The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY NICK WIL­SON

Both Morro Bay may­oral can­di­dates say they want to see com­mu­nity heal­ing over the di­vi­sive sewer project de­bate.

Morro Bay may­oral can­di­date John Weiss has con­grat­u­lated John Headding on his un­of­fi­cial vic­tory for mayor. Weiss be­lieves Headding will likely get the of­fi­cial nod once re­main­ing votes are counted — and both want to see com­mu­nity heal­ing over the di­vi­sive sewer de­bate, they said.

Weiss and Headding spoke to each other Wed­nes­day about how best to move for­ward and unite a frac­tured city over the plan­ning for the new $126 mil­lion waste­water treat­ment and wa­ter re­cy­cling plant at South Bay Boule­vard and High­way 1, they told The Tri­bune.

The race is sep­a­rated by 188 votes with Headding — a sup­porter of the planned new fa­cil­ity — top­ping Weiss, an op­po­nent of the city’s sewer lo­ca­tion, as of the lat­est re­port at 4:27 p.m. Fri­day. The gap in­creased by more than 80 votes since the last count re­leased Wed­nes­day. Of­fi­cial re­sults won’t be cer­ti­fied for sev­eral more days,

As it stands, Headding has 52 per­cent of the tally (2,005 votes) while Weiss gar­nered 47.9 per­cent (1,904 votes). Headding said he re­mains cau­tiously op­ti­mistic.

“I of­fered my con­grat­u­la­tions and com­mit­ted my ef­forts to heal­ing and ac­tions that the City Coun­cil would con­sider,” Weiss said. “It was a very pos­i­tive con­ver­sa­tion. (Headding) is re­spect­ful of me, and I’m re­spect­ful of him.”

The new mayor will re­place cur­rent mayor Jamie Irons, who chose not to run for re-elec­tion, when the count be­comes of­fi­cial.

The coun­cil re­cently passed a $41 rate in­crease to help pay for the planned new waste­water sys­tem, but not be­fore fierce com­mu­nity de­bate.

More than 2,158 protest bal­lots were sub­mit­ted (though the city didn’t as­sess them for va­lid­ity be­cause they didn’t meet the 2,794 needed for a ma­jor­ity plus one) in a Propo­si­tion 218 vote over the rate in­crease. The lo­ca­tion of the planned fa­cil­ity out­side of city lim­its has also di­vided the city over costs.

The group, Cit­i­zens for Af­ford­able Liv­ing, sub­mit­ted roughly 1,000 protest bal­lots at a Sept. 11 coun­cil meet­ing, but the coun­cil de­ter­mined the let­ters were gath­ered be­fore the coun­cil’s spe­cific rate in­crease had been cal­cu­lated and failed to meet other cri­te­ria, in­clud­ing a date, which City Man­ager Scott Collins pre­vi­ously told The Tri­bune was re­quired for le­gal va­lid­ity.

Headding said that Weiss and he have been “friends for a long time,” and they laid the ground­work dur­ing the elec­tion to be re­spect­ful and not fin­ger-point.

“One of my big­gest cam­paign promises is to try to mend the fences in town and ask for John’s as­sis­tance in deal­ing with neg­a­tiv­ity, mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ing, while work­ing to­gether col­lec­tively in the fu­ture,” Headding said. “Waste­water is one of 10 is­sues that are ex­tremely im­por­tant right now, and we don’t want to lose an im­por­tant con­tin­gent (of res­i­dents) on key is­sues loom­ing.”

Headding has cited pen­sion costs, bud­get chal­lenges and har­bor up­grades as im­por­tant city top­ics.

Weiss said he’s con­cerned about the planned new fa­cil­i­ties’ cost and lo­ca­tion, which Headding sup­ports to move treat­ment away from the coast.

If his lead stands, Headding said that he would

work with Weiss to get out ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on the city’s plan­ning, in­volve Cit­i­zens for Af­ford­able Liv­ing and strive to keep waste­water sys­tem costs down.

“I want to make sure cost is man­aged ap­pro­pri­ately,” Headding said. “We’ll work to­ward value en­gi­neer­ing and low in­ter­est loans to fur­ther re­duce the rate for res­i­dents, not over­size the project.”

Dawn Ad­dis, an­other pro­po­nent of the new sewer lo­ca­tion, was the leader among City Coun­cil can­di­dates, earn­ing 29.5 per­cent of the vote as of Wed­nes­day’s tally.

Other coun­cil can­di­dates Jeff Heller, at 22.2 per­cent, and Betty Win­holtz, who gar­nered 21.7, say a plant closer to the coast, where the cur­rent waste­water fa­cil­ity ex­ists, would be a cheaper op­tion — indi­cat­ing who­ever wins could likely be a dis­sent­ing vote on the city’s cur­rent di­rec­tion.

Heller has been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for the city to count the 1,000 rate protest bal­lots.

“There’s a lot of heal­ing that has to go on,” Heller said. “I want to work to­gether as best we can. ... I still think the project is out of whack, but I’m very glad to be on the coun­cil.”

Mean­while, Aaron Ochs of the group Save Morro Bay, said in a Twit­ter mes­sage that, af­ter a records re­quest of the 1,000 protest bal­lots re­ceived but not counted by the city, “our at­tor­ney is re­view­ing” those let­ters.

“We are at­tempt­ing to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the city’s claim that most of the bal­lots were in­val­i­dated,” Ochs said.

Nick Wil­son: 805-781-7922, @Nick­Wil­sonTrib

John Headding

John Weiss

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