This story was updated on Oct. 19 with new information from local activist Tianna Arata in response to claims made by Abrianna Torres.
Two seats on the San Luis Obispo City Council are up for election Nov. 3.
City Council is composed of the elected mayor and four council members. The council sets the policies and legislation under which San Luis Obispo runs and operates. They have the authority to adopt ordinances and resolutions, establish policies, approve programs, appropriate funds, approve budgets and approve contracts, according to the Mayor and City Council page.
The mayor is elected to a two-year term while the council members are elected to four-year terms.
There are eight candidates running for the two positions, and their terms will last from December 2020 through December 2024.
The candidates are Erik Long, Jan Marx, Andrea (Andy) Pease, Abrianna Torres, James Papp, Robin Wolf, Jeffery Specht and Kelly Evans.
Oct. 19 is the last day California residents can register to vote. Voting will take place at polling locations throughout the city on Nov. 3 or by ballots mailed by election day.
Longtime San Luis Obispo resident and former Cal Poly professor Erik Long is running for City Council on a platform of dealing with homelessness, providing more affordable housing downtown and increasing downtown parking.
Long was born in Hollywood, CA and moved to Santa Maria with his family when he was 8 years old. He attended community college and transferred to the University of California, Santa Barabara, where he received a degree in political science.
From there, he moved to Washington D.C. to work as a Soviet Intelligence Analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After the Cold War ended, he eventually got his Master’s in Political Science from California State University, Chico. He taught political science at Cal Poly and various other universities until starting his current job as a Security Manager, Supervisor and Officer at various Fortune 500 companies.
His decision to run for City Council was prompted by his friends who also live in San Luis Obispo.
“About two or three months ago, a few of my friends told me I ought to run for City Council,” Long said. “I looked into it and decided to run. I was skeptical at first, because I needed a reason to run.”
Long said he soon found his reason. He stood outside Whole Foods one day and asked every person who left what they felt the biggest long term issues impacting San Luis Obispo were. He also asked about 40 businesses downtown. Everyone had a similar consensus: homelessness, housing and downtown parking.
Thus, Long’s campaign focus was born.
His policy ideas are influenced by his background in political science.
“We need a different way to address these issues, so I thought about how political scientists and world leaders do it,” Long said. “We hold summits to discuss important issues.”
If elected, he said he plans on holding three summits to address these three issues — when it is safe to do so. Long wants to invite experts in homelessness, housing and parking to hear what the citizens feel is a necessary course of action in these areas. He would like to hold them in Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center when COVID-19 regulations permit.
When asked about what he feels is the best course of action to address the pandemic, Long thinks back to World War I and World War II, specifically the rebuilding process. He said that the aftermath of WWI left power vacuums that allowed people such as Adolf Hitler to rise to power. After WWII however, he said he commends The Marshall Plan executed in Europe and the United States under President Harry Truman. He said this plan was very successful at re-stabilizing the world. Long said he wants to propose something similar for the city, but on a much smaller scale.
“We need to gather lots of intel to determine exactly where we’re at and we bring in some of the best minds in the area from the many different sectors in our community,” Long said. “We’ll put together a very detailed post-pandemic recovery plan … something that will help people recover quickly and bring back our vibrant city to what it used to be.”
Recently, Long took time off work to visit every business downtown. After 22 hours of speaking with the owners and operators, he proposed that the city dedicates two police officers to roam around downtown on foot for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, as a means of answering questions citizens have and implement interactive policing.
In order to address and move forward with racial inequality in San Luis Obispo, Long proposes holding a series of town meetings to see and hear what the community feels is the best course of action.
“I’m really a believer in democracy and I like to involve people as much as possible in the democratic process,” Long said. “I’m not too big of … committees. Sometimes you miss things when you don’t involve people and when committees just start doing what they think is important, and I really want to hear what the people have to say.”
Long said he feels like the people of San Luis Obispo need a healthy turnover in City Council to promote new ideas and implement a fresh start, and he said that a lot of people seem unhappy with the situation downtown.
