Two outside challengers and one incumbent have announced their candidacies for San Luis Obispo City Council, as the city faces growing divide over growth and how to manage it.
They are running for two seats currently held by Dan Rivoire and Carlyn Christianson, whose terms expire this year.
Christianson, a city councilmember since 2013, plans to run for re-election and promises to continue the current council’s work on four major city goals: climate action, affordable and workforce housing, multi-modal transportation and fiscal responsibility.
The challengers are Sarah Flickinger, an advocate of “smart growth” and neighborhood quality of life, and Erica A. Stewart, a Cal Poly employee who wants to bridge gaps on growth and encourage a more diverse city.
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The period for filing starts Monday and runs through Aug. 10, which would be extended to Aug. 15 if Rivoire doesn’t enter by Aug. 10.
Flickinger, a Cal Poly graduate who works in marketing and public relations , lobbied on behalf of the city’s “SLO Life” in the early 2000s, which highlighted the city’s connection to nature, active lifestyle and welcoming atmosphere as a way to attract tourism.
Her platform includes supporting neighborhood quality of life, safe and accessible roadways, adequate parking and pickup zones, small business and social and environmental justice.
“We’re at a point in time where we’re risking sacrificing the SLO Life,” Flickinger said. “I’d be a strong voice for holding on to community character and that special way of life that makes SLO what it is.”
Over the past couple of years, Flickinger lobbied for traffic improvements on the city’s south end during the planning of the 720-home Avila Ranch development off Buckley Road. She joined in a lawsuit against the developer that resulted in a $678,000 settlement for traffic-related improvements.
Flickinger said the council needs to engage neighbors and affected residents sooner in the development planning process to better make sure their voices are heard, and quality of life concerns aren’t ignored.
“I am for smart growth, for sustainable growth, including how we balance our economic growth,” Flickinger said. “I recognize we need housing. I also think our commercial and residential growth needs to be in balance and in concert with one another.”
Flickinger is also an advocate for bike safety, while considering “all road users with an eye towards safety.”
“We need safer intersections to the greatest extent possible, especially as growth comes in,” she said.
Flickinger added that she has been “frustrated” recently with the city’s direction and that has led her “out of my comfort zone to run for council.”
Erica A. Stewart
A former Cal Poly student body president two decades ago, and now a university employee, Stewart said she’d work to bring opposing groups together to help solve problems, building “a culture of communication and cooperation.”
“At least once or twice per year, I think we need to bring people together, such as those with pro-housing and slow-growth housing outlooks,” Stewart said. “No growth is not the answer. Too much growth is too much. How can we make this work?”
Stewart, Cal Poly’s director of parent and student philanthropy, said she has no direct role with the university’s planning and development on campus, which is under state jurisdiction. But she encourages more student housing because it correlates with academic success and will help relieve the city’s tight housing market.
“I do think we need more housing at Cal Poly,” Stewart said. “I also think neighbors in the city should be involved early in the process, particularly if they might feel projects are being built too close to their homes.”
Stewart said her employment at Cal Poly has no conflict with serving on the council, which she vetted before entering the race.
Stewart wants to look at ways to better help homeless people and streamline the city’s development and permitting process, calling it “complex, daunting and expensive.”
Stewart, whose father is African-American and mother is white, wants to encourage diversity.
“We need to bring together coalitions, whether it’s Latino or Korean or black or white,” Stewart said. “It can even mean one day of the month where local barbershops and salons specialize in cutting hair for people of color. We just need more to bring people together to address needs and problems.”
Christianson served five years on the Planning Commission before winning a council seat in 2013, giving her the most government experience in an advisory or elected role on the current council.
“Over the next four years, I think the community is going to have to seriously consider how to fund our future,” Christianson said. “There are some large projects that need to happen.”
The city considered floating a vote on a 1 percent sales tax increase this year, but opted to wait until 2020 to better prioritize the $418 million in needed infrastructure projects and educate the public.
San Luis Obispo could face an economic downturn in the next few years, Christianson said, and it will be important to “stay calm and grounded” and maintain fiscal responsibility.
Christianson said San Luis Obispo’s long-term planning has long called for keeping new housing to its urban interior rather than extending to its greenbelt, and recent project approvals have supported that. She also defended tall buildings of up to 75-feet in the downtown.
“I think having that height limit allows for flexibility, and it can be a scary thing to think there could be a proliferation of them, but in reality it’s not very likely to be very many,” Christianson said.