SLO councilman asks candidate to resign from planning post
May 3, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A San Luis Obispo city councilman is asking a council candidate to resign from her seat on a land use planning task force because of a concern that her campaign is interfering with matters of city policy.
At a Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) task force meeting Tuesday, Councilman Dan Carpenter said that council candidate and task force member Carlyn Christianson has put city staff in the middle of a “political whirl” over a stalled plan to redesign a neighborhood in southern San Luis Obispo.
The South Broad Street Area Plan is a proposal to change a neighborhood bordering Broad Street between South Street and Orcutt Road from primarily manufacturing to a hub for mixed-use development. The plan also proposes street improvements focused on reducing traffic congestion and improving bicycle and pedestrian safety on Broad Street.
Because of the council vacancy created when Andrew Carter resigned, only four council members voted on the Broad Street area plan during a March 19 hearing. Each vote on the plan deadlocked at 2-2.
Carpenter proposed proceeding only with the circulation improvement to South Broad Street and Councilwoman Kathy Smith concurred. However, Mayor Jan Marx and Councilman John Ashbaugh voted against the traffic and safety improvements to South Broad Street because they refused to concede a portion of the plan that would have introduced mixed use residential and retail development into the neighborhood.
Since then, several residents who attended a meet and greet with Christianson sent letters to city staff asking them to turn the Broad Street circulation issue over to the LUCE task force that the council candidate sits on, so that needed traffic improvements can occur. Carpenter responded by asking the residents to ask Marx and Ashbaugh to reconsider their votes.
“Ask them to reconsider their ‘no’ vote on moving forward with the circulation issues in the area,” Carpenter wrote in the email to the South Broad Street area residents.
On Sunday, Christianson attended a meet and greet on Lawrence Drive just west of Broad Street, where she said she discussed the proposed South Broad Street Area Plan that the council failed to pass. Because the council deadlocked on the Broad Street Area Plan, the proposal did not advance to the LUCE task force for review and improvements.
The day following Christianson’s gathering, several residents of the neighborhood west of South Broad Street sent emails to Deputy Director of Long Range Planning Kim Murry regarding Tuesday’s LUCE task force meeting that included “Broad Street plan” in the subject line. Two of the emails asked Murry to include the plan in the LUCE task force update to the city’s general plan.
“The tone of almost every single letter is that they expect this body to move forward on it,” Carpenter said. “Well it was very clearly stated by council that that would not be included.”
Carpenter said the South Broad Street area residents who wrote to Murry had received “misinformation or misguided information” at the political gathering they attended. He said Christianson’s campaign “invokes a level of politics” that should not be involved in the task force.
Instead of petitioning the task force for traffic congestion reduction and improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety on Broad Street, the residents should address their concerns to the city council, Carpenter wrote in a follow-up email.
Carpenter also said that candidates for city council do not belong on special task forces.
“It could be interpreted that there is a conflict of interest because you could use it as a platform and use it as an unfair advantage over your competition,” Carpenter said. “A person could go out and say I’m a candidate. I can bring that plan back to the task force.”
Christianson responded to Carpenter’s request for her resignation Tuesday and denied misleading anyone as to the status of the Broad Street Area Plan.
“I went to a meet and greet in the neighborhood,” Christianson said. “There were apparently a lot of people from the Broad Street corridor, especially from the Lawrence street neighborhood. They asked me about the plan. I explained extremely clearly that the plan was dead.”
Christianson said she even threw a physical copy of the Broad Street Area Plan on the ground at the meet and greet.
“I took the plan that somebody handed me and threw it on the ground as if there is no plan,” she said.
The council candidate did acknowledge seeing references to the Broad Street plan in emails to staff, but attributed the misunderstanding to confusion on the part of the residents.
“I know some of the communications I saw referred to the Broad Street plan. That was an error,” Christianson said. “I can’t say why there was miscommunication or why there was misunderstanding except to know that it’s kind of typical for the public when dealing with issues they don’t quite understand and haven’t had the chance to completely explore.”
Some observers question, though, whether the South Broad Street Area Plan is indeed “dead.”
The night the plan stalled at the city council Marx called the gridlock “bad governance” and said one alternative remains.
“The other alternative that we might have would be to continue this item until after July 15th when we are going to have a fifth member of the city council,” Marx said at the end of the March 19 meeting.
Marx, Ashbaugh and the Democratic Central Committee have all endorsed Christianson. Carpenter followed his request for Christianson’s resignation from the LUCE task force by authoring a letter to the editor that appeared both in the Tribune and New Times reprimanding the Democratic Central Committee for making an endorsement in the council race.
If San Luis Obispo voters elect Christianson in June, Marx and Ashbaugh may have the third vote they need to approve the redesign of the neighborhood east of South Broad Street between South Street and Orcutt Road. The plan would transform the neighborhood from a primarily manufacturing area to a hub for mixed-use development. Planning staff have referred to the design for the Victoria Avenue stretch of the corridor as the potential “Third Street Promenade” of San Luis Obispo.
While the council remains deadlocked, Christianson and other members have indicated interest in the task force tackling similar plans for the area. Task force member Chuck Crotser said at Tuesday’s meeting that it would be “natural to revisit” the Broad Street Area Plan.
“Many of us would like to see the Broad Street plan included,” Crotser said. “To not even have it considered by this body would be irresponsible.”
Community Development Director Derrick Johnson said at the March 19 council meeting that the task force could choose on their own to focus on the South Broad Street area as it has done with other neighborhoods. He reaffirmed that possibility at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The task force may ultimately take it up as an area,” Johnson said.
Carpenter said the task force is not responsible for tackling public dissatisfaction with the city council.
“That’s not what you are here to address,” Carpenter said.