Politics & Government

Growth, housing, climate change and more divide candidates for SLO City Council

SLO citizens make their case for and against new bikeway plan

The San Luis Obispo City Council voted in favor of the Anholm Bikeway Plan on Tuesday after hearing citizens both in favor and opposed to the proposal.
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The San Luis Obispo City Council voted in favor of the Anholm Bikeway Plan on Tuesday after hearing citizens both in favor and opposed to the proposal.

Election season is well underway in San Luis Obispo, with candidate forums already taking place citywide, and a crowded field revealing divisions on key issues such as housing affordability, growth, water and Cal Poly’s impacts on the city.

Three candidates are running for mayor and seven are vying for two open seats on the City Council.

To better inform your vote on Nov. 6, here are responses from the seven council candidates to three key survey questions posed by The Tribune, as well as biographical information to help get to know them better. For the mayoral candidates’ responses, check Saturday’s Tribune or sanluisobispo.com.

The next candidate forum will be hosted by the SLOU40 group from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Madonna Inn. Registration is free, but seating is limited and attendees are asked to RSVP.

James Lopes 000548
James Lopes was a former candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

James Lopes

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Former land-use planner with San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department, 1976-2012.

Age: 71

Education: UC Santa Barbara, Economics and Sociology, 1966-70; Cal State Bakersfield, Elementary Teaching Credential, 1971-1972; Cal Poly SLO, Master’s in City and Regional Planning, 1993-1995

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: SLO Bicycle Advisory Committee, 1991-1994; SLO Architectural Review Committee, 2001-2007.

1. How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

I encourage Cal Poly to build on-campus housing for all undergraduates by offering free land to private developers, so that students will no longer occupy single-family housing. Hundreds if not thousands of homes could be freed up for the workforce. I want to determine the potential mixed-use housing, which could occupy multi-family and commercial zoning. Low-rise, three- to four-story urban villages could be encouraged and financially subsidized with new city funds, to occupy existing multi-family zones, commercial areas, shopping centers and public land. I will protect neighborhoods from intrusive secondary units, which would degrade quality of life.

2. Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

For decades, the city has implemented advice by pro-growth business groups to provide “head-of-household” jobs to upgrade incomes and expand retail sales and sales tax revenue. This strategy has kept SLO as the retail and employment hub of the county, but it was a mistake. With embarrassing congestion on Highway 101, these groups now advocate that the city also house all these workers. The city needs to fairly implement a stronger non-residential growth management ordinance. We need to balance the growth of jobs and college enrollment with the city’s housing supply and 1 percent residential growth.

3. Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

The city can do more to reduce greenhouse emissions by reducing traffic congestion and automobile travel, reducing transit wait times, building separated bike lanes on all arterial streets where feasible and enhancing sidewalk environments and connections to encourage safe and pleasant walking. I want to ride electric and cook and heat electric using power from renewable sources. I wish to accelerate a Community Choice Aggregation program, and to participate in a new offshore wind power generation industry in Morro Bay and perhaps at Diablo Canyon Power Plant, which might make the city fossil-fuel free.

Abe Lincoln 000562
Abe Lincoln, candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Abe Lincoln

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Executive Director of SLO Noor Foundation

Age: 48

Education: Cal Poly SLO, Administration/Finance, 1992

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: None

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

Certainly adding more housing helps, but I think part of the key is different types of housing. Tiny homes, 55-plus neighborhoods, apartments downtown, etc. I believe we are a city that is filled with some of the smartest, most creative people in the country, and with their help we can solve this problem together. I believe in the potential of SLO.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

No. I understand that it may seem like a lot, but the General Plan for the city, which has been in place for years, has actually called for more growth and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This direction is not only coming from the state, it is necessary statewide. California is in a housing crisis, and this is our opportunity to step up and be a part of the solution. We are at a very critical point that can set the tone and direction for the next decade. I would be very excited to be a part of that discussion.

3) Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

I think we have made great strides, but it is time for more. We must get on board with Community Choice Energy. We are one of the last counties on the entire coast of California to do so. We need many more electric vehicle charging stations, and we need to continue to pursue more avenues for safe biking. In addition, with all the agricultural equipment in the area, I’m not sure why the closest place to get biodiesel is 100 miles away. We should and can be a leader in the country on this issue.

Sarah Flickinger 000591
Sarah Flickinger, candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Sarah Flickinger

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Homemaker, community volunteer, youth sports coach; previous career in communications, public relations/marketing.

Age: 38

Education: Cal Poly SLO, Journalism, 2002; Morro Bay High School.

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: None

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

Increasing housing stock through infill and other smart-growth strategies supports the effort, but it is not enough. We need to define what workforce housing is, develop appropriate pricing structures and create policies with quantifiable needs, goals and the planning to achieve them. We also need to address displacement and degradation within and around existing attainable housing stock to ensure that it remains a viable and healthful housing option within the market. We need to continue working with Cal Poly to ensure that on-campus housing continues to grow to reduce student demand’s influence on market rate housing.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

My concern is primarily about the type of development, supporting infrastructure and environmental impacts we have been seeing. We need to implement smart-growth strategies that ensure we are building to meet our residents’ needs in balance with our available natural resources. I think our best path forward includes smart growth that fits within the General Plan, with a heightened concern for environmental sustainability and long-term health and livability in our neighborhoods. We need the flexibility to meet changing needs in the market and the environment, with an eye toward a long-term strategic plan.

3) Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

No. I applaud steps taken, but they are not enough. Water supply, natural resources protection and greenbelt acquisition should keep pace with any growth. Strengthening our urban forestry programs with quantifiable goals and planning is one of many opportunities for improvement. Urban forestry provides benefits to improving our water cycle, offsetting emissions, supporting wildlife, reducing energy consumption, sequestering carbon, combating heat island effects and enhancing quality of life, among others. Also, the ways people live, work and travel are changing. We need to be forward-thinking and proactive in implementing strategies, programs and technologies that reduce future climate impacts.

Erica Stewart 000560
Erica Stewart, a candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Erica A. Stewart

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Cal Poly’s Director of Parent and Student Philanthropy

Age: 45

Education: Cal Poly SLO, Bachelors of Science, Home Economics, 1997; University of San Francisco, Master of Public Administration, 2004.

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Appointed to San Luis Obispo County’s Civil Service Commission, 2016 (elected vice president in 2018).

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

People in SLO should have the opportunity to live where they work, and the city should provide services and transportation solutions to meet that need. I will work to provide more affordable housing and keep our open space. I will advocate for an increase of infill housing through accessory dwelling units, tiny homes, work/live options and multi-family homes. The city could provide land for a tiny home park. I will encourage developers to work with our workforce and low-income individuals to create cost-effective options. We need more homes that the average person can afford to rent or own.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

California is behind on building to accommodate the housing needs of our workforce. SLO is no different. Currently, building is catching up with housing development from the past 15 years. As we move forward, I will keep focused on the many things we love about SLO: the small-town feel, clean environment, our greenbelt, which provides our great views and promotes a healthy lifestyle. The upcoming closure of Diablo will eliminate approximately 1,500 well-paid jobs. We don’t know how this will affect our economy and our housing market. Assessment of our community’s needs will be essential for the future.

3) Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

Creating a Climate Action Plan was a good first step. I will continue to work toward becoming a net-zero carbon community. Our city must encourage developers to utilize more sustainable options from the beginning stages of their design. For example, installation of water conservation systems, provide compact automated parking systems, use more sustainable building materials, provide green waste options in new developments and more. Throughout the city, we need more electric vehicle charging stations, hydration stations for refillable bottles, recycle bins in our parks, bike share rental programs. I look forward to working together on our greener future.

Carlyn Christianson 000594
Carlyn Christianson, an incumbent, is a candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Carlyn Christianson

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Transitions Mental-Health Association, part-time administrative assistant; former Coastal Anesthesiology Medical Association administrator.

Age: 64

Education: Hastings College of Law; UC Davis, Women in American Society.

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: SLO Council, July 2013-present; SLO Planning Commission 2009-2013; 2002-2008.