Long is an admirer of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he said he appreciates how Roosevelt talked with “normal people” and tried to understand their feelings and viewpoints. Long’s emphasis on democracy and talking with the citizens emulate Roosevelt in this way.
Former San Luis Obispo Mayor and Councilmember Jan Marx is running for City Council on a platform that consists of racial and diversity awareness and activism, climate change action and rebuilding San Luis Obispo’s economy.
Marx was born in Long Beach, California and attended Stanford University, Columbia University and University of Santa Clara Law School. Marx currently lives in San Luis Obispo with her husband and serves as the Campus Dean at San Luis Obispo College of Law.
In 1998, Marx was elected to City Council where she served for four years. Afterward, Marx got involved in groups such as the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, where she said she put a lot of energy into preserving open space and helping bring Bishop’s Peak out of private ownership. She did this all while running her own law practice as well.
In 2008, Marx was elected to City Council again and was elected mayor in 2010. Under her leadership, the city completed a skateboard park and replaced playground equipment, increased preservation of open space, increased transparency of city budget, won regional funding for bike paths and much more, according to her campaign website.
Marx spearheaded the first Climate Action Plan in 2012 as well as initiated a decision to join a Community Choice Aggregate based in central California. This allows a city to purchase energy from alternate, non-polluting sources.
“If I’m elected I want to work to continue to implement these changes and updates,” Marx said.
Another facet of Marx’s campaign is expanding diversity and inclusion across the city.
“For Cuesta and Cal Poly students that come from urban areas, this might be the first time they’re in a community that is majorly white instead of having a more diverse population, and it’s hard,” Marx said. “If I’m on council, I want to make people from different areas and different backgrounds feel included.”
Marx includes college students as “residents,” saying that bridging the generational divide between students and older residents is important and can amount to a lot of growth.
As a student, Marx participated in the civil rights movement. Today, she said she supports the right to peacefully protest and the philosophy behind the Black Lives Matter movement. She is also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
She said she is concerned that tear gas was used in San Luis Obispo to curtail protestors, but she said she recognizes that it is hard to get all the facts about what exactly happened. Marx said she is interested in establishing a police oversight committee as a way for citizens to have input on policies and procedures conducted by law enforcement.
Marx said she feels it is important the city reaches out to communities impacted by these racial issues and is interested in potentially collaborating with Cal Poly for a city-wide multicultural center.
As a member of City Council during the 2008 recession, Marx said she feels like she possesses the budgetary skills to help get San Luis Obispo’s economy up and running again.
“If there are budget cuts that have to be made, I want to make sure they are done in a way that is guided by the values and priorities of residents, so whatever cuts are made don’t impact the quality of life of the people here,” Marx said.
Marx is in favor of mandating masks on the streets of San Luis Obispo, helping businesses open up to move the economy forward and safely opening the city’s schools — elementary through college.
With many plans for addressing the city’s issues, Marx said she has the experience and skills to implement these if elected to City Council again.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer the city in terms of my experience, my knowledge, my expertise and my ability to collaborate with people of all different backgrounds,” Marx said. “My motivation for running is that I want to help the city by doing everything I can do to help the residents.”
Councilwoman Andy Pease is running to be re-elected for a second term.
Pease is a longtime San Luis Obispo resident who grew up in the Bay Area and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she studied architecture. She moved to San Luis Obispo with her husband in 1997 and raised her daughters in the city.
Pease is a green-building architect and has a small business downtown called In Balance Green Consulting with a partner and a couple of employees. She splits her time in half with her business and position on City Council.
The first time Pease ran for City Council, she said there was knowledge she did not possess yet.
“Four years ago I ran for office and at the time, as a green-building consultant, I felt like I had a lot of ways to be effective in environmental sustainability,” Pease said. “But, I feel like I didn’t have the reach in terms of social justice issues and economic inequality.”
Since starting her term on City Council, Pease said she has come to realize how those three issues work together. She said she has taken initiative to improve San Luis Obispo’s problems surrounding the environment, social justice and income.
She said housing problems have aspects of these three issues embedded into it. Pease said she recognizes how expensive housing is in San Luis Obispo, especially downtown, and feels those who work downtown should be able to afford a home there.
