The City of San Luis Obispo has a bright future, but it comes with some caveats, mostly in the form of financial challenges that city leaders are working to tackle before they arrive.
On Thursday, Mayor Heidi Harmon and City Manager Derek Johnson presented the annual State of the City address.
“I think one of the great things about San Luis Obispo is this community is really connected,” Harmon said.
Last year meant a number of accomplishments in completed projects like the Laurel Lane improvements, more flight options in and out of town, electric vehicle charging stations at the parking garage, purchase of Miossi Open Space, and more. But leaders are also looking to the future for challenges and opportunities ahead.
Financially, the city is on the solid ground to address two of its biggest hurdles, the closure of Diablo Canyon in a few years and its pension obligation. Currently the city ranks 87th among the more than 480 cities in California addressing the pension liability with city employees.
“The city has been very proactive and developed a plan that we can pay down that liability over the next 20 years and essentially avoid nearly $20 million dollars in interest payments,” Johnson said. Achieving the goal has required reduced benefits and cost sharing done through conversations with labor representatives.
The city projects banking $8.9 million in savings through successful financial planning and taxpayers support in a cannabis tax for incoming grow businesses.
SLO is also seeing a significant investment to open spaces and its tourism, with the addition of 10 percent growth in new hotel rooms. These fit within the five larger goals of the city, summed up in a venn diagram. Those include: downtown viability, fiscal responsibility, sustainable transportation, climate action, and housing.
Housing remains a priority for leaders that fits in with business growth.
“One of the main barriers to businesses growing and flourishing here is they cannot find housing for their employees,” Harmon said. “So our housing goals dovetail into that economic sustainability piece too.”
“I think that the word that I would use to encapsulate all of the city goals and really the lens that we’re really looking at everything through is sustainability. How can we create a fiscally sustainable, environmentally sustainable, economically sustainable community.”
Last year, SLO leaders set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2035. Funding highlights include creating a downtown cultural center, enhancing community health and recreation, protecting natural resources, improving bicycle and pedestrian safety, and building a new police headquarters. The headquarters will require a funding mechanism that will likely go to voters in 2020.