And then there were four. City councilperson Christine Mulholland and local business owner Donald Hedrick announced that they've decided to add their names to the San Luis Obispo mayoral race. Along with city councilperson John Ewan, they're challenging incumbent Mayor Dave Romero for his seat. The official filing date for the November election is August 11, so the doors aren't closed yet and anything goes until then. Still, these frontrunners have all taken out papers and are, at the very least, the most-talked about potential candidates. And for their part, they have a lot to say.
Romero has pushed to increase the housing supply and the Nacimiento Water Project. He's served on the San Luis Obispo City Council for eight years and as mayor for two years, following almost four decades as San Luis Obispo's director of public works.
Mulholland has been praised for her strong pro-environmental views and slow-growth stance. She's in the middle of her second term on the council, having served almost six years. She's been a stay-at-home mom, a community volunteer, and an activist.
Ewan is a strong proponent of energy conservation and promoting family life in the community. He's spent eight years on the council and is the president and founder of the Pacific Energy Company.
Hedrick is running on a platform of slow growth and anti-corruption in government. He owns a creative-solutions welding shop. He's served on numerous public boards, and in 1975 was the treasurer of the Economic Opportunity Commission.
New Times asked each of these potential candidates the same questions to learn where they stand on a variety of issues.
New Times: Should downtown height limits remain at two to three stories (35 to 50 feet)?
Romero: No. For years we had 70 feet, and the guidelines we recently adopted are not practical. I believe it's preferable to go up rather than out. I am looking to establish an appropriate limit, more than two to three stories.
Mulholland: Yes. I support current downtown policies concerning height and development limits that do not obscure views of the hills. People are jumping on the mixed-use bandwagon. However, we can continue to develop more mixed use within our existing height policies.
Ewan: No. My inclination is that we need to accommodate people in the city and not push out into rural agriculture land, but I want a careful review first.
Hedrick: Yes, because it is the destruction of the character of our town. Our parking and streets don't support the density of five stories downtown. We value view-sheds in this town. And five-story buildings will ruin the views.
New Times: Are you in favor of the Dalidio shopping center initiative, Measure J?
Romero: Yes. The voters turned down what the council had worked on for 15 years at what I think [is] a serious detriment to the city. A countywide vote means we have very little to say about how things work out. I am very much in favor of the project as first brought up. I am very uncomfortable with the process that they are now using.
Mulholland: No. I strongly believe that development by initiative is a dangerous precedent. I support if and when a development on the Dalidio property takes place the development should be in the city.
Ewan: No. We have identified a number of county impacts with Measure J. Buried in the initiative is the gutting of the county agriculture and open-space element. The rural land needs to be retained a keystone in my community.
Hedrick: No. Not the way it is proposed at the moment. It is a sad comment on the process when we can have an election and rule out a development and have it jump to the county's vote, when it has no county services to serve it.
New Times: Should the general plan
be changed to increase build-out
Romero: Yes. I think it is inevitable, but not now when we reach build-out in about 2025. I think it is inevitable that cities in California will continue to grow.
Mulholland: No. I believe in living within our means. Bigger is not necessarily better. I believe that slow growth can allow us many, many more years to reach our existing build-out figure.
Ewan: No. The general plan goes through a lot of changes, but at this time, I don't believe it's appropriate to change the plan to increase the size of the community.
Hedrick: Yes. I think it needs to be increased, but the unanswered question is where to put it. We need to do more infill building and stay away from these mega developments by outsiders. They take away from the permits available for locals. I believe there is a lot of funny business going on with these big developers.
New Times: Do you approve of the increase in water costs to support the Nacimiento pipeline?
Romero: Yes. Absolutely one of the best things our council has done. The water supplies we have now are not sufficient to even reach build-out. In 1992, voters turned down state water. An adequate water supply is key to our quality of life. The project will take care of our needs for the indefinite future.
Mulholland: No. One of my big concerns is the city subsidizing new development. We have had a policy for a long time saying new development pays its own way. The people voted down the subsidy for the last Dalidio project by the widest margin. Regardless of whether or not one supports the Nacimiento project, it is not right that current residents see their water bills increase six to eight percent or more, for several years to come, with no end in sight, to pay for it. I uphold our current policy.
Ewan: Yes. Waiting another day to build a pipeline will not be cheaper. Our cost for water is cheap relative to the buck people pay for bottled water and coffee.
Hedrick: Yes. Water is vital to any community. And our groundwater supplies are being depleted.
New Times: Do you support closed-door dealings with developers?
Romero: I can't give a yes or no answer because some negotiations are simply complicated financial dealings about long-term issues. We have a roadmap now, so we know how to proceed with the various parts of agreements. All the final discussions are made at a public forum. Nothing is binding until a final public decision is made. However, preliminary discussion can be made in a private forum.
Mulholland: No. Absolutely not. However, I understand that the law allows property negotiations to be done in closed session. The problem with closed sessions is how does the public know what goes on? Behind closed doors, council directs staff. Then staff negotiates and brings back extremely complicated deals. That is the first time the public has an opportunity to provide input. Unfortunately, by the time the deal comes to the public, the council members have pretty much bought into the deal.
Ewan: Yes. Private property negotiations and personnel issues are always handled in closed session. It would be inappropriate to try to do either one in public.
Hedrick: No. Absolutely not. There should not be closed-door meetings unless it's personnel or certain financial issues. But things that affect the public like development and public services complaints need to be dealt with in a public way.
New Times: Why should residents of SLO vote for you?
Romero: During my administration, we have accomplished a great number of positive things. First, regarding housing, I worked to adopt the state housing numbers that allowed a housing element that met state housing requirements. We were then able to change to more efficient housing. There are over 1,000 units in the works in one stage or another. Presumably with this much housing, the price of housing will go down. Second, a long-term reliable water supply. We have the Nacimiento Water Project and reclaimed sewer water to be pumped into storage for watering golf courses and ball fields. Our first new water supply in 30 years. Third major thing is reduced traffic congestion and improved quality of streets. Though due to the state taking general fund money we would have used for roads, our street program has been declining. We have great staff and city officials. Being mayor in this city is a pleasure.
Mulholland: I believe I continue to be the strongest voice in support of the quality of life enjoyed by the residents of our fair city.
Ewan: I very much appreciate our community and city, and I enjoy working on the problems and striving for the changes that our community would like to see while keeping our town SLO. Deal with changes in a perspective of keeping SLO SLO. Shifts in the community cannot be ignored. We need to mold the change to fit the community. I believe my perspective is more in sync with the community and how change should come about.
Hedrick: I wish to represent the underrepresented people that want to keep the unique small-town character of SLO. I also want to represent the underrepresented businesses. People that can't afford to live in this town own most of the businesses. They are deprived of their vote over issues that affect their livelihood. Voting laws do not address the difference between business owners and residents. ?
Staff Writer Karen Velie can be reached at email@example.com.