2016 Election Campaign:

On 24 September 2016, Residents for Quality Neighborhoods' held its Annual Meeting and Candidates' Forum at Cafe Roma.  It was a very well-attended and well-organized event.  They gave each of us two minutes for an opening statement, one minute for a closing statement, and a minute and a half for each of five questions.  They recorded and transcribed our responses and posted them to the RQN website (click on "Candidates Responses" under the "Events" heading).  I have pulled my responses from the transcript and posted them below.

 

CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES' OPENING STATEMENTS:

MIKE CLARK:  My wife and I have lived in San Luis Obispo for more than 20 years and I have been familiar with the city since I was a Cal Poly student in 1965.  Over the years we came back for a week or two on many occasions.  My career took me to many places but when the opportunity arose to move here permanently, we jumped at the chance.  After decades of military service at the federal and state levels, I wanted to learn about local government.  As part of that education, I volunteered for and served on two county grand juries, once as a foreman.  It was a great start and led to an appointment on the County's Juvenile Justice Commission.  That in turn led to our police department's Juvenile Diversion Program.  I became more interested in city government and was impressed with the many residents who care about our charming small town and participate in keeping its history alive . . . and with those who care about our downtown and keeping it viable.  I marveled at the resolve and tenacity of those living near Cal Poly and I was impressed overall at the level of resident involvement.  However, over the past few years, I've noticed that residents' influence and interests are receiving reduced attention as Cal Poly, development and the tourist industry move to the forefront.  I've watched residents go to council and commission meetings, explain their neighborhood problems, ask the issue to be agendized and be rebuffed.  I've seen neighbors explain adverse impacts from some aspect of a project on their neighborhood and be ignored by the council majority.  It seems to me that in too many cases, neighborhoods' quality of life has become an after thought and that should not be.  Through my education, my army career, and a variety of volunteer experiences, I've learned the value of critical thinking, how to evaluate multiple solutions, and the value of looking at several options.  Unfortunately, our Council typically receives a single staff-advocated option  and, as far as I can tell, never sees or considers other possibilities.  I believe that my skills and experience are exactly what we need on our Council to ensure that residents are being listened to in a meaningful way and not simply being patronized.  We elect council members to represent us, the residents of San Luis Obispo, and I will do my best to do so.  I am not and will not be beholding to any organization or special interest groups, just residents.  Thank you.


QUESTION #1:  WHAT IS IT ABOUT SAN LUIS OBISPO THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO STAY HERE AND WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR SAN LUIS OBISPO'S FUTURE.

MIKE CLARK:  There are so many answers to that question, I'll just have to give it a shot.  What makes San Luis Obispo such a great place is not only the beauty of the surrounding beauty of the hillsides that we have, but is, in fact, the people, as was mentioned before.  I grew up in a large city up in the Bay area.  My wife grew up in a small down in rural Indiana, about the size of San Luis Obispo.  I lived in a small town in Maryland for about three years, smaller than San Luis Obispo.  But both my wife and I have lived in big cities.  We lived in San  Diego, several cities in the Bay area, we've lived in Long Beach, and we've lived in Cerritos.  When we decided to live here, we did it on purpose.  We had been to places we did not want to live.  We didn't like the traffic, we didn't like the tall buildings and we didn't like the hustle and bustle.  We liked quiet San Luis Obispo.  So I guess, I'd have to say my vision for San Luis Obispo would be, I know it's going to change, everything changes gradually, but I don't think we should be racing into the future, eager to build more buildings, more houses, and all that without very carefully considering the consequences, because once we've made an error, if it turns out to be an error, you cannot undo that.  You can't go back and tear down those houses, you're not going to knock down that 35-foot tall building.  San Luis Obispo is unique and I will do everything I can to keep it that way, recognizing that there is going to be some slow growth but that it should be kept well within the 1% target that we have.  Thank you.


