Four new candidates for SLO City Council show growing divide over city’s growth

Four new candidates have joined the race for San Luis Obispo City Council, from left, James Lopes, Abe Lincoln, Jeff Specht and Don Hedrick.
Four new candidates have joined the race for San Luis Obispo City Council, from left, James Lopes, Abe Lincoln, Jeff Specht and Don Hedrick.

Four new candidates have joined the San Luis Obispo City Council race in a growing field that is divided on how to address growth.

Candidates James Lopes, Abe Lincoln (his real name) and Jeff Specht have entered the race for council, in a field that also includes incumbent Carlyn Christianson, Erica Stewart, Sarah Flickinger, and Bob Voglin.

Another potential council candidate, Caltrans engineer Romano Verlengia, has pulled papers, but has not yet qualified as of Tuesday afternoon with a looming deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday for the council race, according to Teresa Purrington, the city clerk.

Flickinger also told The Tribune that she was in the process of filing her paperwork necessary to qualify. Lincoln filed his qualification paperwork Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Don Hedrick, a frequent public commenter at public meetings, is running for mayor, challenging incumbent Heidi Harmon and Keith Gurnee, who already have clashed over the pace of growth in the city.

The election will bring arguments to maintain or alter the city’s direction under a council that’s often aligned on its development decisions.

Those include unanimous approvals of the 580-home San Luis Ranch development and the 720-home Avila Ranch development, both OK’d by the current City Council, among other decisions critics believe are detrimental to the city’s size and small-town feel.

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Lopes, Flickinger, Voglin and Gurnee have been vocal opponents of the pace of city growth.

But Christianson and Harmon have lobbied for more housing to accommodate the city’s workforce in a tight housing market.

James Lopes

Lopes, a county planner, has lobbied against projects, such as one the Planning Commission’s recently approved for a four-story mixed-use development at 790 Foothill Blvd., saying it would overpower the neighborhood with traffic and block views of mountains.

Multiple planning commissioners said they didn’t like aspects of the project but felt bound to approve it because of the Housing Accountability Act. The state law requires local-level approvals if a housing project meets city General Plan standards (unless health and safety or significant environmental impacts can be identified).

Lopes said the city could require a financial analysis from developers to prove that added density and zoning benefits are needed to provide affordable units.

“The city has taken the wrong approach with the new state affordable housing laws,” Lopes told The Tribune. “They are restrictive, but they allow flexibility to adjust projects to meet General Plan and zoning policies.”

Lopes wants more deed-redistricted affordable housing, including a small amount of sales tax set aside for affordable housing. Lopes also advocates for human use of open space in daylight hours, lower building heights in the downtown and reviving city street trees.

Abe Lincoln

Sharing the same name with the 16th president, as well as his father and grandfather, Lincoln said this is his first run for political office.

Lincoln, a Cal Poly graduate with a financial background, is the executive director at the SLO Noor Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides free medical, dental, and vision care.

Lincoln’s platform includes health care for all, eliminating sexual violence citywide, a $15 minimum wage, and becoming a sanctuary city.

“We don’t have to wait for Medicare for all to come on high,” Lincoln told The Tribune. “We can make change on local level and change some of the fundamentals of how communities and cities work.”

Lincoln has observed the city’s growth over the past 30 years, and said projects are pushing toward the city’s limits. The city needs to address how to bring more affordable housing before allowing more expansion, he said.

Jeff C. Specht

Specht, an advocate for the homeless and veterans, ran unsuccessfully for San Luis Obispo mayor in 2014.

He said he’s running “because of disgusting corruption out of City Hall.”

Specht opposes separated bikeway lanes between Foothill Boulevard and downtown. He also accuses the city of harassing homeless people by giving them tickets for sleeping in their cars, adding the projected $1.3 million the Anholm Bikeway Plan should be spent to help the homeless, many of whom are veterans.

“Instead of spending to help people who proudly defended the country and come back and walk the streets, they’re spending $1.3 million on paths to cater to bicycle coalition and special interests,” Specht said.

Specht also wants a police officer to serve at the high school and middle school to protect campuses.

Don Hedrick

Hedrick is a local artisan who has accused the city of trying to silence him as a vocal critic of a mixed-use project in his neighborhood 12 years ago. Because of the city’s “abuse,” Hedrick has vowed to run for mayor “for the rest of my life.”

He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council twice and for mayor three times already, earning his best result of 7.15 percent of the vote in 2012.

Hedrick told The Tribune he will oppose high-rise buildings and exceptions on parking requirements for new developments and wants limited growth.

“The city is owned by developers,” Hedrick said. “Local developers should be getting a chance instead of faraway big-money guys coming in and snatching the cherry out of our state.”

Nick Wilson: 805-781-7922, @NickWilsonTrib