Financial stability, establishing trust and accountability and addressing the growing homeless population were key issues identified by the seven San Luis Obispo City Council candidates at a forum Wednesday.
At stake are two four-year council seats belonging to John Ashbaugh and Dan Carpenter and the mayoral seat, held by Jan Marx, which is a two-year term.
All three incumbents are seeking re-election. Challengers for mayor are architect Steve Barasch and artisan Donald Hedrick. Opponents seeking the open council seats are firefighter Kevin Rice and history teacher Jeff Aranguena. Matt Strzepek dropped out of the race Sept. 6.
The luncheon forum, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa at the Madonna Inn, focused on issues considered vital to the business community.
Nearly all candidates agreed that the city’s lengthy review process for incoming projects is a barrier facing new business.
Carpenter said the city would reap the benefits of added jobs by reducing fees to stimulate development.
Marx cautioned that the public needs to remain a part of that review process, while Hedrick said the city needs to have a “less mean-spirited approach.”
Many of the candidates expressed concern over the renewal of Measure Y, an eight-year tax increase approved by voters in 2006, which will sunset on March 31, 2015. The added sales tax brings about $5.3 million annually to city coffers.
Barasch said he would not support renewal of the tax measure as it is now because not enough of that money has been spent on civic and capital improvements.
Aranguena said he would support it only if the city could find a way to be more transparent about its spending of that money.
Carpenter said he would consider supporting a specific tax — which would define specific areas where the money could be spent — but require a two-thirds majority vote to pass. Rice agreed.
Marx said she would be interested in pursuing keeping those tax monies in a fund separate from the general fund and require council approval for spending.
Hedrick said he felt the added tax was driving shoppers elsewhere.
Ashbaugh said he supports renewing it.
The candidates were also asked how they would handle adverse commentary at meetings or in public — something the council has dealt with quite a bit in recent months while discussing the issue of homelessness.
“Keeping a finger on the pulse of the community is important,” said Marx, adding, she didn’t have a problem with keeping people in line.
“We need to have the feeling that we are really being listened to,” said Hedrick, referring to public commentary at meetings.
Former longtime councilman and Cal Poly professor Allen Settle asked the candidates how they would vote on Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to raise the income tax for people making more than $250,000 a year and increase the state sales tax by a quarter cent for four years.
Kevin Rice was the only candidate who said he would not vote for it.
“The state is not a good steward of our money,” he said.
Barasch did not make it clear how he planned to vote on the tax measure. Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.