SLO County to explore $80 million in bonds for housing, libraries



Facing shortfalls in funding for both affordable housing and public libraries, San Luis Obispo County will engage with the public in the coming months to gauge its support for two potential bond measures.

SLO County supervisors voted unanimously on March 10 to move ahead with "education and outreach" for the measures, which together could generate $80 million toward building affordable housing and maintaining and improving public libraries across the county.

"Both of these proposals need to go to the next stage," said 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson. "I know housing and libraries are important to our communities."

A $40 million bond for affordable housing was one of several recommendations made to the board in 2018 by a local housing coalition, which identified a $2 million to $4 million per year gap in funding to meet affordable housing needs. Currently, the county is far short of hitting its affordable housing targets, and it's listed as one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the U.S.

Speaking in support of the bond and other funding solutions to housing, 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill said "the future of our economy will be at stake."

"Every single survey from all of our employers ... the same issue has been identified, and that is the cost of housing," Hill said.

The library bond—also proposed at $40 million with a 20-year debt period—would create funds for the "numerous non-operational maintenance and facility improvements costs" at the county's 14 library branches.

A bond could "assist with the expansion of and/or modernization of library buildings, community rooms, installation of HVAC systems, and redesigned outdoor areas," a SLO County staff report read.

Melinda Reed, president of the Templeton Community Library Association, spoke in favor of the measure. While Templeton does not have a library branch, the community has worked for years to raise money to build one.

"Our donors are tired of waiting," she told the supervisors. "They would like to see the county support us. ... We think the county needs to provide measures to sustain library services throughout the county and to help us build a library."

In preparation for the March 10 meeting, the county conducted a voter survey to gauge public sentiment on the two measures. Among 952 likely voters, 58 percent expressed support for the housing bond, while 50 percent signaled support for the libraries bond.

Both measures, though, need a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

While the survey results concerned some supervisors, 1st District Supervisor John Peschong noted that public opinion can change over the course of an election season.

"I've worked on a number of ballot initiatives, and they never start at 80 percent and go down, they start at 55 percent and go up," said Peschong, a career political campaign strategist. "It's all about the campaigns that are going to be run."

The board must decide before June 16 whether to put the measures up to a vote on the November ballot. Δ


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