SLO city council candidates state their cases at forum

September 21, 2012

Candidates for San Luis Obispo city council gathered at the Madonna Inn Wednesday to debate issues troubling the city.

Mayor Jan Marx  took on challengers Steve Barasch and Donald Hedrick, and council members John Ashbaugh and Dan Carpenter debated each other, as well as challengers, Jeff Aranguena and Kevin Rice. The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Rotary de Toloso co-sponsored the candidates’ forum.

Each of the seven candidates received the same questions, as well as time for opening and closing remarks. The following responses to questions include their positions on Measures A and B (pension reform and binding arbitration), barriers to business and Measure Y (the half cent sales tax). Also included are some comments from the candidates’ opening and closing remarks.


Steve Barasch

Steve Barasch:

On Measures A and B:

“I supported both the passage of Measure A and B. I felt binding arbitration really took away local control.”

“In California you’ve read about all of the scandals, you’ve read about the egregious spiking of pensions. California has some of the most fantastic pensions in the country where we just take the last year of service to determine our pension for life.”

On business barriers:

“The biggest issue or barrier in the way of economic development in the city is predictability. There are 26 different office zones, there are 16 different housing classifications, even the people over the counter don’t know how to answer my questions about what kind of zone is appropriate for what kind of use. It takes six and a half to seven times more cost to develop in the city than it does outside the city limits in the county.”

“I went to the city about 10 years ago and suggested just a one page summary of how long it takes, how much it costs, and I was told I would be oversimplifying the process. I learned a lot that day. I tried it twice again, and I learned more the following days.”

On Measure Y:

“I will say publicly that I cannot support the renewal of measure Y in its current form.”

“The city sold measure Y program on the fact that most of the money, a great preponderance of it would be spent on civic and capital improvement projects. Today less than eight percent gets used for that purpose.”

“I could support Measure Y if there were specific guarantees in place that could assure the citizens and the rate payers and the community where that $5.8 to $6 million dollars a year would be spent and they could sleep at night.”

Other Comments:

“The city has spent money in some unpredictable ways. Last week we were told we spent $24,500 on a parking outreach study by the city manager without the council’s knowledge or approval. We’ve also spent money on double-decker buses and large fire trucks.”

“City council meeting recently have been sort of rancorous, sometimes irrational and in many cases time-wasting.”

“I seem to be on the right side of the podium on most issues today.”

” I built a multiregional firm, 120 plus employees. We’ve been in business 36 continuous years. I made payroll every month. The city needs, in my opinion to go down a new path, a path that stresses citizen input, simplicity, rational thought and a lack of divisiveness. My little mantra for this campaign is accountability counts.”


Donald Hedrick

Donald Hedrick:

On Measures A and B:

“This is going to bankrupt this country the way pensions are ballooning, and arbitration by out of town, uninvolved arbitrators take away our local influence on our own problems.”

On business barriers:

“I think our city keeps its money in a bucket, but there’s a few too many leaks in it.”

“The process of permits and fees are slowing down attracting businesses into positions.”

“Sometimes you run across cronyism that has disadvantaged unequally entrepreneurs trying to get into business or make adjustments to their business”

On Measure Y:

“When we put our own city sales taxes too high, they drive our sales to outlying regions that aren’t under Measure Y.”

“We shouldn’t so much count on taxing our system into health, but inspiring it into wealth”

Other comments:

“The international bankers and the United Nations are taking over this country by deceit and sedation.”

“It seems like the decisions are made somewhere else than the council. And we’d like to find out where. Who is pulling the strings in this town that prevents intelligent people from making heartfelt decisions?”

“I am obviously on the other side of the table on most of the issues here. I am trying to plead for more diversity in our city government and not to be looking so much like a group photo of Walmart board.”


Jan Marx

Jan Marx:

On Measures A and B:

“I was on the city council in the year 2000, and I opposed binding arbitration at that time, and I still opposed it in 2011 when it was put on the ballot. I voted to put it on the ballot.”

“There is still a real problem with pension reform, and if elected I want to initiate a reserve fund to save for unfunded liability with the pensions in case we are hit with something we can’t predict.”

