Every two years, San Luis Obispo city officials lay out their goals for the two-year budget cycle and what resources (money, people, time) they will put toward reaching those goals. For the 2017-19 budget, the goals include increasing the amount of housing in the city; making it easier to get around the city by  bike, in cars, on foot and using public transportation; creating a climate action coalition; and ensuring the future monetary health of the city by addressing unfunded liabilities.

The Chamber evaluated and advocated for key goals earlier this year, and the Chamber’s Legislative Action and Economic Development committees recently looked at the draft financial and work plans created to support the goals.

The financial plan lays out how the city will pay for the programs to meet the City’s 2017-19 four Major City Goals and one Important Objective, while the work plans lay out the steps necessary to complete the goals.

The 2017 – 19 Major City Goals adopted by the council are:

Housing: Facilitate increased production of all housing types designed to be economically accessible to the area workforce and low and very low-income residents, through increased density and proximity to transportation corridors in alignment with the Climate Action Plan.

Multi-Modal Transportation: Prioritize implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan, pedestrian safety, and the Short-Range Transit Plan.

Climate Action: Implement Climate Action Plan, assess requirements to achieve a “net-zero carbon city” target, and implement cost-effective measures, including implementation of a Sustainability Coordinator and formation of a Green Team.

Fiscal Sustainability and Responsibility: Continue to implement the City’s Fiscal Responsibility Philosophy with a focus on economic development and responsiveness, unfunded liabilities, and infrastructure financing.

Housing

Housing has long been a challenge for the business community and a significant advocacy focus for the Chamber. We are encouraged that it was adopted as a Major City Goal which signals the city’s desire to address this issue.

The Financial Plan Work Programs being suggested by city staff include updating city zoning regulations to allow for an increase in density, and to accommodate diverse housing along transportation corridors. Building housing closer to major transportation interchanges means that it could be easier for residents to live their lives with less of an impact on the environment due to the availability of public transportation, convenience of bike paths as well as not needing to drive as far to get to essential places such as work and schools.

Another strategy adopted by the city is continuing to improve and streamline the residential development review process. Which would make the building process more predictable and less risky; those two elements could lead to the creation of more housing that is affordable to more people.

The city’s plan also includes implementing key Housing Element programs to increase the amount of affordable housing options, and continuing work already started to create and define a “workforce” affordability level.

The Chamber recommends that the city set a specific target for the number of units to be built and available for each income bracket. This could be done by neighborhood districts or zones, and should also include a specific time frame, reported annually in order to measure success. These success measurements would allow the city and the community to know if the goal is being reached.

Additionally, the city should recommit to the fair distribution of costs required to produce this new housing. These costs include improvements to roads, infrastructure and services that will not only benefit the new development but the larger community for years to come.

Multi-Modal Transportation

Transportation infrastructure and developing a variety of safe ways for people to get where they need to go within the city was the top priority when the Chamber submitted our list of suggestions to the City Council in January. Infrastructure like this is key to making housing more widely available and less expensive, lessening our impact on the environment and keeping people safe in their everyday lives.

The 2017-19 Financial Plan Work Programs being put forth by city staff includes continued implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan. This includes the expansion of the Rail Road Safety Trail in spring 2019, as well as the construction of new bike paths to coincide with new housing in planned developments such as Avila Ranch, Righetti Ranch and San Luis Ranch.

The development of an Active Transportation Plan to increase pedestrian safety, and the implementation of a Short-Range Transit Plan that was adopted by the city and promotes the public transit system are also included in the draft.

The Chamber encourages the city to continue to invest in the Infrastructure Investment Capital Fund which pays for critical city-wide infrastructure that would unlock housing opportunities in our community. For example, the city should consider reallocating funds away from less timely infrastructure projects, as well as directing future monies from the Diablo Canyon Power Plant closure settlement agreement to this critical fund. The goal for funding the Infrastructure Investment Capital Fund should, at the very least, be equivalent to the amount set aside for the city’s Open Space Acquisition Fund.

Climate Action

Green hills, clean air, and fresh water are why many of us choose to live, work and raise our families in San Luis Obispo County. To protect these natural resources the city plans to reprioritize the assignments and responsibilities of the special projects manager to the role of a sustainability coordinator position that will oversee the implementation of the city’s climate change adaptation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as laid out in the Climate Action Plan.

City staff is also recommending the creation of a city “Green Team” that would assist with the implementation of the city’s Climate Action Plan strategies and look into the requirements of achieving the “net-zero carbon city,” target.

The Chamber supports this new role and its focus on the high impact objectives in the Climate Action Plan.

The Chamber recommends that the city focus its efforts on creating new housing and supporting the infrastructure improvements necessary to promote alternative transportation options. This would decrease the number of commuters driving into the city each day and create safe cycling and pedestrian corridors and significantly decrease the daily impact of people living and working in the City of SLO.

Fiscal Sustainability and Responsibility

With an uncertain economy, the pending closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant, and the city projecting a slowdown in key revenue sources – such as sales tax – alongside an increase in operating costs, the financial health of the city needs to be a significant focus for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is more important than ever to continue work to address the city’s unfunded liabilities.

In recent years, the city has taken the following steps towards structurally balanced fiscal planning:

  • creating a multi-tiered system for employee retirement contributions
  • paying down more than $3 million towards unfunded liabilities
  • establishing an excess insurance program for employees which has already led to thousands of dollars in cost savings

We encourage the city to continue this work and implement additional changes that align with this goal.

Additionally, the Chamber encourages the city to move forward with the establishment of a third-party task force whose role would be to focus on escalating pension and benefit costs, and to identify and implement best practices from communities throughout the state. The task force should be composed of business and municipal finance experts to assist the city in navigating this complex situation.

What happens next?

A public review of the work plans associated with the priorities will take place Tuesday, April 18, and the presentation of the preliminary Financial Plan will be held May 15. The city council is set to hold budget workshops in early June with adoption of a final budget on June 20.

Advocacy work on behalf of Chamber membership started a number of months ago, as Chamber staff and volunteers attended various public meetings, and Chamber committees began discussing potential issues and opportunities that the city will face in the next two years and into the future. This is a critical moment as the budget decides the investments to be made that will drive economic development, and create a safe and sustainable community to live and work.

The Chamber will continue to advocate and be part of the conversation throughout the budget process and you can attend or tune in to the April 18 city council meeting to see the advocacy and ensuing discussions as they happen.