Meet the 8 candidates running for SLO City Council

There are two open seats
Posted at 8:43 PM, Sep 28, 2020

Eight people are currently vying for two spots on the San Luis Obispo City Council.

This comes at a time when the candidates say the city is facing several challenges like economic recovery from the pandemic, homelessness and public safety.

All eight are from different backgrounds and experiences ranging from a former mayor to a correctional deputy to an architect.

City Council members have the power to make decisions that will impact the more than 45,000 people that live in San Luis Obispo and those who visit.

We asked people how they feel the current council is doing and found people on all sides of the spectrum.

”I think they're very progressive and have a lot of good ideas but I think they don't always listen to people who have maybe been here a while and may come around to some of the changes, but feel that it's all happening a bit too fast,” said San Luis Obispo resident Rosh Wright.

“I think they've been doing a good job. I think San Luis is doing well,” said San Luis Obispo resident John Bedwell.

Others who didn’t want to speak on camera said they haven't approved of the council in years.

So what are people in the community looking for in an ideal City Council candidate?

"I tend to be a liberal, so I tend to support a lot of the protests and I think I would continue with that,” Bedwell said.

"I think maybe someone a little more moderate would be good to offset what we have at the moment. Somebody who is willing to bring in other ideas and listen to what the people of San Luis Obispo say,” Wright said.

Those voted into office will hold the seat for four years and during that time, a majority of the candidates we spoke with hope to tackle big issues like economic recovery from the pandemic, homelessness and social justice issues.

We asked all eight candidates the same questions.

Robin Wolf:

Why are you running for office?
I have long imagined myself serving in local public office in some way. If you had asked me in January if 2020 was the year, I would have laughed. But with everything this year has seen us face, I feel it imperative that we each do our part to fight for the community of SLO and its residents, and for me that fight has brought me to run for City Council.

What makes you qualified for the role?
I was born in San Luis Obispo, and grew up here on the Central Coast. I understand what makes this city amazing and why we all work so hard to live here. My career has taken me to New York City for a decade before my return to SLO nine years ago and the perspective I’ve gained will serve well as we look for creative solutions to the issues our city faces.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
San Luis Obispo is a destination community and a tourism economy. The health and economic impact of Covid-19 has been nothing short of devastating on our public facing businesses. With my 2+ decades in the hospitality, tourism and restaurant industry, I have been on the ground since day one of the pandemic, adapting and evolving our business practices weekly if not daily. So many of our local businesses and the residents they employ are facing an uncertain future. We need leadership on council with firsthand practical experience in these industries to fight for those who rely on their success for their livelihood.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
There is no wider reaching issue for our city than economic recovery and sustained success. It is an umbrella issue that includes health and safely, civil rights, housing, and homelessness. We have never seen a pandemic like this in modern times, and there is no playbook here. We are building this ship as we sail it, and it will take new and creative approaches to support our local businesses and residents as we work toward the future together.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
I believe in creative problem-solving and looking outside the box for ideas and resources. The best ideas often come when different perspectives can be shared and work toward a common goal. Public/private partnerships will be key moving forward. Our public offices must work with local non-profits, advocacy groups and private businesses to pool all possible resources and experience. Diversity of background, experience, thought, beliefs, and perspective is crucial to the survival and success of our city and its residents moving forward.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
We are facing the effects of a pandemic on our health, economy and daily lives in a way never seen before. We need City Council members who can look at where we come from, where we are, and find new tools and strategies to fight for a safe and successful future for all residents of SLO.

Jan Marx:

© 2020 Heather Gray, all rights reserved.

Why are you running for office?
I am running for SLO City Council because so many residents have urged me to do so, saying the city needs me during this crisis. I share their confidence that I can help problem solve during this challenging time of COVID-19, economic meltdown, climate change, wildfires, and civil unrest. Answering this call to service, I look forward to working with the community to create a better future City of San Luis Obispo, post pandemic.