“I’ve been proud of the work our council has done to put into place and build upon work of prior councils to put in new housing developments that will come online within the next several years,” Pease said.
This plan also includes a priority for people who live and work in town and sets up boundaries that prevent outside investors from buying up properties. She wants to build smaller housing units that are designed with a smaller floor plan in order to be more affordable.
For climate action, Pease and the council set a goal for the entire city to be carbon neutral by 2035. The council also funded a climate action plan and has invested in infrastructure, such as bike lanes, to encourage residents to take up more eco-friendly transportation. Pease has received endorsements from Sunrise SLO, a local environmental group, for her climate action efforts.
To deal with COVID-19, Pease said she has helped the city normalize masks. If re-elected, she said she would focus more on implementing mask-wearing in bars, since she said that’s where a lot of transmission and infection occurs.
Pease said she is glad to see people outdoors and engaging in safe activities, but recognizes San Luis Obispo needs to find ways to keep active in the winter months while remaining socially distant.
Although initially lacking experience in social justice issues, Pease has now received endorsements from Black Lives Matter and supports the movement as well. She is also a supporter R.A.C.E. Matters SLO, a local activist group that has organized many of the Black Lives Matter protests in the city.
“I support wanting to do the deep work as a community to address the historic policies, laws and structures that have led to systemic racism and that are absolutely in place today,” Pease said. “I appreciate all of the activism, especially from young people and students. Cal Poly students have been real leaders and I’m proud how the community has stepped up.”
Pease said the backlash these movements have received showcases a gap of understanding. She said the community can do more work of telling the facts better and listening to experiences from people of color.
Pease said she is proud of the work her council has accomplished and feels they have made progress.
If re-elected, she wants to focus on recovering the economy from the damages caused by COVID-19 while also looking at climate action and social justice through an “economic lens.” This may mean providing incentives to businesses that comply with climate and social justice needs, according to Pease.
“If we are strategic as a city, we can invest in climate action investments that also support jobs and businesses,” Pease said.
Pease said she is proud of her past work on City Council and that her experience with programs and policy makes her a great candidate for re-election.
If elected, this will be San Luis Obispo native Abrianna Torres’ first time on City Council.
Attending local public schools and running Division 1 Track & Field where she served as team captain, Torres returned back to San Luis Obispo after graduation to work as a Correctional Deputy for the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department. She currently works locally as a small business consultant.
“My experience is pretty diverse, which gives me a sensible perspective on a variety of issues,” Torres said. “As a small business consultant, I’m aware of the economic challenges in SLO and prepared to address these. I know how the public sector works and I have insight on how to improve safety.”
One of the main platforms she’s running on is public safety and homelessness, which she said are coupled together. Torres said she recognizes that homelessness is growing as a result of COVID-19, as well as those struggling with addiction and mental illnesses, and has multiple ideas on combating it.
“When I’m talking to city government officials, the response has been, ‘Well good luck solving the homeless problem’ and if that’s our attitude, then nothing is going to get solved,” Torres said.
Torres proposed bringing in companies such as Chrysalis, a non-profit organization that helps homeless people find jobs. Individuals are paired with a social worker that helps them find jobs. This is a year-long program.
“This isn’t something one group can solve,” Torres said. “It’s not something the city can do on their own. It’s not something a non-profit and private community members can do on their own. This is going to be a collective effort.”
Torres also said she recognizes how small and local businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and wants to help businesses open up safely.
“It will never make sense on how we’re allowed to keep shopping at the big-box stores with large crowds of people present, while we force the mom-and-pop shops to close down,” Torres said. “If we had implemented better safety regulations sooner, we could’ve avoided the economic devastation we are seeing now.”
In response to the racial justice movements occurring locally and nationally, Torres said she recognizes the high emotions playing into the debate and that it is not normal to agree on everything. She also said she encourages people to reach out to her personally to learn her opinions and stances on these issues, saying that a lot of false narratives about her have been floating around.
She said that Tianna Arata, a local activist arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest, twisted her words about white privilege. The two have spoken a few times since Arata’s arrest.
