By KAREN VELIE
What is generally a quiet election, this year’s race for three seats on the Templeton Area Advisory Group (TAAG) has turned into a contentious battle between longtime community members and three marijuana industry insiders.
Even though TAAG does not have the ability to implement planning decisions, it is an influential voice to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission. Currently, the TAAG Board has voted to recommend the county approve several marijuana grows and has also asked the county to deny several cannabis cultivation sites, with many more in the pipeline.
In past elections, TAAG had issues getting enough candidates to fill the available seats. Last year, only 34 residents voted in the TAAG election. Currently there are seven candidates running for three seats on the board, and several have been sending out email advertisements.
That dynamic underscores the growing influence the marijuana industry is having countywide on local government bodies. And with three applicants for TAAG involved in the cannabis industry, Saturday’s election is an opportunity for marijuana business owners to push their agendas.
Incumbent Chris Cobey is an attorney, specializing in employment law and litigation. As a member of the board, he has voted for and against cannabis cultivation proposals.
“The issues now facing TAAG include not only the usual ones concerning commercial, residential, and agricultural land use, including events, but the sometimes highly-charged ones of cannabis cultivation, processing, transport, and groundwater use,” Cobey says in his campaign statement. “I believe I offer a respectful, civil, informed, experienced, and unbiased voice for our rural community on these issues.”
Incumbent Bruce Jones M.D. is a retired orthopedic surgeon. As a member of the board, he also voted for and against cannabis cultivation proposals.
Marie Roth is the founder of several marijuana advocacy groups. She has worked to promote marijuana tourism and businesses.
“I am a long time North County resident keenly aware of the desire for pristine Central Coast living and how it combines with regulated, income producing Ag & Agra tourism opportunities,” Roth writes in her statement.
Jon De Morales is a 30 year Templeton resident who retired after serving as the executive director of the Atascadero State Hospital for 10 years.
“Our community will always contend with issues of development and change,” De Morales wrote in his statement. “Current concerning issues involve the establishment of cannabis operations in our area and other general land use and development issues, and water. I believe that my fifty years of experience and involvement in our North County area qualifies me to represent the best interest of our community.”
Jason Kallen is a cannabis cultivator who recently moved to Templeton and applied for a permit for a 3 acre outside grow, 22,000 square feet of indoor cultivation, and manufacturing of pot at a site on South El Pomar Road. TAAG is planning to discuss Kallen’s project in early April.
Kallen also applied for two other marijuana grows in North County and a retail cannabis store in San Luis Obispo. He does not mention in his statement his involvement in the cannabis industry.
“For the past several years, I have built relationships with our elected officials of the county surrounding land use and property rights for the residents of SLO county,” Kallen writes in his statement. “As a local organic farmer and business owner, I want to make sure local landowners are properly represented and supported by our county government.”
Frances Esters lives at the same address as Kallen, and is also an applicant for the cannabis store permit in San Luis Obispo.
Rockey Spurgeon a 37 year resident of Templeton, worked for the California Department of Mental Health prior to his 2015 retirement.
The annual TAAG election will be held Saturday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Templeton Community Service District office, located next to the fire station. All registered voters in Templeton are eligible to vote in the election.