What makes you qualified for the role?
Building on my proven track record — six years as mayor and six on council — I will work to solve difficult problems and get good things done for the community. Having run my own business, I make pragmatic, nonpartisan decisions based on prudent budgeting, efficiency, and accountability. I am motivated to help the most vulnerable, manage growth, promote social equity, protect the environment, and fight climate change. I have the experience, knowledge, and practical vision to guide the city wisely, respecting residents’ values. I am optimistic, compassionate, even-tempered, and willing to listen to everyone. Living happily in a student neighborhood, having raised my children and grandchildren here, and continually volunteering, I am in touch with the concerns of the community.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I am the only candidate with the combined experience as elected mayor, city council member, and chair of the SLO Council of Governments and Regional Transportation Agency. My varied professional background as an attorney, business owner, university administrator, teacher and law school dean also distinguishes me. I have what it takes to lead us through these challenging times: 1) The experience, social consciousness and collaborative skill to work with people from all different backgrounds; 2) The business savvy to make sound decisions based on prudent budgeting, efficiency and accountability; and 3) Integrity, civility and respect for everyone, without playing favorites.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
The pandemic and economic collapse have placed residents under tremendous stress. Council needs to help alleviate stress, not exacerbate it. The city needs balance and stability on council, so that residents may rest assured that our health and safety are protected, and our local economy stimulated. Due to the shortfall, budget cuts will be necessary. Issues of diversity, inclusivity and policing need to be addressed. Ongoing issues, such as helping the homeless and hungry, facilitating affordable and workforce housing, and enhancing the downtown must be dealt with effectively. To preserve our threatened quality of life, we must protect and expand our urban forest, parks, and open space.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
On Council, I will listen to resident concerns and take action to protect our precious quality of life. City future planning is important, but serving those who might someday live here, must not overshadow council’s duty to protect our health, safety, and wellbeing. People who live in San Luis Obispo, right now, are my first priority. I will urge the City to mandate mask wearing in public, to bring COVID under control, so that our economy may rebound. To that end, I will also advocate bringing our Economic Development Strategy up to date. Any necessary budget cuts must be guided by residents’ priorities. I support further implementation of our Climate Action Plan. To increase citizen input into police policies, procedures and decision making, I will propose a police accountability committee. I support the new diversity taskforce, which must reflect all different kinds of people. To help deal with our homeless and reduce their presence in the downtown, I will explore grant funding to provide more social workers and “wrap around services” on the street. I will advocate for affordable, deed restricted housing, encourage the provision of modestly-priced workforce housing and advocate the creation of new mobile home parks. I will continue my fight to protect and expand our urban forest, parks and open space, all crucial to preservation of our quality of life.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
Voters should consider the value of a seasoned City Council candidate with the experience, community knowledge, responsible judgment and expertise to guide our city through this current crisis. As voters hopefully have learned by now, inexperience in itself is not a valid qualification for office. I have what it takes to lead us through these challenging times, just as I did through the Great Recession: 1) The experience, social consciousness and collaborative skill to work with people from all different backgrounds; 2) The business savvy to make sound decisions based on prudent budgeting, efficiency and accountability; and 3) integrity, civility and respect for everyone, without playing favorites. Working hard and working together, we will create a sustainable, prosperous, post-pandemic future for the City San Luis Obispo. Please check out my website for more information. Vote Jan Marx for SLO City Council!

James Papp:

Why are you running for office?
Three reasons: First, during five years on the City's Cultural Heritage Committee, with three terms as chair, I saw the City Council becoming decreasingly responsive to advisory body advice and constituent concerns and increasingly resistant to following the city and state's own environmental laws and guidelines—all in the name of building unaffordable housing. Second, being on the Jack House Committee two years and Cultural Heritage Committee five years allowed me to see more clearly the cans that get kicked down the road in every budget cycle. Our city hall overhead is 19% of operating budget in SLO, compared to 13% in Santa Barbara and 10% in Monterey. Our Parks & Rec funding is 7% of operating budget in SLO, compared to 12% in Santa Barbara and 18% in Monterey. Anecdotally, the Jack House and Garden cost $200,000 a year to maintain and are never open. We need to stop passing the same budget every year, zero out, and see what makes sense.

