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San Luis Obispo Council

James Papp

James Papp
James Papp - San Luis Obispo City Council candidate

San Luis Obispo City Council

Other: Instagram: @politicopapp
Why are you running for office?: I've noticed over five years of city service that the council has stopped listening to anyone but themselves and senior city bureaucrats. That's why I've published my personal cell phone number (805-470-0983) as part of my campaign. They also don't have a very nuanced understanding of how government works. For instance, they think demolishing working-class neighborhoods to build expensive condos somehow adds rather than subtracts affordable housing. It's nuts.
What makes you qualified for the job?: The primary job of the council in a "weak mayor" system is budget oversight. I cut my teeth during two terms on the University of California Planning and Budget Committee analyzing a $3 billion budget. But to do that properly, you have to get in the weeds of operations. Two years on the city's Jack House Committee and five years on the Cultural Heritage Committee (SLO's preservation commission) gave me a detailed understanding of how the city is managed and mismanaged. E.g., when the Jack House and Garden was acquired in 1974, the city had 30,000 population and six parks. Since then, city population has gone up 50% but the number of our parks and open spaces has multiplied by 7 (to 42). Yet our Parks & Rec budget is less than 7% of city operating budget, compared to 12% in Santa Barbara and 18% in Monterey. If you buy it, you have to take care of it. We don't. 
What are your two main priorities if you win?: Obviously and immediately, COVID and COVID economic fallout, which has exacerbated our existing trends of disappearing local retail and homelessness. I have been campaigning for masks since early May; in early October, the city still can't bring itself to say the word. Homelessness and affordable housing would be next, combined with an emphasis on preservation, which is both a driver of our tourist industry and is our major source of affordable housing, since it is virtually impossible to build affordable housing in California anymore.
How will you interact with other governments?: I have experience in municipal, county, state, and federal oversight, initiatives, and public interest lobbying that goes back to the 1980s: SLO County Board of Supervisors, University of California, California State Legislature, Peace Corps/USAID, National Endowment for the Humanities/US Department of Education, etc. And I actually get stuff done (e.g., increasing aid to graduate students by $8 million annually during a recession budget lockdown). I'm not sure why politics is our only profession where not knowing what you're doing is considered an advantage. Would you hire a contractor on that basis?
What are your plans to help overcome COVID-19?: Masks, masks, masks. These are both effective and a reminder to be careful. I don't understand why the current city council resists that. Focusing our culture outdoors as much as possible—our architectural heritage and performing and visual arts—will help our residents have a life worth living and also attract safe tourism. Museums and the arts are at risk now of simply disappearing forever.
Which two issues are most important to you?: In the Black Lives Matter movement we have a watershed opportunity for social change. I'm the only candidate who has been out with the protesters and discussing the issues in the media.

In a wonkish way, I'm the only candidate who seems to understand how out-of-whack our city planning, budget and management are. That SLO spends 20% of its annual operating budget on city hall overhead, compared to 10% for Monterey, kind of says it all. Put another way, the fact that San Luis Obispo has 14 adobes, and the nine privately owned ones are occupied, in good condition, and mostly open to the public, while the five city-owned ones are empty, derelict, and covered with Keep Out signs also says it all.
2020 Voter Guide
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