“Tianna has made the claims that I said ‘white privilege does not exist and there’s no racism in SLO’ and things like that,” Torres said. “I never did say white privilege does not exist and I feel the way that white privilege has been used in the past couple of months is demeaning. I’ve had people come and apologize for their white privilege and what I hear is ‘I acknowledge my skin is better than yours I’m sorry about it.’”
She said that her denial that systems in San Luis Obispo are built on racism has put a “target on her back.”
In a subsequent interview with Mustang News, Tianna Arata said that both claims are false; she said she did not twist Torres’ words about white privilege, and she has not spoken with Torres since her arrest. Arata submitted a full statement to Mustang News on Oct. 19.
Torres said that law enforcement in San Luis Obispo has not been built on racism, and when looking at data provided by the police, she said that there’s no racial discrimination. She said she is speaking on a local scale and only from experience, recognizing that systems are different in other parts of California and the United States.
“I have not personally been a part of systemic racism,” Torres said. “I couldn’t speak to that until recently, but what I am experiencing now is systemic racism.”
Torres is the only Black woman running for City Council, a trait she said she would not be recognized for if it were not for the current political climate.
“You can’t put blanket statements over public agencies,” Torres said. “If you are coming from a victim standpoint and looking for an issue, you’re going to find it.”
Instead, Torres encourages people to look at the opportunities in front of them. She said she feels she has a new perspective of looking at issues, something much needed on City Council, according to Torres.
Former Chair of the Cultural Heritage Committee James Papp is running for City Council.
Papp has lived all over the world and has been in San Luis Obispo for six years.
He was involved in the Cultural Heritage Committee for five years and was elected chair three times. However, Papp was fired from the Committee in June. He was also involved in the historic Jack House and Gardens community for two years.
The platform that Papp is running on includes the addressing the pandemic, economy, civil rights, affordable housing, homelessness and the environment.
Papp decided to run for Council a year ago when City Council tried to pass a resolution that prevented monuments of people from being erected. The resolution was not passed, but it motivated him to run anyway.
Papp said that one of his biggest accomplishments was saving a number of historic buildings in San Luis Obispo. A building was on the verge of being destroyed and Papp said he responded by “throwing [himself] in front of the backhoe and saying ‘you cannot do this.’”
Papp said that affordable housing can not be built in California. He instead discusses plans to help the homeless community such as an eviction moratorium, help with security deposits, and supportive living for those with mental health or drug problems.
He also said that housing is influenced by the number of vacation homes in San Luis Obispo. He said this increases housing prices and replaces affordable housing with unaffordable housing.
Papp said that City Council is no longer listening to its citizens and is now only listening to big businesses. He said he can change this by being elected.
Born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Robin Wolf is running for City Council for her first government election
The main issues that Wolf’s campaign is focusing on are the hospitality industry, civil rights, affordable housing and renting, environmental and health and safety.
Wolf has lived in San Luis Obispo for a majority of her life. She has worked in the hospitality, tourism and public-facing industry for two decades.
A newcomer to government, Wolf said she’s running to represent people like herself
“I am running for City Council, because I don’t see people like me on City Council,” Wolf said “I think that there is a big missing element of representation there.”
Wolf said that as a worker and renter in San Luis Obispo, her perspective could help the council on issues related to this. She also said she has many other qualities that can aid City Council.
“I think that one of the great things that I bring to the table is the ability to bring together people whose positions and perspectives may differ and work towards common sense and productive solutions,” Wolf said. “Our city is full of diverse people with diverse perspectives. So I think that someone who can work well with people they disagree with is a very valuable asset.”
Wolf said she is extremely involved and passionate about her past work in the arts. She has served on many arts related boards, including serving on the Central Coast Board of Directors for the Shakespeare festival for five years.
Wolf said that some of her other priorities include COVID-19 health and economic recovery.
“There is no other issue that we face that is not touched by that,” Wolf said. “It touches our health, homelessness, housing, which is a key priority for me.”
Wolf said there needs to be more support for mask enforcement by the city in order to “work together to combat this virus.”
