Brendan Abrams is a liberal arts and engineering studies junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or editorial coverage of Mustang News. 

In the words of DJ Khaled, “another one.”

If you have heard enough about all the items that will make an appearance on the Nov. 8 general election ballot; that’s too bad. We are about to get knee deep in some city council knowledge.

These seats are nothing to scoff at. On a daily local level, city council members have arguably more power to directly shape the lives of residents than a governor or president. To dispel any confusion about their role, here’s the official word via www.slocity.org:

“The City Council is the legislative authority and sets the policies under which the City operates. The City council has the power to adopt ordinances and resolutions, make appointments to the City’s advisory bodies, establish policies and approve programs, appropriate funds, adopt budgets, and approve contracts.”

There are six candidates vying for those two spots. All are passionate community members who want to make a difference. In an effort to parse out the subtleties of their views and potentially decide on which two to vote for, I sat down with each candidate aside from Christopher Lopez, for a one-on-one conversation. I’ll be honest, they are all qualified to hold the position. I can’t say those conversations got me much closer to a final decision, but they were certainly informative. Here’s a brief encapsulation of what went down, in order of appearance.

Andy Pease

Pease is a calm and reserved woman upon first impression, but comes to life when discussing important issues. She has a background in environmentally-conscious architecture and consulting. She has been a socially and politically active San Luis Obispo resident since 1997. Pease centered her campaign on balance.

“I think that we can have a healthy economy and environmental stewardship and a great quality of life,” she said.

In part due to her architecture background, Pease sees huge opportunities to responsibly improve quality of life from a housing perspective. She thinks that the housing market has become too competitive, pricing out potential residents, hurting students and discouraging diversity. Her answer to that would be to continue to urge Cal Poly to house more students and to promote more innovative and efficient styles of housing.

That means more residential spaces in downtown buildings (“infill housing” is the buzzword I heard from every candidate) and elsewhere in town, for residents who don’t require big, ranch-
style homes.

“We need housing that’s more urban in nature. By designing smaller, we can use less space and fewer resources, and the city can change our fees and zoning (regulations) to encourage that kind of housing.”
Promoting that sort of urban lifestyle brings new benefits and challenges. Pease, a “fair weather” bike commuter, strongly supports promoting multi-modal transportation (another buzzword meaning “not automobile-reliant”) to accommodate the influx of residents that might arrive with the introduction of more lower-cost housing.

Understandably, Pease also supports Measure J to improve routes for all modes of transport.

Verdict: Pease has well-reasoned positions on local issues, and seems to put the logical needs of the community first.

Mila Vujovich-La Barre

Vujovich-La Barre is undeniably an animated person. Within minutes of meeting at Laguna Middle School, where she teaches history and Spanish, I received the whirlwind version of her life story, which among more exciting things involves education at Cal Poly and University of California, Santa Barbara (potentially a deal-breaker for hardcore NCAA soccer fans).

Vujovich-La Barre is very politically involved, especially when it comes to preserving agricultural land and open spaces. For her, development is not a bad thing, but it needs to be done very carefully and without disturbing the pleasant natural parts of San Luis Obispo or depleting water resources.

“I think you can do infill but also preserve the viewsheds, but we can’t just say yes to every building that comes and maximizes the lot size. We need to do it tastefully,” she said.

Vujovich-La Barre may not be quite as keen on immediate development as Pease, but among most other issues the two are mainly in agreement. Both are proponents of multi-modal transportation and have a similar approach to improving relations with students. On some issues, however, Vujovich-La Barre takes things a step further.

She has some big ideas for the long term that, while good in theory, seem unrealistic to me. Take her proposal for a student mobile home neighborhood similar to the one at University of California, Santa Cruz or for commuter trains that would ease traffic between cities in the county. Both excellent proposals, but unlikely to happen here.

Verdict: Vujovich-La Barre is bristling with energy and has a reasoned and determined approach, but she may benefit from slowing the big ideas until San Luis Obispo has dealt with more pressing hurdles.

