Citizen of the Year
  • Glenn Silloway, Morro Bay 2019 Citizen of the Year

Political Beliefs

Position Papers

Stay the course for the WRF east of Highway 1



I know that for over 10 years Morro Bay citizens and Council struggled to define a project to replace the 65+ year old sewer plant in the flood plain. Finally, after looking at 17 different sites, some of which were rejected by citizens, some of which were rejected by the Coastal Commission, the new Water Reclamation Facility is under construction east of the nursing home on Highway 1.


I support finishing this project—other alternatives will cost more and take longer.



There is great news about this project-in-progress:



   It will achieve the highest level of treatment standards.


   The new plant will produce recycled water for Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR treated water will be injected in our aquifer and pumped out again when needed).


   If the State Water Project fails (and it has in the past), it will provide a locally-controlled, drought-proof backup for ⅔ of our needed water.


   The City won an almost unique super low-interest loan from the Federal EPA, which protects ratepayers from further increases. The loan cannot be transferred to any other project.


   Ratepayers will be paying almost exactly the same as Cayucos ratepayers, but with a better plant. And they will pay less than in Los Osos.




Yet even after the City has invested $25 million in construction at the new site and we are well on our way, there are residents saying we should “pause and reconsider” or even do nothing. The truth as I understand it based on my years of experience working with governmental agencies, we are already under an order from the Water Quality Board to replace the old plant or face fines. Failing to have a new facility in place by February 2023 will result in fines no matter what anyone says or wishes were not true.




Again based on my past professional experience dealing with infrastructure issues, I know that the idea I have heard from some folks---that we do nothing to the old plant because it will meet current discharge standards when the Cayucos share of the sewage flow is turned off---is simply not possible.  The old plant was designed in 1953 to meet lower discharge standards than we now face. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of sewage treated below the 1 million gallons per day it is designed for. It is a design issue, not a flow issue.




Any delays or revisions of the sort some other candidates are are talking about would cost millions more than we are already going to spend on the project.




 We need to stay the course to prevent rates from going up further while securing our own source of fresh water for the future.


Vote Yes on Ballot Measure E-20



I strongly support ballot Measure E-20 to increase the sales tax by 1%. This Measure would raise $2 million per year, over half of it from visitors, and help to ensure our quality of life going forward. This sales tax revenue will stay right here to provide Morro Bay services--Sacramento cannot grab it.



Like every other city in California, Morro Bay’s budget was hit hard by COVID. It was even worse for us because during the shutdown one of our biggest sources of revenue—our tourist industry—was not producing at all. The City's budget projections forecast on-going deficits.


As a resident and now a candidate for City Council, I am glad to know that past several City Councils worked closely with staff to produce balanced budgets year after year.  Recent Councils accomplished balanced budgets while also contributing to the largest percentage Emergency Reserve in the County---a benefit to us all in these devastating economic times.


I witnessed the City taking fast action to stem the losses to COVID by making pay cuts for all employees, laying off 8 full time workers and all part-time workers, and cutting operational funding by $600,000 on an annual basis. This wise and responsible management allowed the City to balance the FY 19-20 budget using just $900,000 of the Reserve (COVID is an emergency if anything is).



Yet, based on my years of experience working for and leading cities, I know we cannot go forward using the Emergency Reserve to balance budgets every year. And our quality of life suffers from the cuts:  kids’ sports are mostly gone; seniors’ yoga is gone; the paving program is on hold; maintenance is reduced.  We must balance the budget, while protecting our services, especially Public Safety—police, fire and emergency medical.



We need new sources of revenue to do it.



Here is the biggest threat.  The deep cuts already made mean we are now down to the bone. The “bone” is locally-controlled 24/7 emergency and Public Safety services, which account for almost half the total General Fund budget.



Some argue we don’t need Measure E-20.  They say we can fund the revenue gap by just making an unspecified 10% in cuts.  They don’t say what those cuts would be so that leaves voters in the dark about their vision.



Given the cuts already made, the next cuts would have reduce Public Safety.



I believe we need enough revenue to fund our 24/7 Public Safety and protect our quality of life. We all deserve a fast and competent response in our time of medical or emergency need. 



Vote Yes on Measure E-20 to help ensure locally-controlled 24/7 emergency services. 


Budget Performance and Priorities



The City’s budget reflects its priorities.



Tourism generates a big share of our General Fund revenue, and we need to keep working on ways to improve the tourist economy.  But tourists don’t live here:  my budget priorities will emphasize services residents use every day, especially Public Safety.



The bottom line as I see it looks like this:  The city has already made significant cuts that take away important services, like paving.  The next cuts would have to be in Public Safety. I don’t want that. We need new revenue, like ballot Measure E-20.




Current Situation



Every city budget is under strain right now because of COVID. Morro Bay is no different. But we have to assume (and hope!) that the COVID-19 pandemic will get under control soon, and then we’ll need to have some budget assumptions and procedures in place for “normal” times.



