SLO City Council moves ahead with plans to meet goals

In January, the San Luis Obispo City Council named its major goals for the next two years: Protect and maintain open space, encourage different types of housing, and improve alternative forms of transportation.

Proposed projects and programs to meet those goals are now included in the council’s 2015-17 budget, which is expected to be approved in June after several more public workshops.

As part of the open space goal, for example, city staff plans to draft a comprehensive plan to maintain its open space, which includes 52 miles of trails.

The city’s open space program, now in its 20th year, has long focused on land acquisition and trail-building but now needs to take a step back and ensure long-term maintenance plans are in place, Natural Resources Manager Bob Hill said during the council’s Tuesday meeting.

“A lot of it is truly the nuts and bolts of what it will take to maintain a trail head to building a new trail,” Senior Park Ranger Doug Carscaden said. “How many boots on the ground do we need to care for these natural resources?”

The “multi-modal transportation” goal includes moving forward with projects in the city’s bicycle transportation plan, as well as improving and maintaining bike, pedestrian and transit facilities.

Several speakers thanked the council for projects aimed at increasing bike safety, but said more could be done to make it safer for children to ride their bikes to school.

The council also set four other important objectives last January: neighborhood wellness, which includes responding to neighborhood disturbances such as code violations and rowdy parties; Laguna Lake conservation; fiscal responsibility with a focus on reducing unfunded liabilities; and downtown improvements.

Friends of Laguna Lake urged the council to fast-track the design and permitting process for removing sediment at the lake, saying the drought offers an unanticipated opportunity to do so at a significantly lower cost.

In addition, the council received a financial forecast Tuesday that projects a balanced budget over the next five years, with increases expected in property tax, sales tax and bed tax.

General fund revenues are projected at $65.6 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and nearly $67.2 million in 2016-17, rising to $76.1 million in 2019-20.

But city officials will have to balance that with the escalating cost of retirement and insurance programs.

City staff recommends putting $1 million in one-time funds toward its pension liability and other retiree benefits, such as health care. In addition, staff proposes to budget $12 million toward its unfunded pension liability over the next two years.

The city expects to receive about $7 million each year from Measure G, which extended the city’s half-percent sales tax measure for eight more years. More details on how those funds are proposed to be spent will be in the preliminary financial plan in June.