The Tribune endorses Carlyn Christianson and James Lopes for SLO City Council

The Tribune Editorial Board endorses incumbent Carlyn Christianson and former county planner James Lopes for SLO City Council.
The Tribune Editorial Board endorses incumbent Carlyn Christianson and former county planner James Lopes for SLO City Council. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Judging by the caliber of candidates in the City Council race, San Luis Obispo will be in good hands for many years to come.

There are some impressive people, making it difficult to narrow the choice to two. We believe, though, that incumbent Carlyn Christianson and former county planner James Lopes are the best choices right now.

But before we get into their credentials, a word about a few of their opponents: Sarah Flickinger, Abe Lincoln and Erica Stewart are up-and-comers, and we urge them to stay involved in city government, perhaps by serving on advisory councils and participating in city workshops and other events. We believe they would be strong candidates for council, or mayor, in the future.

Carlyn Christianson

Christianson is the only incumbent running for re-election. Always a strong proponent of adding more housing, she hasn’t changed her focus.

At a time when growth is practically a four-letter word among some voters in San Luis Obispo, Christianson has the courage and candor to say that housing remains her primary focus.

“The most important thing is to have a council that says yes,” she told The Tribune Editorial Board.

The current council has been faulted for voting too much in lockstep; but Christianson shows that not to be the case. Along with Councilwoman Andy Pease, she recently voted against the adoption of the highly controversial Anholm Bikeway plan.

“What ended up striking me the most is not the technical end or ethical reasoning,” Christianson said. “It really came down to the neighborhood. This neighborhood needs a little more time to adjust to the changes that are coming.”

Another thing we like about Christianson: She pulls no punches when it comes to saying exactly what she thinks.

For example, when the council discussed its displeasure with a new, three-story building in the downtown, Christianson gave the bluntest assessment: “It’s a big, massive building. And to paint it one dark color makes it look like a big, giant rock sitting there,” she said.

James Lopes

For the council seat being vacated by Dan Rivoire, we recommend Lopes. He is highly experienced in planning: He was a land-use planner with San Luis Obispo County from 1976 to 2012, and he’s served on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and Architectural Review Committee.

He’s extremely knowledgeable about the city’s jobs/housing imbalance and the effect that’s having on surrounding communities. “Traffic,” he told us, “is becoming nightmarish in a way.” (If you commute regularly between South County and SLO, you know how accurate that is.)

A member of Save Our Downtown, Lopes is cautious about development, especially when it comes to building height. Seventy-five-foot buildings would stick out like “sore thumbs” in the downtown, he told the Editorial Board.

We believe Lopes would present another point of view on a council that, according to some critics, does not have enough diversity of opinion, especially when it comes to development.

He strikes us as being practical — of all the candidates, he’s perhaps the most outspoken in recognizing the city’s past failure to plan for adequate housing — but at the same time, he’s looking for creative solutions that would be compatible with existing neighborhoods.

For example, he believes existing shopping centers could be repurposed for mixed uses, including residential.

“That’s where 75-foot buildings can work if they’re scaled down to the neighborhood edges,” he said.

Lopes would bring professionalism and new ideas to the council, and he would be an excellent representative of those city residents who feel they aren’t adequately heard.

The Tribune strongly urges San Luis Obispo voters to elect Carlyn Christianson and James Lopes.