As a resident and now a candidate for City Council, I am glad to know that past several City Councils worked closely with staff to produce balanced budgets for nearly the past decade.  Recent Councils accomplished balanced budgets while also contributing to the largest percentage Emergency Reserve in the County---a benefit to us all in these devastating economic times.



As a resident and a Council candidate, I’m grateful that the City is actually in a good position to move forward because our current City Council and staff have made prudent and fiscally responsible decisions. Things could be worse.



COVID caused a steep drop in General Fund revenue because one of our biggest sources of revenue, tourism, shut down. In response, the City very quickly cut General Fund spending:



   Full time equivalent (FTE) staff was reduced by 8, to a total of 88. Just a few years ago the FTE number was just over 100.


   All staff took pay cuts ranging from 5% to 8%.


   All part-time staff (70 positions) were laid off.


   One police officer position is vacant, and is not being filled.


   Operations budgets were cut by $600,000



All told, the City made about $1.4 million in cuts, amounting to 11% on an annual basis. Those cuts either translate into service reductions or force remaining employees to provide more hours. Cuts in services include almost all Rec and Parks (kids’ sports programs and seniors’ classes), important and visible maintenance, and a pause in the paving program. To this point, the City has been able to keep the 24/7 Public Safety coverage citizens want.



Because we have a robust Emergency Reserve, the City was able to balance the year-end FY 2019-2020 budget using just $900,000 of the Reserve to close the deficit.




Going Forward



The City must balance its budget, but we cannot do that using Emergency Reserve funds year after year. Projections show on-going deficits.  We need to raise revenue or cut services further.



Service cuts in addition to what is already done will have to come in Public Safety. Police, fire and emergency medical account for almost 50% of the General Fund. Since the COVID staff reductions already eliminated most non-essential services, there will be no other option.



I’ve heard some people say we should just contract with the County for police and fire. As I understand this outsourcing, it would cost our community more per officer for less coverage, and it would not be controlled by Morro Bay: but by San Luis Obispo County.  My research shows me that the County pays its officers more than we do, so in effect we would get less service for the same amount of money.  Or, if we reduce spending, the total service level drops even further.



Morro Bay residents value fast response times for medical and other immediate emergencies.  I want to ensure these services will continue.



Here are my General Fund budget priorities, and these are based on both my own past experience with municipal budgets combined with feedback from residents as I contemplated my campaign for Council:



1.     Locally-controlled, fully staffed, 24/7 Public Safety services:  police, fire and emergency medical.


2.     Infrastructure, including paving streets so that all of them are at least ‘good’ if not ‘great.’


3.     Maintenance!  We need to keep our public spaces clean and appealing. This is needed for everyone, residents and visitors alike.


4.     Efficiency and fairness in services like permitting and other development policies. I would look carefully at these costs as I have past work experience in this area.


5.     Workforce housing to support sound economic development.


6.     Programs and investments to help existing businesses grow our local economy.


7.     Keeping Morro Bay the beautiful, natural space it is. Our incredible natural beauty is our also our biggest asset.







To keep all these services at the level residents want, we will need new revenue. That’s why I strongly support Measure E-20 to increase the sales tax by 1% on taxable items (which exclude things like food and medical needs).



Ballot Measure E-20 will raise about $2 million per year.  It would be managed much like the 2006 Measure Q ½% sales tax increase, which emphasized Public Safety and paving.  Measure Q got us down the road on paving; E will help us complete the job.



Most importantly, Measure E will secure the funding we need for locally-controlled 24/7 Public Safety services.



Sales tax measures like E have some advantages.  ALL of the money they raise stays here; Further, in a tourist town like ours, the money is raised partly by visitors (over half of it in our case).



The Chamber of Commerce has analyzed other potential revenue sources.  I support forward thinking like this to envision what could be so we can choose options that meet our needs.




Enterprise Funds



I know that in Morro Bay a lot of money flows through Enterprise Funds where users pay the costs of providing the service. The most common example is water and sewer, which is purchased monthly by ratepayers.



These funds have to be managed so they balance over the long term, and that means they have to be run like businesses.  We have to keep rates low as possible, provide excellent service, make necessary capital investments, and fund depreciation.



I have found that based on my own research plus outreach to the community, the one place we badly need new funds is the Harbor Enterprise Fund. Over many years it seems that the City has failed to keep up with the deterioration of this infrastructure, and it shows. This harbor front infrastructure is central to our identity and our economy. 



I will work with Harbor stakeholders, the Chamber of Commerce, and other Council members to seek larger and more permanent sources of funds for the Harbor.  I have extensive grant writing experience on behalf of struggling cities and I will be able to take the lead and research grant opportunities for Morro Bay.




I am not naïve to the challenges we face in Morro Bay.  But, I do believe our city’s future is bright.  I am committing myself to work hard for a stronger and more vibrant Morro Bay.





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