The San Luis Obispo City Council’s corrosive 2-2 split is becoming more apparent as the election for a fifth council member heats up.
An already divided council has once again found reason to pick a fight. This time, it’s over whether a City Council candidate — who happens to sit on a city task force — is using that position to curry favor with voters in the coming election.
Councilman Dan Carpenter and Mayor Jan Marx got into a terse exchange at a council meeting Tuesday over council candidate Carlyn Christianson.
Carpenter wants Christianson to resign from a citizen task force that is revising sections of the city’s key document regulating building and growth.
Carpenter, concerned about a conflict of interest because of Christianson’s campaign, believes politics are circumventing the task force’s process.
Christianson said she would not resign.
“Dan was on the Planning Commission the first time he ran for council,” Christianson said Wednesday. “Do we want people involved in city activities precluded from running for office?”
On Tuesday, Carpenter asked his colleagues to discuss at a future meeting a proposal to prohibit task force members from being candidates for public office.
Councilman John Ashbaugh and Jan Marx, who both endorsed Christianson for the vacant council seat, refused.
“I don’t want to engage on this issue,” Ashbaugh said Tuesday night.
From the dais Tuesday, Marx chastised Carpenter for attending last week’s task force meeting and questioning Christianson’s integrity and that of the task force.
“I would hope you are not suggesting that I give up my First Amendment right,” said Carpenter, who said he spoke as an individual, not as a councilman.
“I believe it is inappropriate,” Marx told The Tribune on Wednesday. “I really want the task force to be able to do its work without being criticized by council members or anyone else.”
The controversy stems from a now-defunct plan for the area along South Broad Street that was derailed in March when the council failed to reach a consensus to allow it to go to the task force for inclusion in the general plan update.
A political gathering held by Christianson in the Broad Street area before the task force’s meeting last week prompted a handful of residents to petition city staff to include the plan in the general plan update, which the task force oversees, Carpenter said.
“I felt Carlyn was circumventing the council,” Carpenter said, adding that he was told she encouraged people to try and revive the plan through the task force.
“The perception is that as a candidate, she has the ability to control some of what happens during the land-use update,” Carpenter said. “So I asked for her resignation immediately.”
Christianson told The Tribune on Wednesday that she made it clear to the people at the gathering that the council had not endorsed the plan, so they would need to bring their concerns about traffic and other neighborhood issues to the task force independently.
“Anyone who drives down Broad Street knows there is a problem there,” Christianson said. “I hope that all of this dies down. … I’m ready to move forward and tackle real problems in existence on Broad Street and everywhere else.”
Carpenter said the request for Christianson to resign was not politically fueled but that he did decide to endorse candidate Paul Brown for the council because of it.
Councilwoman Kathy Smith, who often votes similarly on issues with Carpenter, has also endorsed Brown.
“Jan and John’s endorsement is their political agenda to get a three-way block,” Carpenter said. “I cannot sit back and allow this. … They are just trying to flood the council with their agenda. What we need is diversity and balance.”
Marx scoffed at the suggestion, saying there would always be a 3-2 vote on controversial issues.
“Each issue has its own mix of facts and public testimony,” Marx said. “I would not see that as an issue. It is really up to the voters of San Luis Obispo.”