The three incumbents may hold a lot of cards in the San Luis Obispo council race, but five challengers are throwing in all the chips for a top spot in city government.
Unlike the exhausting presidential election, with Gallup polls providing updates every step of the way, this local race is tough to gauge. The incumbents not only hold the endorsement of the county’s daily newspaper, but they’ve also raised the most cash by far.
Sitting Mayor Jan Marx is wrapping up her first two-year term in the city big seat. She told New Times that she’s proud of the job she’s done in balancing the budget in the economic recession, getting a measure on the ballot to repeal binding arbitration, and spending revenue from a 2006 voter-approved sales tax measure, which has brought some $23 million to city coffers since 2006. The city is poised to ask voters to renew that funding before it sunsets in 2014.
“Two years ago, it looked like we were going to be in a real budget mess right now, and, as I’ve mentioned, we’re not,” Marx said of this year’s $96.1 million budget. “It’s balanced, we have a reserve, and we’re doing well.”
Regarding the contentious issue over the city’s treatment for—and of—the local homeless, Marx contends that there are ample services available for people who want to better their situation. Considering the possibility of a homeless services center on the south side of town—which she said she supports—and the recent influx of homeless to the area, Marx has said she wanted to prevent the city from becoming a “magnet” for out-of-town homeless people.
“I think we need much more traditional housing—and the fact is that nobody should be homeless,” she said at an Oct. 4 candidates forum. “And yet, I don’t think the city can solve the problem completely. … It’s huge, and it’s gotten worse.”
Marx is being challenged by Steve Barasch and Don Hedrick. Barasch runs a local architecture firm and is the former president of the San Luis Obispo Business and Property Owners Association. He’s also been an outspoken critic of the way the city handles its finances and maintains its many properties.
In regard to fiscal sustainability, Barasch told New Times the community was “misled” about how Measure Y money has been used, and he advocates a top-down departmental analysis of staffing levels and finances in lieu of renewing the tax.
Barasch also frequently calls the city out over its recent “Good Neighbor” code enforcement patrols when it maintains many derelict properties of its own.
Hedrick is a welder and advocate for the local homeless population, and is a staple at city meetings. He couldn’t be reached for comment for this article, but said at an Oct. 4 League of Women Voters forum that the city should learn to live within its means without asking for an extra handout from taxpayers.
The fate of the last two council seats may prove more heated. Councilmen John Ashbaugh and Dan Carpenter are facing opposition from Pacific Beach High School history teacher Jeff Aranguena, fireman Kevin Rice, and property manager and homeless advocate Matt Strzepeck.
Councilmembers Andrew Carter and Kathy Smith are not up for re-election this cycle.
Ashbaugh contends that his first term has been productive—stabilizing the city’s finances, initiating planning for a homeless services center on the south side of town, and helping get the ball rolling on the city’s progressive climate action plan. He defended the city’s use of Measure Y funds for various improvement projects across town.
“The fact we have the Measure Y money available is extremely important for the community, and we can account for every single penny of that revenue,” he said.
Ashbaugh—never accused of not speaking his mind—also defended the city’s crackdown on people sleeping in vehicles on city streets: “We have an expectation that we are a well-regulated city that cares about its appearances and image and its quality of life for everybody. The goal is to get them out of the streets and out of our shelters. I’m sorry; we have limits.”
Carpenter—known as the wild card on the council—was appointed two years ago to the seat vacated by Marx. He said he has no party preference or ideology, but keeps his “ear to the ground” and takes a census of the community on issues.
“I like the fact that people can’t predict the way I’ll come down,” he said. “That tells me I’m doing my job.”
During an interview, Carpenter told New Times that he had concerns with how Measure Y funds were being spent, but the topic quickly turned to homelessness—the “biggest issue we’re facing.” Carpenter was the sole vote against a settlement ending the city’s previous ordinance regulating overnight sleeping in vehicles, and one of two votes against the city’s latest version of the ordinance.
“I did not want this watered-down version. It’s not going to prevent people from sleeping in the streets,” Carpenter said, adding that the city needs to better address the reasons behind homelessness with additional services such as a detox center.
Aranguena, who serves as assistant treasurer of the SLO Democratic Central Committee, has also taken issue—given his profession as an educator for at-risk students—with the way the city has handled homelessness.
“I think you’ve seen them emphasize the stick part of the process and not the carrot,” Aranguena said of the ordinance and the services currently available, adding that he prefers a joint city-county voucher program that would allow for overnight parking in non-residential parks.
He’s been accused of not attending council meetings, but Aranguena shot back that that, like most working people, he keeps connected to local government through live streaming internet and close contact with the community.
“I stand on my record any day of the week,” he said.
Rice has long been a watchdog of local government and has advocated for increased transparency in SLO city affairs, often pointing out procedural inconsistencies or apparent Brown Act violations to city leaders that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
“The thing that peeves some people with me is that I sometimes bring up these smaller issues. But these smaller things add up,” Rice said. “I want a higher level of integrity, where people know I’m the same person in closed session as I am behind the dais.”
Regarding the city’s recent cuts to employee compensation, Rice was in support, but argued that management hasn’t made an equal sacrifice.
“Cities all over California are making cuts, and San Luis Obispo should be no different,” Rice said. “As a public employee, I am more than happy to take a cut so that our services can continue.”
Strzepeck—who is currently homeless—reentered the race in October after previously suspending his campaign. The catalyst, he said, was his commitment to representing the city’s homeless population as it continues through its current contentious situation. Strzepeck recently filed a claim against the city for an Oct. 2 incident on McMillan Avenue where he allegedly witnessed mistreatment at the hands of the SLOPD.
Strzepeck proposes a “practical parking program,” which would seek support from local churches and other organizations to allow for overnight parking without the stipulation that participants must enroll in what some call draconian case management.
“I’m the only candidate offering a practical solution [to the overnight parking problem],” Strzepeck said. “Obviously, five parking spaces aren’t going to cut it.”
A final round of campaign disclosure statements is expected to be released in the coming days; the Fair Political Practices Commission deadline to file the campaign disclosures is Oct. 25.
Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.