What makes you qualified for the role?
A lot of candidates point out they were born in San Luis Obispo. I was born in San Diego, and San Luis is the 17th place I've lived. That gives me a tendency to do comparisons, ask awkward questions, and look for alternate models and answers (something I share with Ken Schwartz, who was born in LA). Besides seven years on SLO City advisory bodies, I bring years of experience in state, federal, and international oversight and initiatives, for example two terms on the University of California Systemwide Planning and Budget Committee overseeing a $2 billion annual budget and several years with Peace Corps, USAID, and Open Society in Eastern Europe. I'm enough of a hardass to push back on developers and politicians, and I care deeply not only about the physical fabric of San Luis Obispo, architecturally one of the greatest small towns in the country, but about the people who inhabit its neighborhoods—from whom I've borrowed all my best ideas! That's why I publicize my personal cell phone number in my campaign.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I'm set apart from the politically inexperienced candidates by knowing how to get stuff done in government: how to analyze budgets, look for anomalies, shift money, get changes rolling. I'm set apart from the candidates who have already served on council by wanting to shake things up and not perpetuate the same old, same old. The council is the highest deliberative body in the city. It's the only place we can frankly work out our differences to ultimately come together.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
I deal with eight in my platform ( 1. COVID control 2. COVID's economic fallout, which exacerbates existing trends, like the decline of local retail 3. Race, class and policing 4. Increasing and preserving affordable housing 5. Protecting and promoting the unique culture of SLO that locals love and tourists come for, from architecture to the arts 6. Substantial, not symbolic climate action 7. Real and coordinated solutions to homelessness 8. Much, much smarter city management. Prop. 15 will be huge if it passes. It may encourage adaptive reuse of retail and office space into housing.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
1. COVID: Stop being afraid of requiring masks (I've been advocating this in the press since early May, still hasn't happened) 2. Make SLO an outdoor destination, fill empty retail spaces, get Parks & Rec back into helping overburdened working parents 3. Citizen oversight of SLOPD, bias training, smarter leadership choices, use the very expensive police for what you need very expensive police for: crime, not social work, and fund social work 4. Stop tearing down our last remaining working-class housing to build luxury condos for second homes 5. Move cultural experiences outside; do a new historic resources survey, exactly a third of a century overdue, according to state and federal guidelines 6. No more parking garages; maintain our existing bike infrastructure before promoting high-concept additions and focus on arterial connections to get a critical mass of younger bike commuters on the road so all cyclists feel safer 7. Cabin communities to immediately address homeless camps, tried and true methods of anti-eviction, deposit provision, supportive housing 8. Much, much smarter city management, start funding the maintenance of our parks and open space, not just their acquisition.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
To call my cell at 805-470-0983 if they have any beefs, griefs, ideas, or want to know what I think.

Jeffrey Specht:

Our requests for responses from Jeffrey Specht were not returned but in his candidate statement on the City’s website he wrote:
As a councilman, I will work to end the culture of waste, corruption and bloated government oozing out of City Hall, as well as put a halt to the division pulling apart our community at its seams. San Luis Obispo needs council members who are accountable to the people, not to buddies in big business and extremist street activism.
Our City Council ignores the public while bowing to city staff and supporting large developers and a marijuana mogul. These special interests build atrocities that block our scenic views and grease the wheels to get projects approved. The council also backs a bike riding coalition determined to force people out of cars and onto bicycles.
I plan to build a coalition on the council that will fire the city manager and city attorney, slash city employee salaries and place major pension reform on the ballot. We’ll also address the veterans left to rot on the streets and make police hand over body-cam footage when the public requests it.
I am running for city council because I care about our community, our residents and justice. As a councilman, I promise to serve the will of the people.

Abrianna Torres:

Why are you running for office?
I love SLO and want what is best for our entire community. We need a new perspective on our City Council to better represent the people of SLO. I see a unique opportunity to bring our city together to solve safety and economic problems facing our community, as well as reconcile the social issues we have been grappling with.