On business barriers:

“Being an attorney for many years who advised businesses, I can tell you lack of certainty and inability to get credit are two huge barriers. In terms of the city process I agree that we need to be able to speed things up. At the same time we have to be careful not to keep the public out of the process. We all want to be involved, and we all want to speak up.”

“I meet with the mayors every month. We are doing the most business, the most development out of any city in the county.”

On Measure Y:

“I am in favor of renewing Measure Y. I would be interested in exploring the Arroyo Grande model of how they handle their very similar half cent sales tax. They keep the money from the sales tax in a separate fund, and then the city council itself makes the decision on how that money should be spent on a project by project basis in a public hearing with public input.”

“I do want to say the economy, did you notice? It tanked. Okay. Did you notice as Kevin Rice pointed out we had this $6.2 million dollar judgment against the city for the salaries? So there were unforeseen circumstances that prevented us from doing what we wanted to which was put that measure Y money into capital improvement, and that’s the direction I want to go.”

Other Comments:

“I am the only candidate with a positive vision for the future of the city. And, I want to enable the city to thrive and become more sustainable in financial, infrastructure and environmental terms. I am not beholden to any special interest group, and I do not make decisions based on conspiracy theories or extreme ideologies.”

“I am clearly the most qualified, effective, dedicated and trustworthy candidate.”

“I dig in, and I get things done”


Jeff Aranguena

Jeff Aranguena:

On Measures A and B:

“I didn’t actually campaign for or against Measure A and B.”

On Measure Y:

“I’m in favor of continuing Measure Y if the city can go ahead and become more transparent with how they are spending the money.”

“What I would like to see is if the city does renew is rebuilding that trust factor that John [Ashbaugh] was talking about, is bring together a new level of outreach and let the voters know. Let the citizens know where that money is being spent. I think we’ve seen this historically. It’s kind of the history nerd side of me, but I think with the New Deal programs you saw the federal government putting out signs and letting the taxpayer know where the projects were being implemented. You saw that with some of the current federal government projects on our highways.”

On business barriers:

“Another business owner that I talked to as well talked about the actual permit process. It took so long for them to get their permits for the things they wanted to get going. I would like to I guess roll up my sleeves and dive in there and see if there are ways I can make that quicker, but not just kind of say let’s just streamline it. Let’s just do it in a responsible, safe way.”

Other Comments:

“I am a big fan, I teach government, of public service and understanding the process. Dan [Carpenter] mentioned that this is a $96 million business. I don’t look at it that way. Those are the numbers. That is the budget, but it’s more than just having a business mentality when you’re sitting there making decisions for the people. You’re not just making decisions for business members, business owners. You’re making decisions for the whole population of the city. So, there’s a level of empathy that comes with that responsibility of being a council member.”


John Ashbaugh

John Ashbaugh:

On Measures A and B:

Supported A, opposed B

“I did say it was important that pension reform be a matter that it was negotiated between the council and our collective bargaining units and not have to wait another two years for affirmation by the voters or rejection by the voters.”

“I had committed in 2008 when I was elected that I would fix Measure B. I wanted to amend it, not end it, and I stuck to that promise.

On barriers to business:

“Once a project has gone through all of the reviews and all of the levels of analysis we subject it to in the specific plan, we do then streamline the approval process from that point forward. I am absolutely in favor of that, and we’re doing that as a result of implementing our economic development strategy.”

“We reduced the development review fees on industrial projects as well as commercial projects. There are still a few idiosyncrasies out there we can clean up. I too wonder why a trash enclosure needs a $995 inspection fee, but I’ve been told that’s what it takes for a really good trash enclosure. “

On Measure Y:

“I absolutely support the renewal of Measure Y. I’m willing to consider alternatives as well.”

“Every penny of Measure Y funds can be identified and accounted for on the city’s website, and we do have if you know where to look, and I’ll show you where to go, and it’s actually fairly transparent.”

