The Morro Bay mayoral recall is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial topics to hit the North Coast since the Los Osos Community Services District recall in 2005. Unfortunately, there are a lot of similarities between the two recall movements that we prefer not to see.
Let’s face it: recalls result in community division. After the recall was successful in Los Osos, stopping the midtown sewer project, there was sharp division between community members and leaders over three LOCSD board members being replaced with a fresh new majority. Similarly, at the June 2012 primary election in Morro Bay a new majority was brought in to, essentially, move the new wastewater project out of town. In Los Osos, the County government ultimately assumed authority over the wastewater project after legislation was passed to facilitate that transition. In Morro Bay, the new majority initiated the public process on their project that Los Osos struggled to pursue without County intervention.
In Los Osos, district meetings at the South Bay Community Center were rife with gossip, rumor and innuendo. Sides were chosen. Opinionated citizens were judged as liars, thugs and criminals by other opinionated citizens. Menacing eyes were cast around the room, waiting for someone to approach the podium for public comment. The eyes sent a clear message: Unless you’re one of us, you’re nothing. Even though residents knew each other for decades, growing hatred overwhelmed years of cordiality and courtesy. Between salacious smearing in hushed tones, citizens with diametrically opposing viewpoints smiled and waved at each other. It was fake when it wasn’t forced, superficial when it wasn’t sarcastic.
Their leaders recalled, the new minority in Los Osos shouted, screamed and cursed at the newly elected majority board members. Residents — both for and against the recall — were harassed and threatened by neighbors-turned-adversaries. It was all very troubling. There seemed to be no end to the discord, no solution to the torn fabric. The lack of respect and decorum viciously tore the town in half. Many County residents outside of Los Osos, including Morro Bay residents, shook their heads and asked: What was Los Osos thinking?
Some Morro Bay residents have said over the years, “We’re not like Los Osos. There’s no comparison. What happened in Los Osos will never happen here.”
In Morro Bay, the recall controversy is really no different than Los Osos. There are two warring factions, clustered in a city bustling with tourists and residents who recognize that life is best spent on less-than-stressful endeavors. Residents are left to sift through speculation, accusations, personal attacks and inconsequential bursts of hubris that yield little substance. Then there’s blame. Then there are the letters to the editor, the scathing viewpoints that portray the Morro Bay politics as black and white, sore losers and tyrannical winners. It’s us versus them. No exceptions.
We find that ridiculous and harmful.
Maybe residents have a right to be angry: two top city employees were suddenly on the chopping block without much warning or discussion. Mayor Jamie Irons was the primary force behind the move, a move to change the way business is done in Morro Bay. Some residents decided that firing the long-serving city attorney was unacceptable and initiated the recall. It’s their right to pursue one. Similarly, residents have a right to oppose the recall.
So we pose the twin questions: What are the reasons for supporting the mayor? What are the reasons for not supporting the mayor? Either way, before answering, abandon the invectives disguised as reasons. The reasons to recall Mayor Irons are subject to debate. There’s the linchpin issue of confidentiality versus transparency. Acknowledge the delicate balance and the overriding legalities involved that have shaped events thus far.
More importantly, let’s learn from past mistakes. Many of the critics involved in the debate in Morro Bay have made the same mistakes that tore apart Los Osos, gleefully, hypocritically resorting to threats and taunting as ways to embarrass and ostracize their detractors. But the debate should not dwell on the overreactions of both sides. To avoid what happened in Los Osos, Morro Bay residents must be vigilant in elevating civil discourse above the negative din. They must stand up for mutual respect as common ground to move forward as one. They must reject and denounce hostility as offering any kind of unifying solution, and argue for and against the recall with objective and legal rationale, working toward solutions that the majority of the town can agree on.
It’s time for Morro Bay residents to ask, “What are we thinking?” before Morro Bay becomes another Los Osos. That’s something no one in Morro Bay, no matter how upset, should ever want to see.