Seven candidates vying for two San Luis Obispo City Council seats faced off Tuesday at a county League of Women Voters forum, debating topics including growth, water availability, pensions and building heights.
Answering audience questions, candidates spent more than an hour addressing a host of topics.
Some of their views included the following:
▪ James Lopes — A former county planner active in the Save Our Downtown organization, Lopes opposes 75-foot building heights, saying 45-feet limits are more appropriate; he believes Cal Poly should house all of its undergraduates on campus; some city staff reductions may be necessary to help pay down pension costs, citing a current $1 million shortfall to meet cost demands.
“We need an inventory of our available land left and how much water is available,” Lopes said. “With a projected build-out (population) of 57,000 to 60,000 people by 2035, water could be a big problem.”
▪ Erica Stewart — Cal Poly’s director of parent and student philanthropy is an advocate for the homeless, including veterans; Stewart believes Cal Poly will be a good partner in building more needed housing on campus and getting more students to park their cars on campus rather than store them in neighborhoods.
“We’re definitely going to be responsible for paying out (pension costs) over many, many years,” Stewart said. “... We need to make sure that we save, schedule and plan. We’ll continue to have to look for answers to how to pay that off.”
▪ Abe Lincoln — The executive director of the Noor Foundation — a local nonprofit providing free medical, dental and vision care — said he’d support rent control and 75-foot building height limits to best avoid sprawl.
“There are many tools to address affordable housing,” Lincoln said. “We can’t build our way out of it. Tiny houses, apartments, ordinances, along with rent control, are tools in our belt to help best create a place where people can live and work in SLO.”
▪ Bob Voglin — The founder of the nonprofit Surfing for Hope said he opposes allowing 75-foot building heights, saying tall buildings harm the city’s charm and quaintness; he believes the city’s water availability will be a concern, citing estimates that 15 percent of the supply will be lost due to drought in coming decades; he opposes a state idea to expand bar closing hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.
“We need to retain what we have (in charm and quaintness), and we’re losing it,” Voglin said.
▪ Carlyn Christianson — The only incumbent in the race said she supported the council’s decision to allow 75-foot building heights in the upper Monterey Street corridor to help provide “real affordable housing;” she doesn’t prefer a lawsuit as an option to address Cal Poly’s infrastructure impacts on the city, which she said must be appropriately dealt with.
“I’m thrilled to have as our major city goals housing, transportation, climate action, which includes protections of our open space and trees and energy use, as well as fiscal responsibility,” Christianson said.
▪ Sarah Flickinger — A marketing and public relations specialist who advocates “smart growth” said the city should grow in scale with its available resources, including water; she advocates examining how other college cities have effectively reduced university-related impacts, such as Santa Cruz; she supports the 40 Prado facility for the homeless and wants to examine more ways to provide meals, showers and dignity to displaced people.
“I’m a neighborhood advocate and a mom,” Flickinger said. “... Throughout my 20 years of living in the city, I’ve seen a lot of change, some of it for the benefit of the community and some of it, well, we are constantly improving.”
▪ Jeff Specht — An advocate for the homeless and veterans, Specht believes the state puts too much burden on the city to accommodate Cal Poly’s needs, and the university “should be responsible to build more housing on campus.” He also believes the city’s staff is too bloated, saying it has added new employees in recent years instead of paying down pensions.
“I’ve watched an awful lot of changes in SLO over the years,” Specht said. “I’m quite disturbed, especially with changes over the past 10 years. I’m concerned with the corruption in SLO and the direction our city is going. The will of the people is not being served.”
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