From left to right, Mayor Erica A. Stewart, councilwoman Jan Marx and councilwoman Michelle Shoresman at the Feb. 11 city council meeting. Credit: Jeremy Garza | Mustang News

San Luis Obispo City Council planned the city’s major goals as part of the budgeting planning process for the 2023-2025 cycle on Saturday, Feb. 11. Headed by Mayor Erica A. Stewart, the five council members debated what issues will take precedence over the next two years.

Major city goals are set every two years, each with a statement to explain the goal’s purpose. The major city goals produced by the City Council include Economic Resiliency, Cultural Vitality and Fiscal Sustainability, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Housing and Homelessness and Climate Action, Open Space and Sustainable Transportation. 

As City Manager Derek Johnson advised the council during the introduction of the goal-setting workshop, these goals are designed to follow just behind the core services city government provides. 

Along with city staff’s input, constituents were able to voice their opinions on Jan. 26 at a community forum. 

The goal statements were drafted at Saturday’s workshop, but they continue to be crafted. Final drafts will be published to upon completion. 

Economic Resiliency, Cultural Vitality and Fiscal Sustainability

“In collaboration with local partners, implement initiatives that reinforce a thriving and sustainable local economy, support a diverse, inclusive, and vibrant community, support arts and culture, and ensure fiscally responsible and sustainable city operations.”

While this goal is similar to one from the previous budget, this one removes language regarding “economic recovery” from the pandemic and now emphasizes “cultural vitality.”

In the 2021-2023 budget planning process, recovery was a major priority following the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilmember Michelle Shoresman was among those who proposed the removal of recovery from this goal. 

“To me, this is about economic passions and activities,” Shoresman said. “So I was one of the ones that proposed reducing it down to economic resiliency and fiscal sustainability. I’m open to the idea of adding a cultural element there.”

Vice Mayor Jan Marx conveyed a previously discussed idea that arts and culture were missing from the major city goals. The councilmembers agreed to include it to the standing economic resiliency and fiscal sustainability goal. 

“What I’m always looking for is a nexus — what’s the nexus that holds all of these elements together?” Marx said. “We need to recognize that we are adding more residents to our city. We need to be an inclusive city, at the same time not lose our sense of who we are, our sense of our cultural identity and the flow of people.”

The councilmembers also highlighted the need to collaborate with community organizations to supply more extensive childcare resources for SLO residents.

This goal will also further support the preservation of SLO-owned historic sites and push for the beautification of public spaces. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

“Further our commitment to making San Luis Obispo a welcoming and inclusive city for all by continuing to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into all programs and policies and advance the recommendations of the DEI Task Force.”

Stewart began this discussion by clarifying exactly what DEI means to the city and the use of the word “all” in the goal statement, which other councilmembers resonated with. 

“We will obviously keep the word ‘all,’ for we’re talking about age and abilities and everything along with race and ethnicity. DEI is not just race and ethnicity,” Stewart said. 

Creating a multicultural center to better welcome all cultures to SLO has been discussed in previous planning meetings for years. The city will now consider shifting away from building a new facility and instead create programmed activities in partnership with existing multicultural community organizations. 

DEI phrasing was discussed extensively at the meeting. Councilmember Emily Francis introduced the idea that DEI language should be ingrained into all of the goals being set. 

“While I think it’s really important that we have a standalone DEI goal, I also think that it’s important that we don’t look at DEI as something that’s separate from everything else that we’re doing,” Francis said. 

This sentiment resulted in adding the words “diverse” and “inclusive” to the Economic Resiliency, Cultural Vitality and Fiscal Sustainability statement and pushing for the ability for anyone to “roll or stroll” in public parks and open spaces in the Climate action, Open Space and Sustainable Transportation goal statement. 

Housing and Homelessness

“Support the expansion of housing options for all, continue to facilitate the production of housing, including the necessary supporting infrastructure, with an emphasis on affordable and workforce housing as well as accessible connected development. Collaborate with local non-profit partners, nongovernmental agencies, the county, the state, and federal governments to advocate for increased funding and implement comprehensive and effective strategies, including advocacy to prevent and reduce homelessness and chronic homelessness.”

When editing the draft for the goal statement for housing and homelessness, the councilmembers spoke extensively about how to approach these topics. 

Stewart advocated for separating housing and homelessness into two separate goals to address the unique complexities of housing initiative and advocacy for unhoused individuals. Shoresman had a different approach that was ultimately adopted.

“In all the conversations I had during my campaign, [housing and homelessness] were constantly linked,” Shoresman said. “Our city is focused on housing production and as a partner with the county on homelessness. I think those two things together will get us to the best result.”

Councilmember Andy Pease spoke about the importance of advocating for homelessness prevention with a notion from the Human Relations Committee (HRC). 

“Our HRC put out an advisory packet recommendation [that states,] ‘Homeless prevention and advocacy at the city goal continue to support and advocate for long-term proactive, sustainable programs that address homelessness and focus on transitioning children’s families and individuals out of homelessness into permanent housing,’” Pease said. 

Mayor Stewart built off of the HRC’s recommendations and iterated that the city is not alone in completing this goal. 

“We’re not solving this ourselves. This is such a key issue with our community. We are partnering with the county and partnering with the region and seeing very different work efforts of homelessness and housing,” Stewart said. 

The councilmembers agreed that advocating for partners to help fund and support continuing successful pilot programs initiated by the city of SLO in the past (Mobile Crisis Units, Community Action Teams, etc.) is vital for further success. 

The city will now explore protections for renters, who make up the majority of SLO residents, and create proactive tax credits to bring more affordable housing projects to the city. 

Climate action, Open Space and Sustainable Transportation

“Proactively address the climate crisis and increase resiliency through the implementation of the Climate Action Plan. Use resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reach carbon neutrality by 2035, with a focus on preservation and enhancement of convenient and equitable alternative and sustainable transportation, and preservation of open space and equitable access to parks and open space.”

This goal statement is centered around the successful implementation of SLO’s Climate Action Plan. Adopted in 2022, the plan highlights many initiatives started by the city in order to reach carbon neutrality and reach federal and state requirements for climate conservation (such as California’s 30×30 Plan). Councilmember Shoresman emphasized the need to prioritize initiatives, which was supported by other members. 

“My number one priority is that we need to implement our tier one Active Transportation Plan because we know that the large majority of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Second: enhancing mass transit, as we’ve been discussing,” Shoresman said. 

The Active Transportation Plan aims to increase the number of walkers and bikers in the city. The city is alo working on implementing electric public transportation to enhance mass transit.

City Council will meet again on April 18 to approve detailed work programs for the major city goals. The budget is expected to be adopted in June.