Other Comments:

“The biggest challenge facing our city is one that we can rather easily resolve, and that is what has brought us together as a community, what has brought us international acclaim as the happiest city in North America. The author of the book, Thrive, noted this. It’s the extent to which we have mutual trust. We can loose that trust in an instant.”

“I am, as I said before, the leader who listens. I don’t always listen. I admit. There are times when I tune out. We all do. But, the fact is we really do work hard on this job.”

“I can either be either accredited or blamed for helping pass the plastic bag ban that will take effect on October 1st”


Dan Carpenter

Dan Carpenter:

On Measures A and B:

“It was brought forward by my fellow council members Carter and Smith to bring to the council a resolution putting Measures A and B on the ballot, which was pension reform. I’m very proud of that.”

“I was in favor of A and B, and I voted on A and B.”

On Business barriers:

“There are two barriers. One is financial, and the other is the process.”

“Reducing the fees is an investment in development You reduce the fees and it allows more people to develop, and you will reap that on the backside as they create jobs and they add money to the city.”

“The other part is streamlining the process. We’ve got too many hoops to jump through, sometimes there’s overlapping departmental review. We need to make it easier for people to work their way through the process, so when they start it, they see the end line and actually work towards it and achieve that.

On Measure Y:

“The problem is it happened in 2008. We had a binding arbitration decision. That money went to backfill those salaries. That threw everything off. So, we didn’t get to use the money as we had promised when it was sold out there.”

“The way it’s working today I can’t support it. I am willing to give it time because we have a couple more years before it sunsets to see if we can evaluate it to the point where it is worth continuing in its present form.”

“I am open to the idea of instead of a general use sales tax a specific sales tax where it has to then go to those issues that you are identifying as priorities. I would be in favor of that. That way we take out the flexibility of each new council coming in and reappropriating those funds.”

Other comments:

“I’ve spent now almost 30 years in the business community in both the private sector and the public sector, and I think that’s a qualification that really rises me to the top.”

“This is a $96 million a year business. When you make that vote, who do you want steering that ship and appropriating your money, not our money, your money? And, I believe I have the best qualifications of the four of us to do that.”


Kevin Rice

Kevin Rice:

On A and B:

“Twelve years ago I opposed Measure S as a firefighter because I felt it was poorly written.  If you recall the decision has to be all with one side or all with the other side. No middle ground. And we learned that. We got stung with the POA settlement — $6.2 — million that consumed most of our Measure Y funds right after Measure Y came about.”

“I continued to oppose binding arbitration, and, yes, I did vote to repeal it with 74 percent of you because it protects our jobs.”

Business barriers:

“I’ve seen applicants come through with just a small project and they have architectural drawings and they have to resubmit and resubmit, and that’s a lot of expense, and that costs staff time as well to continue going over these things again and again. I’ld like to eliminate this repetitiveness and overhead.”

“I think we need to look at our permit fees because $1000 to put in a trash can enclosure is a little high in my estimation.”

On Measure Y:

“We don’t have a contingency plan right now. The mayor spoke about that, but we are heading towards that cliff real fast, so we don’t know whether state propositions are going to compete against a tax. The voters may not pass it next time, so we need to have a good plan, and it better not be you better pass it or Armageddon is going to happen. Our city council better have two reasonable plans if we are going to pass it again.”

Other Comments:

“I’ve been participating in this city for years now. I know all the players. I’ve been to other city council meetings around the county. I can probably name a majority of the city council members around the whole entire county, and I want to say that’s unlike the gentleman Mr. Jeff Aranguena. I really like him, but he has not ever been at a council meeting that I have seen. And, I’ve been there, and I know what’s going on in the city.”

“We need to focus on what’s important: on people and their lives and their issues and pass off on some of the things that we’ve been regulating lately”

Candidates also fielded a question from audience member and longtime city council member Allen Settle about their stance on Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increase plan. Marx, Ashbaugh, Aranguena and Carpenter each said they supported Proposition 30. Barasch and Hedrick both discussed the need to spend money on public education but neither voiced support for or against the measure.

Only Rice said he opposed proposition 30.

“I don’t think the state’s been a good steward of our money,” Rice said.

