Following a unanimous San Luis Obispo City Council vote to reject the concept of a moratorium on new bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, a citizens group that has led the charge against downtown alcohol outlets has taken aim at an “obvious target:” rookie council member Carlyn Christianson.
The alcohol vote took place at an Aug. 20 council study session. On Aug. 26, Allan Cooper, chair of the group Save Our Downtown, sent a scathing e-mail to Christianson and the rest of the council, as well as Community Development Director Derek Johnson, decrying the council decision and refuting points made during the meeting.
Though the group polled the council prior to the meeting and knew it didn’t have the super majority support needed for a moratorium, Cooper said statements Christianson made on the campaign trial prior to her election in a June special election indicated she’d be open to the idea.
However, during the meeting, Christianson was vehemently opposed to a moratorium, arguing that the downtown has always been noisy and that a blockade on new outlets wouldn’t change that reality.
The Cooper e-mail wasn’t directly pointed at Christianson at first, but she was the only council member to respond in any detail, so she took the heat.
“Dear Allan, I know it is easy to blame an elected official or city staff for ‘not listening’ when we do something that you don’t like,” Christianson wrote. “But here is a situation where I *do* think the city and elected officials heard the community’s concerns loud and clear, and responded.”
She went on to explain her position point by point, arguing that the city shouldn’t get into the practice of dictating the kinds of businesses that should be downtown, that efforts already undertaken to address drunken downtown shenanigans should be allowed to bear fruit, and that the findings simply couldn’t be made for an immediate threat to public safety and welfare—a crucial requirement for a moratorium.
“I’m disappointed to be attacked by you for thinking carefully about this issue, listening carefully (as I told you I would in my e-mail to you the day before the council meeting), and voting what I think is in the best interests of the city—in my mind that is truly leadership,” Christianson added. “Not to mention I never said I was going to lead the charge to put a moratorium on downtown bars and restaurant licenses ... in fact I said the opposite, loudly and clearly and
In response, Cooper shot back a 1,500-word e-mail dissecting the council case word for word.
“Let me begin by saying that you NEVER told us (and our Board can back me up on this) that you would NOT support a moratorium while you were on the ‘campaign trail’. That is simply not true,” Cooper wrote. “You appeared to be interested in [SOD member] David Brodie’s remarks that the proliferation of alcohol outlets is driving away retail in the downtown core. You said you would ‘think about it.’”
Cooper argued that Save Our Downtown’s position represents the view of the majority of SLO residents, as evidenced by a number city surveys.
“No, it is NOT easy ‘blaming elected officials and city staff’ because it is NOT easy to attend public hearings, read copious reports and communicate back to you and to our citizenry,” Cooper wrote. “If you thought our job was an ‘easy one’, realize that we are trying to do your work and city staff’s work and we, unlike you, DO NOT get paid for it.”
“Some people say my use of caps lock makes me sound angry,” Cooper later told New Times via telephone from his summer home in Port Townsend, Wash.
“I’m an obvious target, with my kind of coming into all this a little late,” Christianson told New Times. “I became very familiar with [Save Our Downtown] during the election. I don’t agree with them on everything, and that’s just how it goes.”
She added that she supports a diverse business landscape downtown, and would like to encourage more places for families to go, places for arts, culture, and importantly, more housing. The number of restaurants and bars downtown will ebb and flow, she said. And right now, it’s flowing.
“I hope people can move on,” Christianson said.