A closer look at the candidates for SLO City Council

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 23, 2013 

The nonpartisan race for a seat on the San Luis Obispo City Council has taken on a decidedly political bent — the SLO County Democratic Party has spent $4,159 for a pamphlet mailed to voters highlighting candidate Carlyn Christianson’s Democratic values.

As the final three candidates for the San Luis Obispo City Council focus on the finish line, campaign contributions continue to propel them forward.

The two emerging top candidates, Paul Brown, a police officer in Guadalupe and former city councilman, and Christianson, an administrator with Coastal Anesthesiology Medical Associates and a county planning commissioner, stand on separate sides of the political sphere but share similar philosophies on some key issues facing the city.

Donald Hedrick, an artisan and community activist, also remains in the race. Hedrick has run unsuccessfully for mayor three times in the past seven years.

Christianson recently benefited from a $4,159 independent expenditure made by the party to pay for a pamphlet mailed to voters highlighting her Democratic values.

That expenditure far exceeds the city’s campaign contribution limit of $200 per election by anyone other than immediate family, but is allowed because it is not a direct contribution.

“We have endorsed many candidates in nonpartisan races,” said Pat Harris, local Democratic Party chairwoman. “We plan on supporting Democratic candidates, and I don’t see anything to apologize about doing that.”

Harris said that big spending wasn’t done in the past because the party didn’t have the funds.

“In the last few years we’ve made an all-out effort to get money so that we can support candidates,” Harris said.

Brown, a registered Republican, said he was surprised by the magnitude of money being spent by the Democratic Party.

“This is about local issues,” said Brown. “It is not party specific — my voter registration and my personal political beliefs will not dictate how I vote on the council.”

How they stand on the issues

The City Council has made addressing homelessness a main priority for the city in the next two fiscal years.

Both Brown and Christianson agree that the proposed Homeless Services Center is needed for the homeless seeking shelter.

They are also adamant that more needs to be done to limit panhandling and other aggressive behaviors that have become a growing concern of downtown business owners and residents.

Christianson said she would lobby for a county staff position to be created to work with people living on the streets and help with mental illness and substance abuse issues.

Brown said tougher prosecution against crimes is needed.

“Without this support, our officers do not have the backing to effectively protect our citizens and tourists from physical assaults and overly aggressive panhandling,” Brown said.

Hedrick said the expanded shelter is more like a detention center meant to control the homeless. Instead, he would like to see empty housing stock used to provide homes for the homeless.

Fiscally, both Brown and Christianson say they will support the renewal of Measure Y, the city's half-cent sales tax increase, which ends in April 2015.

Brown has taken a strong stance on pension reform, advocating for further reducing the retirement benefits of the city’s firefighters to mirror the concessions made by the police officers.

Christianson has not singled out any specific approach to further reducing employee compensation but said it is likely additional cuts will be needed in the future.

“It’s important to keep in mind that our great city needs great employees to make it work, so we need to take a comprehensive look at spending in this area, and make cuts as appropriate, but with a scalpel not a hacksaw.”

Donations and endorsements

Brown has raised significantly more money than Christianson, with $15,915 in contributions reported through May 4.

Christianson reports only $8,887 in donations; however, if you add the $4,159 spent on her behalf by the SLO County Democratic Party, she’s not far behind.

Hedrick said he has not received any political contributions.

Notable endorsements for Brown include the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, former councilman Andrew Carter, former mayor Dave Romero and several business owners.

Christianson has the support of the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Local 3523, county Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson, Planned Parenthood and several current and retired education professionals.

The next round of campaign spending disclosures will be filed with the city on June 6. Those reports will include donations and expenditures from May to June 1.

The four City Council members are split in their endorsements: Mayor Jan Marx and Councilman John Ashbaugh support Christianson, and Councilman Dan Carpenter and Councilwoman Kathy Smith favor Brown.

Ballots for the special vote-by-mail election were mailed to registered voters Monday. The deadline to return ballots is June 18. The results will be announced no later than July 12

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

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