What makes you qualified for the role?
My experience is diverse, which gives me a sensible perspective on a variety of issues. As a small business consultant, I am aware of the economic challenges in SLO and prepared to address these. I also know how the public sector operates as a former corrections officer, and have insight into how to improve and uphold safety in SLO. My experience as captain of a Division 1 collegiate track team has further shaped my drive and work ethic. All of these roles have demanded high levels of accountability, strong communication and leadership skills, as well as upstanding character, which I would bring with me to our City Council.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I am the only non-partisan candidate in the race. I am a solutions focused pragmatist and want to do what makes the most sense for SLO.
I am also the only black candidate running for City Council. In years past, I would not have highlighted this distinction. However, given the current political climate in SLO, I think it is important to call out. Mayor Harmon and the current council have declared racism a local public health emergency, but are working to keep me out of the dialogue. How can this be? I see an opportunity to unite our city by easing racial tensions between our citizens and local law enforcement. We need to remove double standards and acknowledge we are all created equal.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
Economic vitality, public safety, and housing/infrastructure are the main issues facing SLO right now. I encourage people to visit my website to learn more about my stance on these issues as well as others.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
A top priority of mine is to work with both city and county resources to alleviate the escalating homeless issue we are experiencing.
By removing burdensome taxes and regulations, we will also create more economic opportunities. You do not increase taxes when residents and local businesses are already struggling. Even minor changes can make a significant difference. For instance, we could easily adjust parking regulations to make it more convenient for businesses and community members to enjoy our downtown.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
I’m a solutions-focused pragmatist who deeply cares about SLO. I’m against the Measure G sales tax increase, especially as residents and local businesses are still struggling to recover from the COVID shutdown. I will work to move local government in the direction of solvency, transparency and accountability.

Erik Long:

Why are you running for office? What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
Twenty-years ago when I moved to San Luis Obispo, I felt I had arrived at one of the most beautiful small cities in California. In many ways, I still feel this way. However, over the last few years, I feel there are three issues of concern which merit additional attention: homelessness, housing and downtown parking. While I realize much has been done by various political bodies to address these issues, I am proposing that we undertake a far more expansive process that would allow for greater inclusiveness and the development of diverse ideas.

I am calling for three summits starting in fall 2021 through fall 2022. Details for these summits are as follows:

Three Summits for the City of San Luis Obispo

Three, one-day summits: Fall 2021, spring 2022 and fall 2022, addressing respectively: homelessness, housing and downtown parking.

Invited to each summit would be local experts from each field, state leaders who have implemented positive change while addressing these issues and university experts that can offer models from the international community on ways they successfully addressed these issues.
The local community and the press will be invited. Hopefully these summits can be held at the PAC, and designed so to allow for question and answer periods from the audience.

It is further hoped that from these summits we will be able to reach common ground for ideas that can be implemented to the benefit and progress of our community, as we forge forward into the 21st Century.

What makes you qualified for the role?
I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in political science, and CSU Chico with a MA in political science. I have taught, researched, analyzed, published and consulted extensively in the field of political science.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I wrote a book on democracy.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
Development of a detailed post-pandemic recovery plan, the city’s budget deficit, homelessness, housing and downtown parking.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
Vote for candidates who seek to serve everyone on San Luis Obispo, not a few select special interests or themselves.

Andy Pease:

Why are you running for office?
It has been my honor to serve on the SLO City Council these past four years and I’m excited to be running for re-election.

I love San Luis Obispo. Despite the challenges of our time, I have seen this community come together with creativity and generosity, donating time and money, setting aside livelihoods so others could stay safe. Our community has stepped up for our children, checked on our neighbors and spoken out for justice. I am so proud of this community, and I’m inspired every single day. This is why I have decided to run for re-election to City Council.

What makes you qualified for the role?
My husband and I moved here in 1997 and raised our two daughters here. I’m an architect and co-own a small business in town. I was elected to city council in 2016. During that time, we’ve made significant accomplishments, especially in housing affordability, climate action, investments in downtown and financial stewardship.

In addition, I serve on the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) for the SLO Valley Groundwater Basin. I serve on the County Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC), where I’ve been elected chair for the past three years. Prior involvement includes Chamber of Commerce Board, AIA, SLO Green Build, Leadership SLO and youth sports.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I have a vision for San Luis Obispo that is sustainable, inclusive and thriving. I have a balanced approach and listen to all perspectives. And, as a council member and a business owner, I have the experience to be effective.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?