Aaron Gomez

I met Gomez at Bello Mundo Cafe, and the venue matched his persona. Classy, understated and intellectual were words that came to mind (also in my mind: “I’m not fashionable enough to be here”). Along with his brother, Gomez owns a downtown jewelry business started by his father. He serves on a slew of city committees, so he seems to have an understanding of the inner workings of our local politics. His family has resided in the county for several generations, giving him a unique perspective on the historical past of San Luis Obispo.

Gomez is essentially in agreement with Pease and Vujovich-La Barre on the importance of sustainable development, but he takes a slightly different approach to making it happen. He told me that one of the most effective ways to ease the strain on the housing market is to entice developers to build smaller and upward, instead of out. Many residents are resistant to that, but maybe they shouldn’t be.

“Often people blame building heights for obstructing the views, but if you look down Higuera, what obstructs the views are the trees. You can easily build behind the trees. Then you can have a building that provides housing,” Gomez said. “Historically, there used to be more [tall] buildings,  but over time taller buildings were replaced by single-story spaces.”

On the topic of student-community relations, Gomez expressed frustration.

“Cal Poly seems to get blamed for so much, but it’s not the big issue people make it out to be. It takes conversation and factual information to point out the issues at play,” he said.

Verdict: Gomez displays competency in business and devotion to his hometown, as well as valuable impartiality. He is at least as well-informed as every other candidate.

Brett Strickland

Strickland makes no bones about it; he works hard and cares about the little guy. Strickland graduated with a degree in political science from Cal Poly while working full time, so he’s familiar with not living in the lap of luxury. He is almost exhaustively empathetic to those who are less than financially stable, and by that I mean he carefully considers every municipal proposal through the lens of someone who uses the entirety of their paycheck just to survive.

Take Measure J, for example. Even though Strickland is in favor of expanding transportation quality and options, he is against the measure because he thinks the sales tax increase lets the state off the hook for transportation improvements, and it may be unmanageable for some.

“Sales tax has a disproportionate effect on lower incomes, and affordability is already the biggest problem here,” he said.

This gets at another problem Strickland sees with our local politics.

“The city goes at problems with a sledgehammer, but it needs a more delicate touch,” he said.

As a former Cal Poly student, Strickland also emphasizes with that group. He thinks excessive fines for noise violations and certain other measures are specifically targeted at students without their input, and shouldn’t be. He also thinks infill housing would significantly decrease pressure on students when finding reasonable housing, and proposed a sliding scale fee structure for developers. This means developers would pay less for permits when building small homes than when building large ones, making them more inclined to build smaller.

Strickland was the only candidate to mention city finances and the necessity of paying off pension liabilities.

“If the city does not get serious about paying these, property taxes are going to go up, which means tenants’ rents go up” Strickland said.

Verdict: Strickland is a passionate defender of residents without a strong political voice and empathetically considers every angle of the issues. He is refreshingly down-to-earth and unafraid to tackle a
murky bureaucracy.

Mike Clark
Clark is an involved resident and veteran, but more than anything he’s a conversationalist. I spoke with the other candidates for about 35 minutes each, but I spent about 95 minutes outside Black Horse with Clark.

I’m not the only one to have this time with him. Clark went to so many forums and talked to so many people during his campaign that he may have acquired too many perspectives. He is a great listener, which has caused him to defer a final position on some of the issues to another time.

For Clark, Measure J is still up in the air, as is a complete solution to our housing problems. But this is what I liked about Clark. He didn’t pretend that he knew what was right for other residents any more than they did. He was eager to hear about my experiences as a human being, and not just as a piece of a political agenda.

Clark was generally in favor of the same ideas as the other candidates, but felt that implementation of those ideas require a lot of community input.

One of the last things he said might sum him up best: “I would be happy to sit with you and chat for another couple of hours.”

I would have too, if I didn’t have an article to write.

Verdict: Clark is a listener who defers to the people. He has no agenda and is an all around nice guy.

We’re lucky to have a group of this caliber running for local office. If this didn’t make a decision any easier, here’s hoping it at least provided relief in knowing that at least every candidate is up to the job. That’s more than we can say about some concurrent political races.

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