QUESTION #2:  A BIG ISSUE IN SOME NEIGHBORHOODS IS NOISE AND YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD A LOT ABOUT THAT FROM RESIDENTS HERE TONIGHT AS WELL AS OTHER RESIDENTS.  THE NUMBER OF NOISE COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT HAVE GONE DOWN BUT THERE ARE STILL APPROXIMATELY 1,800 NOISE CALLS A YEAR.  DOES THIS CONCERN YOU, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO LOWER THE NUMBER OF CALLS, AND DO YOU HAVE A GOAL NUMBER IN MIND—HOW MANY WOULD BE ACCEPTABLE TO YOU IN THIS CITY?  

MIKE CLARK:  Noise.  I think maybe four, five, maybe six years ago, the city was very pumped up on a book called “Thrive” by Dan Buettner, and I finally got it and read through it--the part that pertains to San Luis Obispo.  And he talked about noise and he said humans do not adapt well to noise.  And the more noise you hear, the less happy you are.  I think all of us can agree with that conclusion, I certainly can.  The noise that we're forced to tolerate is the result of bad behavior.  If I had a power mower, which I don't, and I fired it up at 2 o'clock in the morning and ran it around my yard, somebody would complain about that, a police officer would show up and I would be getting a citation and told to put that lawn mower away.  We know that's the case.  What we're dealing with here is the lack of effective enforcement, would be the way I say it.  It starts with the city council, then flows down to the city manager, and then flows down to the police chief, and then the police chief gives direction to the police officers.  I doubt very much that, with many of the police officers driving through neighborhoods looking for noise complaints with their windows rolled up and can't find it, I doubt they would tolerate that next door to them if they were home in whatever city they live in, other than San Luis Obispo.  There's no reason for us to have to tolerate that noise.  To me, the ideal answer for noise is, while I can't give you a number, when a noise complaint is made, a police officer shows up, that noise should disappear in moments.  We've done it before during Mardi Gras.  We’ve done it before during WOW week, etc.  The best defense we saw in our neighborhood, when making a noise complaint, was when a Ventura Department Sheriff's Department officer showed up and the noise stopped.


QUESTION #3:  WE'VE TALKED ABOUT HOW CAL POLY NEEDS TO BUILD MORE ON-CAMPUS HOUSING AND WE ALL PROBABLY AGREE WITH THAT BUT IT'S REALLY UP TO OUR LEADERS TO TAKE A STAND TO CAL POLY ABOUT THAT ISSUE.  SO THE QUESTION IS, WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF FAMILIES LIVING IN NEIGHBORHOODS AND WHAT WOULD YOU DIRECTLY DO TO FORCE CAL POLY TO BUILD MORE ON-CAMPUS HOUSING—HOW WOULD YOU GET THEM TO DO THAT BESIDES JUST TELLING THEM THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT?

MIKE CLARK:  When I came to Cal Poly in 1965, I don't know how many students were living in the City of San Luis Obispo or how big the city was at that time but I think it was inconsequential.  Not many of us went downtown.  There wasn't really a reason to—that's kind of sad.  Over the years since then, Cal Poly has grown and has failed to build adequate housing for their students and they've dumped that problem on the City of San Luis Obispo.  It's been up to the city to provide housing for Cal Poly students and of course Cuesta students—but that's kind of a different issue.   Over the past 20 odd years that I've been here, it seems to me that councils and city staff have been timid about approaching Cal Poly from any kind of a strong arguing point.  It's like they believe were they to stand up to Cal Poly, they might pack up and go someplace else.  That's not going to happen.  Cal Poly has been here a long time and is not leaving.  We need to take them to task for the things that they have failed to do and housing is certainly one of them.  The City of Santa Cruz took action against UC Santa Cruz and they got a cap on enrollment and they got a commitment to build additional on-campus housing, pretty rapidly.  I have spoken with developers and realtors recently, which is a new experience for me, and they told me about the public-private partnerships that Mila mentioned a little while ago.  They assured me that there is a lot of money out there in the private world that would love to get involved in building public-private partnerships and that is being done on other UC campuses in California, so it can be done here.


