In Atascadero, Susan Funk is our top choice for City Council

Three candidates are competing for two seats on the Atascadero City Council, from left, Susan Funk, Heather Newsom and Mark Dariz.
Three candidates are competing for two seats on the Atascadero City Council, from left, Susan Funk, Heather Newsom and Mark Dariz. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Atascadero voters have a tough choice to make in the upcoming election — and that’s a good thing.

All three candidates running for two seats on the City Council are smart, well-qualified and care deeply about the city, and we believe Atascadero will be in good hands no matter the outcome of the race.

Given the strength of all three candidates, we find it impossible to eliminate any one of them from consideration. In what may be a first for The Tribune Editorial Board, we endorse all the candidates in this race.

That said, Susan Funk is our top choice.

She has a strong vision for the city, and she would be a creative, proactive, take-the-bull-by-the-horns type of council member.

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One example: When we asked the candidates how they would like the Walmart property to be developed, all three spoke about the need for a big-box store. Funk, though, was the most specific: She would like to see a Costco on the vacant parcel at Del Rio Road and Highway 101. She’s even broached the idea with a Costco representative .

We believe Costco would be a great fit for the city, but for the time being, Walmart is still in control. As long as the big-box giant continues to own that valuable piece of property, the city will continue losing tax revenue. (It had expected to receive nearly $600,000 a year in sales tax from Walmart.)

Funk has a possible solution: Putting a new “vacancy tax” on commercial property, to give Walmart an incentive to sell.

We aren’t sure if a vacancy tax is the answer, but the city needs to explore all of its options, and we believe Funk could be counted on to make sure the council does exactly that.

She also has a good grasp on the financial challenges facing the city, especially when it comes to fixing its roads.

Funk is the only one of the three candidates who does not support the repeal of the statewide gas tax, which is on the November ballot as Proposition 6.

Funk says the city is in desperate need of the gas tax revenue, and she’s right. The city’s roads are rated among the worst in the county. (Only Grover Beach’s roads are worse.)

The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) has estimated that Atascadero would need to spend $11 million per year over the next several years to get all 139 miles of its roads into good shape.

Atascadero is going to have a tough time repairing its roads no matter what. It will be even harder without the $650,000 it expects to receive each year from the state gas tax.

Caltrans explains the repaving work it's doing along Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County.

Still, supporting a tax increase is never a popular position for a politician — or a candidate — but we firmly believe Funk has the city’s best interests in mind. (For the record, Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley, who isn’t exactly a spendthrift, also opposed repealing the gas tax when SLOCOG took a position on the measure last month.)

As for the other candidates, we differ with them on some issues — including Proposition 6 — but we believe both Mark Dariz and Heather Newsom would make excellent council members.

Dariz, an architect, serves on the city’s Planning Commission, and Newsom is a city parks commissioner and has an accounting business. Both are articulate, enthusiastic and forward thinking; Newsom, for example, raised the idea of building a convention center on the Walmart property, which is another intriguing suggestion. Dariz impressed us with his knowledge and insights about the downtown business district, which he believes will evolve over time to include more restaurants and retail stores.

We believe both candidates are equally qualified and — with apologies to voters who may be looking for direction — we leave this decision to you.

The Tribune strongly urges Atascadero voters to select Susan Funk for one seat, and to choose between Mark Dariz and Heather Newsom for the other.

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