In one of the tightest mayoral races in San Luis Obispo history, former mayor Jan Marx lost to Heidi Harmon by 47 votes. After leaving her seat as leader of the council, Marx reflected on her time in office, her hopes for the future of the city and her plans outside of government in the coming years.
Marx was first elected to the San Luis Obispo city council in 1998. After a six-year gap, she was re-elected to the council in 2008. In 2010, Marx won the mayoral seat and served in that position until Friday, when Harmon was officially sworn in as mayor.
Opening up land and roads
Since moving to San Luis Obispo in 1988, Marx has had a passion for preserving open space. Along with the council, she steadily secured easements to build up a collection of open land, with 7,000 acres protected.
As she leaves office, the council is in the process of negotiating another 1,200 acres to add to that. Marx wants to preserve an area next to Cal Poly called Cuesta Ranch to maintain the beauty of the communiy surrounding the school.
“It’s something I’m really proud of,” Marx said.
Last year, Marx was president of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the agency that distributes state and federal money to all cities in the county. She acquired $16 million from the Council of Governments to double the size of the Los Osos Valley Road interchange, along with a matching amount from the city.
“The interchange used to be very impacted so people were lining up in their cars on the freeway trying to get off. It was really dangerous,” Marx said.
Making housing more affordable
Prior to Marx’s tenure in city council, buying a house in San Luis Obispo was more difficult than it is today.
“People were working and had a good credit rating, but just were not earning enough to get housing in the city,” Marx said.
Marx and the council worked with non-profit partners to revitalize the housing fund. Now, if developers build residential projects, they must build units that are affordable or contribute to the housing fund. In turn, the housing fund contributes money to organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, that help make housing more affordable.
“San Luis Obispo is a very expensive place to live, but we do have the most affordable housing in the county,” Marx said.
Student and community relations
As mayor, Marx also helped renew relations between Cal Poly and the community with help from University President Jeffrey Armstrong. Marx was a strong proponent of on-campus housing, including Student Housing South, which is currently under construction. She supported creating a Greek Row on campus, as well.
In addition, she and the council worked to open communications between students living in neighborhoods and their neighbors.
Marx was excited to work with Cal Poly to restore the Lofts downtown for student housing and strongly supported the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s HotHouse in the business district.
Marx was also responsible for other projects and plans, including the county’s first climate action plan, a $2 million skate park and centralizing the homeless center.
When reflecting on what she enjoyed most about serving on city council, Marx said, “I really enjoyed communicating with residents and students – problem solving.”
At the inauguration on Friday, Marx bid farewell to the city government she had worked in for nearly 20 years.
“Frankly, I wish the results had gone the other way,” Marx said while laughing during her closing remarks. “It’s true – I thought I’d just get it out there!”
However, Marx continued on to congratulate Harmon and said that she will continue to closely follow the work of the new council.
Marx called her time on city council “an honor of a lifetime” and feels confident as she leaves her position as mayor that the city will be left in “excellent shape.”
However, Marx noted that during campaign there was a lot of talk about “new things and changing what was previously put in place.”
The city council updated the general plan for San Luis Obispo in 2014. Marx describes the general plan as a “road map for our future and our constitution.”
Written in 1992, the plan is said to represent San Luis Obispo’s collective vision with goals to progressively and collectively move towards the vision. Marx notes that many of the city’s triumphs would not have been possible without the collective effort that has gone on for decades.
“No one knows what this incoming council will face, but I’m hoping that the council will remember that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and also work hard to uphold the general plan,” Marx said at the council meeting.
As Marx leaves her seat on the council, she is moving into a new position as a professor at the Monterey College of Law in San Luis Obispo.
While at the law school, she plans to set up a clinic for tenant’s rights law. Given the city is made up of 65 percent renters, Marx feels that protecting this majority is important to the city’s prosperity.
“There is understandable reluctance to report hazards if the landlord is not doing the kind of repairs that is required by law,” Marx said.
In addition, Marx wants to have “more adventures and fun.” She hopes to spend more time with her family, including her husband of almost 50 years, two grown children, four grandsons and her tiger-striped rescue cat.