Addressing homelessness will be SLO's top priority, City Council decides

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJanuary 28, 2013 

Trying to find more ways to deal with homelessness in the city will be the main priority of the San Luis Obispo City Council in the coming two years.

The five-member council will also dedicate money and resources to improving neighborhoods, expanding paths for cyclists and pedestrians, improving Mission Plaza, implementing the city’s freshly drafted economic strategic plan and building a skate park.

The council has also committed to make a concerted effort to seek renewal of Measure Y or a similar sales tax increase, and keep a close eye on employee pension and benefit costs.

On Saturday the council named the seven major city goals it will focus on in the 2013-15 budget. City staff will now draft plans to implement those goals, which the council will adopt in April.

“Although it is a lot, many of the goals are not new initiatives but carrying on the direction the city is going in already,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “When staff comes up with work plans, there will have to be some tradeoffs when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road.”

What is new is the invigorated focus on partnering with outside agencies, such as the county and Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County Inc., to deal with homelessness.

The city budgeted $300,000 directly on homeless support services in 2012-13, about half of that in grant funding.

That amount will likely grow as the city looks to do things such as making public restrooms available downtown again.

“It is quite clear that dealing with the homeless issue has become a community priority,” Marx said.

Other new endeavors will include creating a residential rental inspection program to maintain the quality of such housing in the city; increasing police presence both downtown and in neighborhoods; looking at ways to limit alcohol venues downtown; and possibly revising a more-than-decade-old plan to expand Mission Plaza.

Councilman Dan Carpenter said an increased police presence downtown is needed to discourage bad behavior.

There have been multiple incidents in recent months of people reporting assaults downtown — many of those linked to aggressive transients.

“We need to instill confidence in people and businesses down there that we are dealing with it,” Carpenter said.

In past years, the council selected far fewer major goals.

“There is a great feeling of optimism right now that the city has a balanced budget due to the sacrifices and good will of the city employees in terms of what we have been able to negotiate,” Marx said.

The city enters the 2013-14 fiscal year with $5 million more than budgeted, mostly because of grueling negotiations with employee groups that will result in $3.2 million in annual savings.

The council would also like to keep its commitment to open space, maintain existing city infrastructure and improve transportation as resources become available.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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