She said she has a fierce passion for the service and restaurant industry and said that she is an “activist and advocate” for those in the industries.
“We need someone on Council who understands the inner-workings of these businesses and has been on the ground like myself since day one,” Wolf said.
Her advocacy also extends to the hospitality and tourism industry, which is another main focus of her campaign.
“I believe that I bring a very practical perspective of how our hospitality and tourism and visitor economy works,” Wolf said. “It is the biggest part of our economy here in San Luis Obispo. It is something that we need to protect and support as much as possible.”
As she’s running to represent people she said lack representation in City Council, she also said that engagement is an extremely important aspect of government.
“I want to see people from every corner of our community engaged,” Wolf said. “I want everyone to realize that their vote counts just as much as every single person. People’s access to information and their ability to participate in our democracy is key to the health of our community and the health of our government.”
In regards to civil rights issues, Wolf said that the diversity, equity and inclusion task force is a great step forward.
When asked what her favorite thing about San Luis Obispo, Wolf said it is the city’s charm and atmosphere for her
“While San Luis Obispo has that charm and kind of nostalgic of a small town, we also have people with new and amazing ideas, and different perspectives,” Wolf said.“We are a college town; we have people who come to live here and bring new perspectives and new ideas.”
Kelly Evans is running for City Council, and if elected, this would be her first time in an official government position.
Evans has been a resident of San Luis Obispo for about five years. Throughout the course of her life, she has always been knowledgeable of politics.
“My grandmother has been a poll worker every single year since I was born that there have been polls to work in,” Evans said. “I think I was in preschool when I heard my parents talk about how important voting is.”
She said she specifically decided to run for council after the recent movements for racial justice in San Luis Obispo.
“In June, the city sort of struggled to respond to the concept that racism does exist in our cute little town,” Evans said. “I started thinking about [running for City Council] seriously in May.”
Evans also said that she always wanted to run for City Council wherever she decided to live.
Some of the issues Evans said are the most important are the environment, affordable housing and diversity.
When discussing Evans’ priorities, she said that all issues intersect and must be addressed in that way, not separately.
“You take something as housing, for example, the way you build housing has to be done in a sustainable way,” Evans said. “Where we can build housing is affected by where infrastructure is and what the coding for our infrastructure needs are. How much housing you have and where it is affects your jobs, affects diversity, affects houselessness.”
When asked why people should vote for her, Evans said it is to represent people who are not typically represented at City Council meetings.
“People who can show up on a Tuesday night are typically your retired, wealthy homeowners and if they are also all of the votes on council, then it’s almost going to be impossible for the other 60 percent of SLO residents to get their needs out there,” Evans said.
Evans said that she is someone who could advocate for those who can’t voice their concerns at City Council meetings.
Additionally, Evans said the most important thing for citizens is how they can access government.
“I think if I was able to single out one thing, it would probably be the accessibility of government to its constituents,” Evans said. “I think that everything else that we need to focus on naturally should arise from that; that is how democracy works.”
Two issues that Evans would aim to fix immediately is the ticket system for San Luis Obispo buses and the police budget.
With the ticket system, Evans said that it is currently flawed. Residents are limited in the number of days that they can have a bus pass and the transit app to pay for the bus is different from the one to track the bus.
To fix this, she would have the city provide physical bus passes and a central app, which would help to increase use of public transit in San Luis Obispo.
Evans said she wants to decrease the police budget because the department has the biggest budget of all the city departments.
“It is likely that our police budget does not have to be as high as it is,” Evans said.
The way that she said she would combat decreasing the police budget is by getting funding from the state to hire another social worker for San Luis Obispo and moving some of the bike officer budgets to the downtown San Luis Obispo association. The association’s goal is to create an economically vibrant downtown. The organization is made of downtown businesses in San Luis Obispo.
Evans also said that masks need to be worn and talked about more. She said that the pandemic is not yet over.
Although she’s lived in San Luis Obispo for five years, she said she loves the city.
“I have lived a lot of different places and I have never felt so immediately attached as I did here,” Evans said.
Jeffery Specht was unavailable for comment.