Prior to making his opening comments, Barasch challenged Marx to a one-on-one debate. Marx, who did not respond to Barasch’s request, was the only candidate to read prepared opening and closing statements.

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The times they are a changing!

Don Hedrick has my vote! I have met and spoken with several of the candidates, and Don is the most honest and forthcoming of the lot. Besides, the man is a great artist and solid welder. A man of the people if there ever was one. Where do I send my campaign contributions or where do I get my yard signs?

I might not agree 100% with everything he says, but on the bigger picture, we tend to agree – and that is key at this moment in our history. We feel it. Just… something is not right here.

Jan Marx? Who in their right mind would vote for this … I will stop here, as it adds nothing to the discussion.

Kevin Rice – I like and agree with (probably more often), but I’m not sure I’d want him as Mayor: I’d love to see Kevin run for a higher office than SLO mayor – state or fed REP. With Kevin, if he gets “in the system” I’m afraid the masses will lose one of their only sane voices and activists (in the “real” sense of the word, not the watered down lefty kind).




I had Ashbaugh as a professor twice and he is smart and such a kind man. He was a city planner before and knows his stuff.




The 1/2CENT sales tax increase was a way to keep the City from tanking when the City lied and sold it on the premise of use for Capital Projects and Community Programs. The City residents were sold a bad bill of goods and this money was totally misused to pay pensions and hirenew staff at increases over prior staff (Administration, Police, Fire, Planning, Attorney, etc.) inspite of the economy. THERE IS NO MORE MONEY, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DEAL WITH IT! According to Jan Marx, she sees a “,,,positive vision for the future of the city.” Sure, raise taxes, fees, permits without limits and I see a future for you too! Get real! Before you know it, we will be paying 10% state sales tax and if Obama has his way we will be paying a “value added tax” aka VAT, and add that to state and federal income tax and pretty soon you won’t need to work because it will all go to taxes.

Given the difficult economy and ongoing local political shenanigans, residents of the City of SLO need to be especially careful when voting in the coming election. Here are some of my own thoughts regarding the SLO city council and mayoral races.

Really Jan? You were not so opposed to binding arbitration when you lied to the unions to get them to walk precincts for you in the last election. The only reason you were elected by the narrow margin over Paul Brown. You were so concerned about pensions back in 2006 when you allowed the city to participate in the PERS fresh start program which has been a major factor in the steep rise of the rates and the unfunded liability. You don’t seem to be concerned about your own 2.7@55 pension for a part time position, which by the way will be far more generous than any newly hired employee in 2013 including police and firefighters. But yes of course its to compensate you for the risk you take, the burning buildings, fighting crime, all those years of working graveyard shift. Unforeseen circumstances really? So a two year negotiation process ending with your reference to the binding arbitration decision was unforeseen? Really? I see it is 6.2 million now, really. When Jan, are you going to stop blaming the employees of the City and take some responsibility for the mess that was caused largely by you and your peers on council? I see you got all of the latest buzz words in your canned statement, Thrive Sustainability Fiscal Environmental. Your handlers should be so proud.”trustworthy” Yes of course you are Jan.

You are right – TRUST or lack thereof is really the central theme in this election. If you like what we have, with all the gross unnecessary expenditures, such as new parking meters, new signs mandated by charging to park downtown on Sundays, an empty double-decker bus that rips up our streets, lawsuits over the homeless, an unnecessary $1million+ firetruck (“But when we need it, we’ll have it!” to quote former mayor Dave Romero), the latest $25K contract for public outreach, dumping toxic waste at the corporation yard, the Neighborhood Illness police etc., the by all means re-elect Jan Marx, and John Ashbaugh while you are at it. So much money has been siphoned off for pet projects and misspent, and yet our leaders think everything is wonderful. City staff morale is at an all-time low, residents are pushed to the max with higher water bills and fees ($990 for a trash enclosure? WHAT?). If you walked precincts for Jan Marx last time (as it sounds like slosheepdog did) don’t make the same mistake twice. These people are professional politicians who are clueless when it comes to running a city and working collaboratively despite all the buzz words. Don’t get fooled again.