Politics & Government

‘Helmet’ Bob Voglin enters City Council race: ‘SLO is losing its quaintness’

Bob Voglin has entered the race for San Luis Obispo City Council.
Bob Voglin has entered the race for San Luis Obispo City Council.

A longtime local surfer and cancer survivor who believes San Luis Obispo is losing its charm and quaintness is the fourth candidate to enter the City Council race.

“Helmet” Bob Voglin, a 27-year San Luis Obispo resident, told The Tribune that the city is the “best place in the world, but we need change.”

“My concern is that over the past five to 10 years, the nature of the town has changed, and it’s losing its quaintness,” Voglin said. “We’re catering to outside people, rather than locals.”

Voglin is entering a race for two open seats of four-year council terms. Opponents include incumbent Carlyn Christianson and challengers Erica Stewart and Sarah Flickinger.

The separate mayoral race, a two-year term, is being contested by incumbent Heidi Harmon and challenger Keith Gurnee.

Voglin, 68, got his nickname from wearing a helmet while surfing and friends wanting to distinguish him from other local surfers named Bob.

He overcame throat cancer, which he contracted in 2004.

Seven years ago, he established the nonprofit Surfing for Hope to inspire people with cancer through surfing and has raised over $250,000 to fight the disease, he says. The organization hosts a surf camp for kids and family members of those fighting cancer.

Voglin, a 68-year-old retired salesman for Black and Decker, describes himself as an environmentalist who advocates for “clean water, clean air, clean earth,” and has been active in the Surfrider Foundation.

He also characterized himself as a fiscal conservative.

“We shouldn’t be building six- and seven-story buildings,” Voglin said. “We should be sticking to more of a village atmosphere instead of a larger city atmosphere. We’ve gotten away from SLO’s quaintness. I understand that we need new growth. But we’re losing the vibe. I still think we have a great town.”

A rendering of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project shows how the building would look from the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets Ten Over Studio

Some of the larger developments in San Luis Obispo include three new hotels in the downtown (Hotel Serra, Hotel San Luis Obispo and the Monterey Hotel) and two major housing projects, Avila Ranch’s planned 720 homes and San Luis Ranch that calls for 580 homes, among several other smaller citywide development projects.

A 75-foot-tall, six story mixed-use development proposal at 1144 Chorro St. is in the early stages of planning. The property owner, Jamestown, a multi-billion dollar real estate company, submitted an application in June that is under city Planning and Building review for consistency with policies.

Advocates for growth say that new housing will serve a dire need for the city’s economy and workforce.

Voglin, who lives near Sinsheimer Park, also is concerned about losing small businesses, particularly in the downtown, and attributes that to expensive rents and parking challenges.

“We’re losing a lot of businesses, especially smaller businesses,” Voglin said. “It has become very expensive. That dovetails into the whole parking issue. A lot of locals are not going downtown because it’s becoming overrun. It’s not like old days.”

Still, Voglin acknowledges the need for “new growth, jobs and housing” — but with a more measured approach.

Voglin said he’s an avid reader who stays informed and “a neophyte” to politics who felt compelled of late to jump into the race.

“I am retired and have time and can be proactive,” Voglin said. “The last three to four months I was considering it and came to the conclusion to run about a month ago. I have a lot of experience, but I’m not a politician. I’m passionate about the city.”

Nick Wilson: 805-781-7922, @NickWilsonTrib

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