And now there are three.
The race for the vacant seat on the San Luis Obispo City Council that started with six candidates just five months ago is down to a trio as challengers continue to drop out to ensure they don’t splinter the vote between the two main contenders: Paul Brown and Carlyn Christianson.
The nonpartisan race is gaining political momentum with only a week before ballots arrive in registered voters’ mailboxes.
Kevin P. Rice announced Tuesday during a candidates forum hosted by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce that he is withdrawing from the race and endorsing former councilman Paul Brown.
“I think Paul represents a fuller swath of the public in this town, and I need to ensure that the candidate who represents the largest number of people wins,” Rice said.
Rice’s sudden departure from the election follows candidate John Spatafore’s decision to drop out last week, saying he did not want to splinter the vote.
Donald Hedrick, an artisan and community activist, also remains in the race. However, Hedrick has run unsuccessfully for the City Council multiple times in past years and only captured about 7 percent of votes when he ran for mayor in fall 2012 — likely leaving the current race between Christianson and Brown.
On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, in an unprecedented move, announced its endorsement of Brown — signifying the business community’s growing support for him.
“Based on Paul’s background, experience and demonstrated understanding of issues that affect the community and particularly downtown businesses, the board believes that he would be the best choice to fill the vacant seat on City Council at this time,” the Downtown Association said in a statement.
Christianson, who considers herself progressive but fiscally conservative, has gained the support of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party.
Brown, a Republican, said he considers himself a right-wing moderate and fiscally conservative. He was endorsed by former Councilman Andrew Carter at the start of the race. It’s Carter’s old seat they’re vying for; he resigned in February to take a full-time job as the city administrator of Guadalupe.
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.
On Tuesday, at the chamber’s candidate forum, Christianson said she would not vote based on party lines.
“I vote on facts. I vote on ideas. I vote on policy,” Christianson said.
When asked what they felt would be the single largest issue facing the council in the next two years, the candidates’ approaches differed.
Christianson said updating the city’s land use and circulation elements of the general plan would be the biggest challenge. Brown said focusing on pension reform and working further with labor groups, particularly firefighters, would be essential to reduce operating costs.
None of the candidates voiced support for locating the planned Homeless Services Center on South Higuera Street, instead focusing on the possibility of locating it on Prado Road, as suggested by a segment of the business community.
Christianson previously told The Tribune Editorial Board that she stood behind the originally proposed site at South Higuera Street.
However, at the forum Tuesday she said that she now supports efforts to do a costly feasibility study at the Prado Road location, even offering to chip in $1,000 to help pay for the engineering study that will cost between $80,000 to $100,000.
If the Prado Road site proves fruitless, Christianson said she would like to see the project move forward at its original location.