Los Osos, CA—Special districts in San Luis Obispo County and across the state recognized Senator John Laird (SD-17) as their Legislator of the Year at an event held at the South Bay Community Center featuring local and state leaders from throughout the region. Senator Laird was honored for his steadfast support for the local service specialists responsible for providing water, sanitation, fire protection, parks, healthcare and other essential services and infrastructure to communities throughout California.
The recognition is awarded annually by the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) and was presented Friday at the San Luis Obispo County Chapter of the California Special Districts Association General Meeting in Los Osos. Newly-elected Assemblymember Dawn Addis joined the Senator during the event, and the two legislators engaged in a robust discussion of regional priorities and concerns with leaders from local special districts from throughout San Luis Obispo County.
“We are so fortunate to have an engaged and effective representative in the State Legislature like Senator Laird,” stated CSDA Board President Elaine Magner. “His background in local government brings a perspective that recognizes the importance of special districts and the essential services they provide, and his legislation in 2022 creating the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District preserved a critical community resource for the residents of Watsonville.”
Since taking office, Senator Laird and his staff have frequently and meaningfully engaged with CSDA and with special districts throughout his Senate district. From in-person roundtables, to speaking at CSDA chapter meetings, to visiting numerous districts individually throughout Senate District 17, the Senator’s office has made extraordinary efforts to interact with special districts and understand their needs and concerns. In addition, during the pandemic, he was one of 46 signatories encouraging Governor Newsom to extend COVID-19 relief funding access to special districts, which was ultimately provided through a $100 million allocation in the 2021-22 State Budget. As Chair of the Senate Climate Working Group, the Senator invited CSDA to present positions and thoughts on climate change legislation and budget actions to the group of Senators.
In 2021, Senator Laird authored Senate Bill 418, urgency legislation to establish the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District, a special district tasked with providing public oversight of the Watsonville Community Hospital. A stalwart of the community for nearly a century, the hospital evolved through several ownership structures over the years, which included nearly continuous turnover in ownership for two decades. In December 2021, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital filed for bankruptcy. Shortly thereafter, in an effort to ensure the hospital’s continued operations, and with the support of numerous community organizations and local governments, Senator Laird introduced SB 418. The bill passed the Legislature unanimously, and on February 4, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the legislation into law. The hospital was officially transferred to public ownership on Aug. 31, 2022, just months after the introduction of SB 418.
"I am truly honored to be named Legislator of the Year by the California Special Districts Association (CSDA)," said Senator Laird (D-Santa Cruz). "Having worked with special districts throughout my entire career of public service in local government, the Assembly, the Governor's Cabinet, and now as a Senator, I know firsthand the value they bring to their local communities in essential services. In a district with numerous special districts, I have had the pleasure to work with many of them and partner with CSDA. I am particularly proud to author SB 418 to create the Pajaro Valley Health Care District that met an urgent need for an underserved community by saving the local hospital. I look forward to continuing to work with CSDA and my special districts."
Newly-elected Assemblymember Dawn Addis (AD-30), whose district overlaps with Senator Laird’s, said “John is a great champion for the coast and I am proud to be his partner in the Legislature. He brings vast experience and knowledge to the policy issues that affect special districts, which play a critical role in managing the public resources Californians rely on every day.”
Chapter President Marshall Ochylski, Vice President of the Los Osos Community Services District, stated, “We are so fortunate to have John Laird as a member of the State Senate after his six years in the State Assembly and advocating for the interests of the special districts of California. Given his background serving as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency and serving as a member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, he clearly understands the value that special districts bring to our communities and is willing to advocate for needed funding for our special districts.”
Los Osos Community Services District General Manager Ron Munds noted that “Senator Laird has been especially supportive to special districts in San Luis Obispo County by making himself and his District Representative available for one-on-one consultation and group meetings with General Managers. He understands the challenges special districts face in obtaining access to funding and outside resources. State Senator Laird is accessible to listen to our needs and is accountable to the follow up actions needed to bring those resources to our county including special districts.”
Oceano Community Services District General Manager Will Clemens said, “The community of Oceano is extremely thankful for the support provided by Senator Laird in securing additional grant funding for a critical waterline replacement. When bids came in nearly 30% above estimated costs, the community was on the hook for the $268,000 shortfall. With Senator Laird’s support, the Small Community Drought Relief Program through the State Department of Water Resources covered the shortfall. The process from grant application to grant commitment took less than two months! In my 25 years of government finance experience, I have never seen such an expedited process from a granting agency!”
CSDA and special districts across the state invite state legislative representatives and the public to get to know the special district leaders who provide essential services to local communities. The Association launched a public outreach campaign titled “Districts Make the Difference” to connect people with the special districts that help California thrive. Additional information can be found at: www.districtsmakethedifference.org.
California’s communities are served by just over 2,000 independent special districts. These local governments are led by a board of directors that are elected or appointed to a fixed term to serve diverse communities and regions throughout the state.
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***PHOTOGRAPHS OF EVENT FOLLOW***
Senator John Laird (SD-17) accepts the CSDA Legislator of the Year award from CSDA Board of Directors President Elaine Magner.
Assemblymember Dawn Addis (AD-30) speaks at the CSDA Legislator of the Year Award ceremony.
Nearly 50 representatives from San Luis Obispo County special districts attended the CSDA Legislator of the Year award to honor Senator John Laird.
Senator John Laird (center), Assemblymember Dawn Addis (on Laird’s left) and CSDA Board President Elaine Magner (far left) presented CSDA’s Transparency Certificate of Excellence to Heritage Ranch Community Services District General Manager Scott Duffield (far right) and Board Clerk Kristen Gelos (holding certificate).