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

Incentivize height, density, affordable design; tier development impact fees; increase R-2, R-3 and R-4 minimums; push students to on-campus housing; enforce vacation rental ordinance; allow irregular lots, mixed-use, tiny homes, ADUs, reduced minimum lot size; explore development agreements requiring fixed-purchase price; build near transportation infrastructure, support multi-modal (garages/parking adds cost); be more flexible and imaginative with requirements for infrastructure and amenities; support innovative infrastructure financing; revise inclusionary housing ordinance; support nonprofit home builders; reduce process time by fast-track housing applications, developing “pre-approved” plans for small-lot homes; rezone for higher-density housing, multi-use; lobby Sacramento and Washington for assistance.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

SLO is allowing the same amount it’s always allowed. The city can’t legally tell a property owner they can’t apply to build something on their property in order to “slow down” development. Property owners, big and small, can and do put in applications all the time; when those applications get through the full approval process, the permitting process, the financing process and then get built is usually outside the city’s control. Definitely feels extra busy now, but data shows the residential and non-residential growth rates are averaging out about the same as always (still well under 1 percent annual growth).

3) Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

No, more needs to be done and more is being done. The city is updating its Climate Action Plan now. Climate action is one of those difficult goals — it’s hard for most people to understand the implications and the vital need for change. I don’t want SLO to look back 10 or 20 years from now and say, “Why didn’t we do more?” (I kind of already feel that way). Effective public education is a top imperative. Providing good incentives for change and good examples to follow is also important. Adaptation in all areas (on the ground, in policies, with our people) will be increasingly important.

Bob Voglin 000575
Bob Voglin, candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Bob Voglin

Running for: City Council.

Occupation: Director of Surfing for Hope Foundation, a nonprofit helping people with cancer

Age: 68

Education: Santa Monica College, Marine Biology; UCLA.

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: None.

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

This is a tough problem with no easy fix. I would support more affordable housing in the outlying areas in SLO, not in our downtown area. I would like to investigate if some of the historical houses in SLO that are occupied by business could be replaced by residential residents. I would support more low housing units, tiny houses and granny units as well.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

A big yes. I know we need to grow, but I feel it’s crucial we grow intelligently and keep in place the quaint charm and historic values most people appreciate about our wonderful, happy town. I don’t feel this battle to keep some of these values is between the new arrivals and us old residents, but needed preservation of the reasons most of us came here in the first place and also what brings tourists here to enjoy this special town.

3. Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

No. The city is doing some things which I agree with but we need to continue to address this very important issue. I view myself as a strong environmentalist and would fight to do all that is possible to preserve our land, ocean and air.

Jeff Specht 000539
Jeffrey Specht, candidate for San Luis Obispo City Council David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Jeffrey Specht

Running for: City Council

Occupation: Entrepreneur

Age: 54

Education: San Luis Obispo High School

Prior experience running for public office or serving as an elected or appointed official: Ran for mayor in 2014.

1) How would you make housing in SLO more affordable?

The remedy could be talking to the state and getting Cal Poly to build more on campus to help relieve housing pressures in the community. And I’d like to see the city increase its requirement on developments to have 30 percent of the housing be for low-income residents (inclusionary housing), whereas now developers can get away with much less, sometimes as little as 5 percent. Developers would still make a healthy profit, but it would be fair to the community.

2) Do you think SLO has been allowing too much development?

I’m not happy with the new development that doesn’t match with our small-town character. It’s certainly not for me. The infrastructure needs to be built up. We can’t handle this level of development. Height limits on buildings shouldn’t be raised. We’re not L.A. We’re SLO. And there’s no parking. It’s ludicrous to try to force people onto bikes.

3. Is the city doing enough to address climate change?

The city is certainly trying. But in my opinion, climate change isn’t the priority. We have a triage situation when it comes to the homeless and mentally ill, and people are just being allowed to deteriorate. And we should see to it that CalPERS pensions costs are paid down. It’s ridiculous to be spending $3 million on a bike highway. Climate change is an issue, but the city’s money should be spent on other priorities first.

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