My priorities include:

  • Economic recovery: Retain local businesses, support head-of-household jobs, help address childcare for working families and maintain essential services for all residents.
  • Housing: Promote housing affordability, walkable neighborhoods and great access for transit and biking.
  • Homelessness: Strengthen partnerships, develop transitional housing, deploy social workers to those in crisis and advocate for mental health services for all who need it.
  • Climate action: Implement plans for carbon neutral by 2035, including open space, urban forestry, sustainable transportation and energy efficiency.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion: Ensure all residents have a voice and access to opportunity.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
The triple challenge of economic impacts due to COVID, the climate crisis and racial inequality sets the stage for courage and innovation, recognizing we can and must address all three concurrently. The pre-COVID economy was not just and fair for all people, so our strategies for economic recovery including job creation, skills training and business support should proactively reach disadvantaged communities. Our investments must support climate action and resilience, providing the programs and infrastructure that strengthen our economy while meeting our target for carbon neutrality. By establishing an economic recovery using the lenses of justice and the environment, we have the opportunity to emerge stronger than ever.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
My vision for San Luis Obispo is a community that’s sustainable, inclusive and thriving. I’m an architect and own a small business here. My husband and I raised two daughters here. And I’ve served on the City Council for the last four years. I’ll listen to you no matter what your opinion. It’s that simple. I'm Andy Pease and I’d appreciate your vote.

Kelly Evans:

Why are you running for office?
It’s absolutely vital our next four years have leadership who can and will listen to voices across our town share their needs, implement innovative solutions during unprecedented times, and continue to be looking forward, thinking long-term about our needs past this period as well.
I firmly believe involvement in local government is part of our civic duty; democracy doesn’t work without participation. That said, deep diving into it is a lot of upfront work that many residents, especially those who need assistance most, just don’t have space for. I have always had a passion for politics, and will act as representation for folks who have less time to advocate for themselves.

What makes you qualified for the role?
I have a history of building coalition to get things done. This is especially important during this period of economic and social unrest. We need to be bringing our town together, via creative solutions that elevate all members of our community while keeping our businesses running.

I have held leadership positions, involved in advocacy with lawmakers, since I was a high school student. All have been democratically elected positions, most often on a board with other officials, doing our best to prioritize within the organization the work our members value most.

I realized young my skills in management and the marriage of idealistic visioning with reality and budget constraints. Now I believe it’s time to take my skills to government.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I am unique in my combination of diversity and local political knowledge. A queer renter still full of youth energy and creative solutions, I seek out expert advice from our many strong advocates, knowing no single person can hold all the knowledge needed to guide us alone. I am data driven, making grounded thought-out decisions after understanding how all the effects play out.

What are some of the biggest issues you see facing San Luis Obispo?
COVID recovery will be huge, but that doesn’t mean just economic. We need to ensure not just safe reopening, but solutions that keep our businesses running and our residents healthy during this pandemic. We need to ensure our previous lack of affordable housing doesn’t become a full blown crisis as a result of lost income, inability to pay rent/mortgages, and evictions. We need to continue providing for the health of our at-risk populations, and make sure the non-profits we rely on to provide civic services are staffed despite their normal volunteer population needing to stay home. Meanwhile, the city itself needs to stay funded!

Outside of that, we’re facing lack of diversity and an ever-looming global climate. This is why our next council must focus on long-term solutions and not exclusively immediate recovery. Changing our culture to elevate all who live here will take time and effort by all. Protecting our climate will take time and effort by all.

What are some solutions you hope to bring to the table?
My solutions are people-first and based in the advice of local experts with whom I aim to continually build relationships. I believe strongly in mixed-use housing, making work-play-live easier and more realistically car free. I have some food delivery-socially distanced-tech-restaurant collaboration visions in the works as well.

I bring specific, targeted solutions that don’t dally around the real issues or vaguely describe greener fields. What is the issue, why isn’t the fix working, what needs to be done, how will this affect various intra-communities.

What would you like voters to keep in mind as they fill out their ballots?
It’s not a multiple choice test! While we’d love to see massive voter turnout on everything and there are some great local voter guides released by community organizations and labor groups, you don’t have to have an opinion on every race to vote.