QUESTION NO. #4:  DO YOU SUPPORT THE RENTAL INSPECTION ORDINANCE?  IF SO, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MODIFICATIONS TO THE CURRENT ORDINANCE OR IF YOU DON'T SUPPORT IT, WHY NOT?  

MIKE CLARK:  I suppose you can say the Rental Housing Inspection Program is a perfect example of how you can have a law with unintended consequences.  I think those unintended consequences came about, as I mentioned in my introduction.  Many times when a program is brought to the city council, it is put together by staff and nobody sees it while it's being worked on.  Just some background information from talking to a number of people:  Joseph Lease, when he was putting together this program in the first place, got a buy in from the police department, neighborhood groups, and got a buy in from the real estate associations because everybody recognized that there were a certain number of residential units in this town that no one should be inhabiting.  That's a certain number of them nobody should be inhabiting.  Somehow now we're going to inspect every single rental property in R-1 and R-2 zones, regardless of the area.  That's just crazy.  I didn't realize at the time that there are only 700 rental units that had complaints filed against them.  It seems to me that the program could have been targeted toward those 700 units, get them cleaned up and make sure they don't have any more problems in the future.  So why are we going to inspect every other unit, if the landlord and tenant are perfectly happy with how things are working?  Having people evicted from their homes is just not something that should not be happening and certainly not here in San Luis Obispo.  I've talked to some of the same people that some of the other folks up here have talked to.  The program needs to be halted, temporarily, as quickly as possible, and we need to have a very thorough evaluation with a lot more options discussed--the things that are on the checklist, how the inspectors are going to act, because I've heard some bad stories about how they are going in and treating the landlords and the tenants, and that's just not right.


QUESTION #5:  MANY OF YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT BUILDING MORE HOUSING, A LOT MORE HOUSING.  THERE ARE TWO PARTS TO THIS QUESTION:  #1—DO YOU BELIEVE WE CAN BUILD OUR WAY OUT OF OUR AFFORDABILITY PROBLEM; AND #2—IF WE COMPLETE ALL THE BUILDING THAT IS PLANNED, HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DEAL WITH ALL THE TRAFFIC CONGESTION THAT WE ARE ALREADY EXPERIENCING THAT WILL ONLY GET MUCH WORSE?  

MIKE CLARK:  You can't build your way into affordability.  When my wife and I lived in San Diego, the population was about 750,000 people and the county was about the same.  Now the population in the city is one and a half million and the rest of the county is one and a half million. And surprisingly enough, the housing prices have not dropped—in fact they've gone up.  It's just a fact of life in California and there are always going to be more people who want to live here than we have room for—it's just the way things are.  An alternative is to look at some of the options that have been proposed here.  I don't know when the last time was that a mobile home park was built in San Luis Obispo.  I'm not really sure when the last time an honest to God family- oriented apartment complex was built.  Those are relatively affordable compared to buying a traditional single-family size home on a traditional size lot.  These are options that need to be explored--certainly when building in other parts of town.  If we're going to be building in other parts of town, I believe the developers should pay the full cost of the streets and other infrastructure that's needed for their development and they should pay a percentage, if we have to upgrade our sewer or water system because of the development they are building-- they need to pay for it.  There's no reason for those of us who live here today to pay for that additional capacity--for all the new building coming in.  Because frankly, I don't care if anybody else moves into our city.  We're here, I'm not saying close the door behind us, but I'm saying if somebody is going to add to the cost of running our city, they should have to pay their fair share.


CANDIDATES' CLOSING STATEMENTS:

MIKE CLARK:  Some of you probably remember Bill Roalman.  He served two terms on Council back in the 90's.  When we moved to our Garden Street house, we were three houses away from Bill's.  I didn't get to know him well, but I admired him on the Council.  As he left, he wrote a final column for the SLO Journal Magazine.  In it, he discussed the changing planning process and how staff was becoming “de facto” advocates for projects.  He pointed out that the public and the Council were left out of the discussion until nearly all the details had been worked out . . . and that the public wasn't empowered to participate in shaping its community.  Little has changed in the past 16 years.  In fact, I think it has gotten worse.  Bill's solution was to elect council candidates who would seriously question the community-wide costs and benefits of proposed developments.  He wrote that our city needs council members who are true advocates for the general public.  If you believe that, I'm your guy.  Think about the last time you saw a large project come before Council without the staff cheer-leading it.  I don't recall one.  Residents' voices and votes matter.  We live here; it is our City.  I respectfully ask for your vote to be your voice on our City Council.

