Gibson picks and chooses public comment
May 31, 2014
Opinion By JULIE TACKER
San Luis Obispo County District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson has difficulty listening to public comment. It’s been documented time and time again that as chairman of the board he has shortened speaker’s time, when customarily they are allowed three minutes.
In his first term as chairman he went so far as to force Los Osos speakers to share 10 minutes between them when bringing their multimillion dollar concerns to the board. He’s called the sheriff and had speakers removed for things he didn’t want to hear.
As painful as it may be to hear what the public might say, during this election season he’s been predictably tolerant. But at the May 20, county supervisor’s meeting Gibson revealed the ugliest side of his character, topping all other restrictions imposed on public comment before.
The meeting began with the buzz of pomp and circumstance, as countywide education dignitaries gathered in the board chambers. A packed-house of families was there to recognize the county’s best and brightest high school students as they were awarded the 2014 Richard J. Weyhrich Leadership Scholarship. A dozen or more of these deserving kids are moving on to colleges and careers, making us all proud of their efforts and looking forward to their contributions as young adults into the future.
The presentation took nearly an hour, the room emptied and a sea of green Land Conservancy t-shirts replaced them in anticipation for the Pismo Preserve item later in the agenda. Members of the public had waited an hour and a half for public comment for items not on the agenda; sandwiched in-between these important events of the morning.
Gibson, who as chairman sets the agenda, was overheard on a 20-minute break, telling (not asking) the esteemed Jeanne Blackwell, a woman whose photo graces the Women’s Wall of Fame in the lobby of these very chambers, that now her group would have to share just 15 minutes.
Gibson reconvened the meeting and announced that the anti-fracturing speakers “decided” to cut their thirteen speeches to just five (saving 24 minutes) and that combined with the other slips submitted there was approximately 30 minutes of public comment.
Not only did Gibson disregard the fact Blackwell and the majority of her group was made up of Cuesta and Cal Poly college students who had given of their time, made the effort to come to the meeting and had prepared speeches from their hearts. To that point they had sat through an hour and a half of board business and the Weyhrich scholarship presentation. Now it was all-for-not; these youth had been turned away. For some, there was disappointment on their faces; and others, first-timers, were unaware that their basic right to speak had been stripped from them.
Then when the no-brainer, feather in the cap (for both incumbents, Gibson and Supervisor Caren Ray) Pismo Preserve item came before the board, much of the overwhelming support came from some of Nipomo High School’s best and brightest who were allowed to speak for their full three minutes. Underscoring Gibson’s choice of subjects he’d prefer to hear.
Gibson, did ask the board for consensus to direct staff to go on a lengthy goose chase for information and recommendations from the Water Resources Advisory Committee and come back in the future to consider the board’s options related to fracking.
“Dr. Gibson” is a devoted oil man; retired comfortably from his first career doing research in exploration seismology for the oil industry. Many of his personal investments have been in oil company stock. Gibson is the county’s representative on the Independent Peer Review Panel for Diablo Canyon; PG&E’s nuclear power plant and is reimbursed for his travel and lodging expenses by the California Public Utilities Commission who regulates natural gas (among other things) for his “independent” participation.
Gibson’s support for seismic testing, and obsession with a larger oil industry boat in which to perform the environmentally earth damaging process is well documented. Seismic testing has parallel risks to hydraulic fracturing (underground oil well stimulation) that may also trigger earthquakes. This softball direction to staff was for the benefit of the cameras. Do not be fooled, Gibson’s allegiance is to the oil industry, not to the protection of the citizens or the water supplies of this county.
If he had supported Ms. Blackwell’s efforts he would have directed staff to craft or amend the draft ordinance she had presented to vote on the coming weeks. Seasoned activists, including myself, remain incensed that Gibson would go to such great lengths for the photo-op with some of our county’s youth and within minutes dash democracy for another, equally important, group of our county’s best and brightest youth.
It’s easy to blame Gibson as chairman of the board for this inequitable misstep, I do and he should be held accountable. Additional accountability is expected of the other four supervisors; they are Gibson’s equals. Each is elected to serve the public, and obligated to put Gibson in his place in order to see that the public, all of the public, is heard.
Gibson lost my vote a long time ago. Don’t give him yours.