From unfunded pension obligations to pickleball, dozens of San Luis Obispo residents stepped up to a mic Tuesday evening to lobby for various items as the city sets its goals for the next two years.
Nearly 400 residents attended a San Luis Obispo City Council community forum at the Ludwick Community Center to voice suggestions, some of which could be worked into the city’s upcoming 2015-17 fiscal year budget.
"I wish we could do everything, as one of the speakers said," Mayor Jan Marx said after the last of 59 speakers had wrapped up his comments.
After the nearly three-hour meeting, "dotocracy" began — attendees received different colored dots to indicate major goals the council should focus on, and what priorities should be funded by money from Measure G, the half-percent sales tax increase.
Various speakers urged the council to consider restoring Laguna Lake; improving bike and pedestrian paths; continuing to focus on homeless issues; providing more workforce housing; addressing neighborhood wellness issues such as noise problems; establishing an infrastucture investment fund; and creating local clean energy.
There was also a show of support for lighted tennis courts at Sinsheimer Park; an effort to allow BMX bikes at the Santa Rosa skate park; creating safer bike paths to schools; and continued investment in open space.
John Wakeman, who lives next to Laguna Lake, called it the city's "best-kept secret" but said the lake and wildlife could disappear unless the city acts.
"Maintenance of the lake has been bumped off the budget for more than 20 years," he said, "but now is the time."
Other speakers talked about the need for more affordable housing.
"There isn't enough housing to house the workforce, and it isn't affordable for most of the workforce," said Jerry Rioux, director of the San Luis Obispo County Housing Trust Fund, who lives in Nipomo. "It's great to have tourism jobs but they pay lousy."
A few San Luis Obispo residents talked about noise and other neighborhood issues, with a few suggesting that Cal Poly should house more students on campus. Another said that people walking home from downtown in the early morning hours made so much noise that he likened his home to a campground.
The next step in the budget process is a daylong workshop Jan. 24 where the City Council will set major city goals for the 2015-17 fiscal years.
The council will face some complex budget decisions. On the bright side, revenues have continued to rebound since the Great Recession, and voters passed Measure G in November, which extended a half-percent sales tax increase for eight more years.
But city officials will have to balance that with a rapidly escalating cost of retirement and insurance programs, according to a general fund five-year fiscal forecast for 2015-20.
A new plan by the California Public Employees Retirement System, which provides the city's retirement benefits, aims to pay down unfunded pension liabilities over the next 30 years.
The city's costs are expected to significantly increase by an annual average of 8 percent over the next five years to $12.3 million by 2019-20 — a 63 percent increase from the 2013-14 cost, according to the forecast.
The city's unfunded pension liability is $115.6 million, according to a report from Finance Director Wayne Padilla.
The city’s current goals include addressing homelessness; neighborhood wellness, which includes proactive code enforcement; preserving essential services and fiscal health; improving bike and pedestrian paths; implementing the economic development strategic plan; assessing and renewing downtown; and constructing a skate park at Santa Rosa Park.
A grand opening for the skate park will be held Feb. 28.