Honesty, preservation, engagement — these are the campaign principles that got San Luis Obispo’s youngest city council member Aaron Gomez elected. They reflect his views on housing, sustainability and political involvement — three issues that affect Cal Poly students.
City council sets policies under which the city operates and is composed of five people — the mayor and four council members. Six people ran for two open spots this year. Gomez, a political newcomer, topped all competitors by raising the most campaign funding at $18,664.
Tyson Maulhardt was Gomez’s campaign event coordinator and long-time friend of more than 10 years.
“Aaron cares about the city. He wanted to make a bigger impact and the best way to do so was to join city council,” Maulhardt said.
Gomez is 37 years-old, tall, artsy and wears a quality pair of eyeglasses. He’s also a third generation San Luis Obispo resident. He has strong ties to the small-business community as a co-owner of The Gold Concept, a jewelry and design studio downtown. On top of this, he’s also on the Board of Downtown San Luis Obispo and five other committees, including the San Luis Obispo Chamber Sustainability and Resources and the Economic Development Committees.
“How do you bring more people together? That’s what drives me,” Gomez said. “Cities are like businesses and need to be tended to.”
Sustainability is key
Gomez plans to focus on sustainability right away.
“I got into this because it was just another avenue to have a voice,” Gomez said. “As soon as people are aware of what they’re consuming on every level, then it changes our habits and then it changes our culture and then our city; that is my hope.”
Sustainability is also one of Cal Poly’s seven university learning objectives. It’s defined as “the ability of the natural and social systems to survive and thrive together to meet current and future needs.”
“How do you be very resource-conscious and inclusive of people and make it economically viable?” Gomez said. “Those principles have to work together. More people need to think about the long-term use of resources.”
To that end, he wants to see a styrofoam ban, better water management and more people using bicycles. Gomez wants to help San Luis Obispo’s “housing imbalance.”
The housing issue
“Housing is really one of our top issues. How to create greater affordability — that’s the million dollar question right now. Everybody’s fighting for the same housing,” Gomez said.
Bryce Blue is a fabricating optician at Envision Optometry. He knows firsthand the “housing imbalance” that Gomez refers to, having lived in San Luis Obispo for most of his life. In fact, Blue shares a property with a group of Cal Poly students. He’s saving for his own place, currently residing in a studio attached to the house the students live in.
Residents of San Luis Obispo are often quick to blame students for the lack of housing in the area, but this doesn’t paint the whole picture.
“Sixty-five percent of our housing stock is turned into rentals. It used to be 40 percent,” Gomez said. “It’s become so expensive that investors have started buying up homes because they know they can rent them at a high cost. Students will pay because they have to live near their college. Then you have neighborhoods that traditionally had families in them.”
But that misidentifies the problem.
“When you look at the numbers, more students live on campus now than in the past,” Gomez said. “There’s 800 more students living off campus today than in 1977. Cuesta’s enrollment has gone up too, which impacts housing. You can’t put Cuesta kids on Cal Poly’s campus.”
Students pay the high price of rent through student loans, financial aid or with their parents’ help. Many young, working professionals in the area struggle to find affordable housing in San Luis Obispo and often commute to work from other areas.
“The lack of housing here doesn’t just affect students; it’s tough for locals too,” Blue said. “Most employees at our practice drive to the area from North and South county because it’s cheaper.”
Gomez explains the root of the housing problem.
“It’s not that students are the issue. It’s the fact that we ourselves, as a city, have not grown either,” Gomez said. “We’re trying to put more and more people into the same areas. It will help having more on-campus housing, but Cal Poly isn’t the problem. Everybody has grown and we haven’t built housing to accommodate that growth on any standpoint.”
Besides his views on sustainability and housing, Gomez also wants to see more of the community involved in local politics, especially the younger generation.
“There’s people that seem to be comfortable participating in government, and there’s people that don’t,” Gomez said. “How can we rework that and create some events to get people out? You seem to see the same 20 to 30 people when we have invites to the entire city. There’s 7,000 people give or take that are not participating.”
Psychology senior Emma Tietje is the event coordinator at Novo Restaurant. She was raised in the area and voted for Aaron Gomez.
“I voted for him because I agree with his policies. Aaron had a campaign event here and it was really fun. It was a different type of politics,” Tietje said. “In this town, people really do enjoy that sense of community; they want to know their politician, who represents them.”
Gomez wants to do more outreach, especially through social media. Plans are in the works to meet with Cal Poly leadership and President Jeffrey Armstrong after the holidays.
“I would like to see better interaction with Cal Poly and Cuesta students. I want to hear their voices,” Gomez said.