Q: When’s the last time you contacted your electeds? What was the issue you reached out on?
A: 2 June 2020: Appealed a Planning Commission decision to the City Council on the grounds of violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, SLO Conservation and Open Space Element, SLO Preservation Ordinance, and SLO Community Design Guidelines. The Council rejected it, as we expected, so now we’ve taken it to superior court, where we expect to win.
Q: What did you want to grow up to be when you were a child?
A: A writer.
Q: What is the biggest misconception others have about you?
A: That I haven’t checked the data.
Q: For you, what’s the best part about living in SLO?
A: Constant discoveries of interesting stuff. Lately I’ve been having long, late-night text exchanges with Biba Pickles about Frog Hollow, the barrio her family lived in, bulldozed to build the 101.
Q: If you had a campaign theme song, what would it be?
A: I have a campaign tone poem, which Russell Kwong of Mee Heng Low is composing. He releases draft samples on Instagram.
Q: Who has the best breakfast burrito in town?
A: I never get up that early. Every two weeks our tamalero, Miguel, brings lunch to the adobe where my office is. The rest of the time we look forward to it.
Q: Knowing what we know now, would you have wanted to handle the city’s COVID response any differently and in what ways?
A: We knew what we know now back in May: that masks work and are most of what we have. I advocated then for a city mask mandate, in the Tribune (where I’m a columnist) and on Dave Congalton’s radio show. As of a couple of weeks ago the city was sending out Instagrams about cracking down on public urination and open containers to “SLO the spread of COVID.” Instead of masks. Bizarre.
Q: Are there any changes you’d like to make to the City’s Climate Action Plan? If so, how?
A: Yes, stop trafficking in bougie, feel-good symbolism and actually do stuff. To declare ourselves a car-free, carbon neutral city, then immediately approve a new 400-stall parking structure is the ultimate hypocrisy.
Q: Do you support Measure G? Why or why not?
A: No, because it’s a regressive tax that hits the poor and unemployed the hardest. Unfortunately, most of the taxes municipalities have available to them are regressive. Even if Prop. 15 passes, the money will take some time coming. Our City Hall overhead in SLO is 19% of annual operating budget; in Santa Barbara, 13%; in Monterey, 10%. That might be a place to find the money we need.
Q: With Black Lives Matter movements taking place across the nation and here in SLO, how do you propose to promote racial equality locally?
Stop condemning traditional working-class neighborhoods in order to build luxury condos, which has been the basis of city plans for decades. Build and preserve affordable housing. Make SLO both explicitly and implicitly welcoming for people of color, in part by acknowledging its history and future as a far more diverse place than it is now. Acknowledge and fix biases in policing.
Q: What do you think is the city’s role in attracting more diverse, young professionals to live and work in SLO? What can the City do better?
A: “Professionals” are not diverse in terms of class and not diverse enough in terms of race; I’d like nonprofessionals to feel welcome, too. For both, we first need affordable housing. It’s virtually impossible to build affordable housing in California—the exception being prefabs, not always lovely. You can, however, preserve affordable housing. But the council’s policy for decades has been to bulldoze neighborhoods like Brook-Eto Street (the old nihonmachi or Japantown; later, after Nisei and Issei relocation in WWII, the center of the Black community) to replace them with unaffordable condos that end up being second homes. A diverse built culture encourages a diverse business, residential, and arts culture.
Q: Do you believe adding density to the downtown core is one of the tools to help alleviate our housing crisis? What other tools should the City implement to make SLO a more affordable place to live?
A: Don’t confuse height with density. The city council does this regularly, approving tall-ceilinged luxury lofts with big floor plans that become empty second homes. That takes horizontal sprawl and transforms it into vertical sprawl. A sustainable, affordable future is likely small, not sprawl or tall. The other problem with downtown tall sprawl is that San Luis Obispo has one of the finest collections of Eclectic Architecture in the country, which can rival Santa Barbara Spanish Revival or Palms Springs Mid-Century Modern in attracting well-heeled cultural tourists. Speaking as someone in the tourist industry, no one comes here to see banal mini-highrises.
Q: How will you integrate the concerns of U40’s into your decision making process? What is your experience with mentoring or amplifying the voices of younger generations?
A: The City Council is San Luis Obispo’s highest deliberative body. It’s lately been taken over by a tyranny of good manners, but for a community to reach unity, it has to be frank about its interests and differences and duke ‘em out. That process gives both under 40s and over 40s a greater power, but you have to be ready to seize it. When I was chair of the Cultural Heritage Committee, my efforts to recruit young expertise to the committee hit a brick wall with Council; they were perceived as too much of a threat. BLM needs to transition from protest to power; currently the Council is trying to sideline them with excuses. I’ve been pushing there.
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges SLO faces over the next decade and what are some ways to address it?
A: Homelessness, both visible (camps, rough sleeping) and invisible (cars, motels, couch surfing). Beyond COVID eviction moratoriums, neither federal, state, county, nor municipal government has yet to be galvanized to action. We need temporary shelter (the cabin community model in Oakland seems to me to be the least bad quick approach, with so far 56% transition into permanent housing) and permanent shelter, including supportive housing. Rich people’s housing will always take care of itself; the Council needs to turn its attention to how we house the poor.