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Candidates face off in Chamber debate 

San Luis Obispo city candidates for mayor and City Council assembled in one of the lavish halls at the Madonna Inn on Oct. 9 for a question and answer session with SLO’s upper crust, who paid $30 a plate to attend the event organized by the Chamber of Commerce and SLO Rotary.

The only candidates not in attendance were Terry Mohan, a community activist and delivery driver who is running for mayor, and Arnold Ruiz, a retired barber, whose has said his primary goal on the council would be to “restore Laguna Lake.” Mayor Dave Romero, who is running for re-election and wears the title “mayor” like a pair of comfy shoes, took the opportunity to point out that he has no other job, and no other commitments than to serve as mayor.

Candidates took questions from the audience and Chamber members on topics including land use, growth, and annexation.

One question concerned a proposal to annex agricultural properties beyond the city’s western edge. John Ashbaugh, a teacher, city planner, and current planning commissioner for the city, made a slight blunder. He appeared to assume that Dan DeVaul’s ranch and home-grown rehab center was part of a proposed annexation plan. It’s not, despite proposals to annex adjoining property. Consensus among the majority of candidates seemed to be that annexation of the two agricultural properties would benefit the city. In general Ashbaugh stressed his credentials as a city planner.

The city budget was also on the minds of attendees and candidates. One Chamber member asked specifically what the Chamber’s position should be regarding repealing the citywide measure that allowed binding arbitration, which recently led to a large increase in pay for city police.

Many council candidates agreed that the Chamber should encourage voters to repeal the measure, except for candidate Jan Marx, a former council member who pushed for “smart growth” during her term. She contended that the Chamber might be overstepping its boundaries, given that its members are not all city residents, and the measure was approved by city voters. Not coincidently, the Chamber met with several city officials the following day to discuss the implications of binding arbitration.

The creation of head-of-household jobs in the city, and affordable housing, also played big in the debate. Councilman Paul Brown, who owns Mother’s Tavern and is defending his council seat this election, cracked jokes at his own expense, and encouraged “SLO-esque” businesses to settle here and grow. Dan Carpenter, a fifth-generation SLO native and council challenger, suggested pulling talent from Cal Poly to encourage entrepreneurialism in SLO.

Generally, the candidates were well prepared for the questions, even Marcia Nelson, an energetic stewardess and political outsider, who seemed at least politically savvy enough to recognize that a city council candidate can’t go all wrong if they follow the rule: If in doubt, repeat what Dave Romero said.

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