 

From the 2014 Election Campaign:

On 18 September 2014, the Residents for Quality Neighborhoods' Board Secretary sent seven questions for me to answer by 26 September 2014.  They asked that we keep our answers to about 200 words per question.

 

1.  What is your definition of “neighborhood” and what is your vision as it applies to the city's priority of Neighborhood Wellness?

A neighborhood is a mostly contiguous residential area within an R-1 through R-4 zone where people live and self-identify with the area.  It may include minor non-residential activities, but they are secondary to homes, schools and parks.

Some of our neighborhoods have been around nearly as long as the city – think “Old Town,” and some were formed more recently – think “The Arbors.”

Neighborhoods are where some people spend most of their time and where others return to after school or a day’s work.  Neighborhoods are where generally like-minded people live – those who enjoy peace and quiet will select a different neighborhood than will those who enjoy vibrant near-constant activity.

Some neighborhoods are mainly single family homes with private yards.  Some are primarily apartments or condos with students, young families or retirees.  For a variety of reasons, some neighborhoods have frequent resident turnover while others remain quite stable.

Neighborhood Wellness is affected when a disruption takes place in a neighborhood.  In SLO that most often happens when young students seeking a vibrant lifestyle move into a neighborhood previously known for its peace and quiet for families of all ages.  As we have seen, this is not a good mix.

 

2.  In the relationship between Cal Poly & the City of SLO, do you feel the City is doing enough to protect permanent residents or do you feel the majority of emphasis is being placed on other interests such as, downtown, Cal Poly, tourism?  Why/why not?

In recent years the interests of residents have seemed to receive reduced attention while Cal Poly and the tourist industry have moved to the forefront.  This is understandable to a degree as both bring dollars to city coffers, and for the past several years, the City has seemed to have a near single-minded focus on raising funds.

Some years ago (New Times, Feb 4, 2009), former Mayor Dave Romero was quoted as saying, “Of course the vision I have [for downtown SLO] is somewhat like Main Street Disneyland.”  His vision comes closer to reality with each passing year as more dining and drinking establishments spring up to appeal to the ever increasing numbers of tourists being lured here as our downtown comes closer to the fantasy of Main Street Disneyland and a place for students and tourists to “enjoy the SLO life.”

As Cal Poly adds students without adding on-campus housing, it forces its students to seek housing in residential neighborhoods, and this in turn, consumes what in other cities would commonly be termed workforce housing.  The city then gets caught in a seemingly endless loop of trying to encourage the construction of additional work force housing – much of which gets converted to student rentals.

The quality of life of our permanent residents is an afterthought in too many instances.

 

3.  Newly constructed and proposed housing developments are more dense than housing in older parts of the city.  Would you like to see this concept of increased density applied to older, established neighborhoods?  Why/why not?

Our older established neighborhoods should be left alone.  Over the years, residents have sought out various neighborhoods – older as well as newer – for a variety of personal reasons.  They selected specific neighborhoods because the neighborhood appealed to them and met their lifestyle needs, and they had the expectation that the neighborhood they chose would remain much the same as time progressed.  We should respect those expectations of continuity.

Some of our newer – and newly proposed – neighborhoods are more compact and have higher density levels and appeal to a different demographic.  This is advantageous to all as it gives current and future residents more choices and a wide selection of housing options to pick from in finding a neighborhood suited to their individual lifestyle needs.

 

4.  Cal Poly has released plans to grow its enrollment over the next several years. This growth will inevitably impact the City's own land use and circulation and housing elements. Would you ever consider litigation as a serious option against Cal Poly for its significant negative impacts on the City and its neighborhoods?  Why/why not?

