Q: You are offered unlimited funds to open a business in Downtown SLO. What is it & why?
A: I love that question. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about that aspect of my own life but I’ve had a couple businesses, including a jewelry business and a house cleaning business. I would like to create an experiential space that would act to build community. In a nod to Councilmember Aaron Gomez, I like the idea of creating a “refillery,” and by that I mean household items which come in plastic bottles could be filled from large containers with the goal of reducing waste. When you get into waste, it can be overwhelming and depressing. Having been concerned about climate action and being politically motivated at an early age I’ve always wanted to implement change for the better.
Q: What is one cool aspect about what you do that people may not know?
A: I spend a lot of time in schools and enjoy being able to go into classrooms, from kindergarten to college. I get to connect with younger generations and more recently in the last 6 months, a lot of young women have been sharing their concerns about sexual assault. I feel honored they seek support from me in that area or any area really, maybe because the students especially see me as Mom of the town. It can be especially difficult in a college town, where I don’t have jurisdiction on campus and have to respect what Cal Poly is doing and trust mechanisms are in place to deal with that kind of thing.
Q: What do you wish you could tell your 21 year old self?
A: I wish I could have told my 19 year old self to slow it down a bit and not get married at 20 [laughs]. We met at Woodstock’s, my first job, and luckily we have 2 kids from that relationship. But more seriously, that you don’t have to be an expert to get involved. You have a lot to offer and a lot to learn. Young people and especially women wait to be experts; to be perfect and it’s an understandable mistake but it’s a mistake. It’s OK to learn by doing, to be authentic and be comfortable in your own skin. To say, I have value, I came here to take up space and I came here to do it in my own authentic way. I get a lot of pushback about the rose [I wear] but you’re seeing a lot of women in politics finally show up as themselves. So, I’m excited for that.
Q: What unexpected success came out of something that at first felt like a failure?
A: I ran for office [CA State Assembly] in 2014 and knew I wasn’t going to win but I did it. But when I later met Bernie Sanders, this was before he ran, I was like “this is my guy”. Having gone through that election cycle and having a sense of it being so inspiring, so empowering and so great only to end up being so disappointing and discouraging how the political system treated him. I got home and was over it, but had remembered Bernie saying “Don’t be mad. Go home and run for office”. I wanted to model not quitting, to get up and keep doing the work. That’s when I decided to run for mayor. I try to build relationships on both sides of the spectrum, and I have people say, “I don’t like everything you do, but I like you and the way you’re doing what you’re doing.” It seems like there’s a generational divide right now locally that seems irresponsible and my main task is to mend that.
Q: What is your spirit animal?
A: Bernie Sanders is my spirit animal! That’s cheating, OK, what is my real spirit animal? What animal most represents my personality? I guess a tiger, because I feel like I have a fierceness that comes from a maternal space that can be both soft and nurturing, but if there’s a threat to the cubs … you’re probably going to have a bad day. [laughs]
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges SLO faces over the next decade & what are some ways to address it?
A: The fiscal challenges we face are substantial. First is unfunded liabilities, which are pensions that we have to pay and we need to be proactive in paying down. The second challenge is the Diablo closure, which will have a huge economic impact that we’ve been working on the last few years and happily SB 1090 just passed (funding $85M in this transition). Third, we’re in one of the longest economic expansions in history and we know we’re heading toward a slow down. There are really 3 aspects to paying down our pensions. 1) negotiating concessions from our employees, 2) working more effectively and efficiently within our departments and looking at programs that aren’t valuable to the community and 3) looking at new revenue streams like the cannabis tax, more hotel rooms and TOT tax downtown and making sure SLO stays economically viable.
Q: What is the best way for the under 40 demographic to get engaged with the city?
A: Consider joining one of the City’s many advisory bodies – that takes a certain level of commitment as most only meet once per month. Ideally, apply for one that’s in your area of interest or passion. Otherwise, show up to a City Council meeting and you know, you don’t have to stay the whole time. Just show up and see what it’s like. You can write letters to Council if you have concerns or organize around specific issues to make a difference.
Q: What do you think is the city’s role in attracting more young professionals to live and work in SLO? What more can the city do?
A: The City’s role is to make a City that is thriving economically, socially and culturally. But can you legislate for that? That’s interesting to think about but it comes up in housing affordability and setting a tone for a community. Young people tend to be more open and the lack of diversity in this community is really a concern. For employers, it’s hard to recruit talent. Regarding housing, I’d love to see more co-housing like the Establishment. It’s a model that won’t work for everybody but it can build strong bonds and forces you to learn how to share space. It could work for families where there could be shared child care. Additionally, artist lofts could fit within the area where the new Art Museum and Repertory Theatre, once built.
Q: What are your thoughts on rezoning or redevelopment of commercial buildings and shopping centers to housing?
A: Looking at different types of housing we don’t really have here is important and outside the box thinking can be great. Re-orienting commercial space can work, but striking a balance between offering those commercial spaces to people who need them to build businesses while we know we have this huge jobs/housing imbalance. And I’m concerned about the long term vitality of the City if we don’t create opportunities for more diversity to be here.
Q: How do you rationalize decision making on tough issues when you’re bombarded with conflicting views of what residents want?
A: I read all emails, listen to all voices and depending on the topic I do a lot of proactive engagement. Regarding the Anholm bike path, I had a gentleman invite me over for pancakes who was really concerned about traffic, so we could watch the traffic together, which really has an impact. That’s why I’ve done this neighborhood walking program, where I’ve walked about 30 different neighborhoods. There’s also the staff report – we have a lot of people in the City with a lot of expertise. You have to rely on the staff report but I also do my own research and engage people that are experts in that field. During the zoning update, I went on a field trip tour with a commercial real estate broker and hearing from him was crazy, that this side of the street is one way, this side is another way and the lens that the space was looked at through, it sometimes feel un-rentable. But the overarching layer is “what is the vision we have for this City and the future, and what do we not just want to do, but need to do?” I try to make my decisions based on what’s best for the next generation versus what’s best for my next election. Further, I have enjoyed some tough conversations with opponents where I take the approach of “I’m not here to change your mind, but to hear your concerns.”
Q: What are some of the biggest impacts where U40s can contribute to the city’s Climate Action Plan and 2035 goal?
A: The U40 group is the perfect group to make this happen. We have a Citizen Climate Task Force that has an official relationship with the City and anyone can join, so that’s a good place to plug in. But live it to whatever extent we can. Showing up really matters because it’s the physical embodiment of the future and that’s huge. I remember a young family during the zoning update who had to get a babysitter to be there and it shows that it really matters to them. This is their future and we don’t always have enough of that. Regarding climate change, vote for people who aren’t just going to accept the reality of climate change, but who really advocate for policies around it.