Cal Poly has not been respectful of the housing needs of San Luis Obispo residents for decades.  As I pointed out in response to a question about workforce housing at the Chamber of Commerce’s recent Candidates Forum, Cal Poly’s failure to provide on-campus housing inevitably leads to students seeking housing within SLO.  Housing that students occupy here would be considered workforce housing in most other cities.  Thus, Cal Poly has put us in the position of trying to provide additional housing for our own residents and workforce while Cal Poly simply avoids that capital expense and shifts the burden to a small city ill-equipped to house thousands of students in addition to its own workforce.

Cal Poly’s lack of cooperation in this serious matter is not that of a good neighbor.  As reluctant as I am to ever enter into litigation, if that is the only option that Cal Poly leaves us, then I would seriously consider taking legal action.

 

5.  Do you support a Rental Inspection Ordinance of all R-1 and R-2 rental properties in the City?  Why/why not?

We need a Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance for R-1 and R-2 rental properties.  It is long overdue.  When an individual converts an owner-occupied home into a rental property, they have converted a house into a business.  In San Luis Obispo, all businesses require a city-issued license before we allow them to operate and serve the public – be that a restaurant/bar, grocery store, motel, or rental house.

Each type of business must meet differing health and safety standards depending on the nature of the business.  The public naturally presumes that businesses operating within a city meet basic city standards, that food service businesses meet basic sanitation standards, that motels/hotels meet fire and safety standards and that other businesses meet at least the minimum requirements for that business.

Renters should expect no less.  They should assume that no rental is substandard and that all meet at least minimum standards of habitability.  They should not be in the position of having to detect that a rental house is properly wired and heated, is adequately plumbed for water and sewer, does not contain illegal or unsafe modifications that create structural hazards.  This is especially important in a city with so many young first-time renters, and I strongly support the ordinance.

 

6.  Will you continue to support Neighborhood Service  Specialists, even if Measure G isn't passed by the voters?  Why/why not?

Hiring Neighborhood Services Specialists has led to significant improvements in Neighborhood Wellness.  It takes less time for violations to be corrected than it has in years.  They have proven their value to neighborhoods across the city, and they must be retained irrespective of the Measure G vote’s outcome.  They respond to debris in yards, stuffed couches and chairs on porches, furniture on roofs, parking in yards, abandoned appliances and more – essentially they are on the front line of “fighting blight” throughout our city.  Their focus is on things that we can see from the public right-of-way.  In that respect, they are a major asset in keeping San Luis Obispo the city we want it to be – clean, friendly, and appealing to residents and visitors alike.

 

7.  The City modified its noise ordinance in 2010, resulting in a significant drop in noise complaints.  Those numbers are starting to creep up again.  There is currently a 13-14% citation rate, meaning 86% of the time, noise offenders either get a warning or nothing.   Do you believe this enforcement ratio is acceptable?  Why/why not.  If not, what would you do to obtain better enforcement?

Neighborhoods are where people should feel safe and secure, can relax with family and friends and should be able to enjoy peace and quiet.  As Dan Buettner points out in his book “Thrive” that was quite popular among city staff a few years ago, “. . . humans don’t adapt to noise.”  He further states that, “. . . loud music from next door promise[s] a daily erosion of happiness.”  It would be wise for our Council to remember this when thinking of Neighborhood Wellness and its decline in many of our older well-established neighborhoods.

When residents call police to report a loud party, they should receive a prompt response that leads to a quiet, restful evening.  With careful selection and comprehensive training, the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program can become an effective first step in quieting parties and in past years has done so.  The teeth in the program, however, rests with conscientious and firm follow-up by uniformed officers who truly understand that residents are entitled to peace and quiet in their homes.  This takes leadership from the top – the Council, the City Manager, and most importantly, the Police Chief.  Until they are aligned with residents’ needs, residents can look forward to a decline in “happiness” at home.

 

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