City Council candidate forum packs Elks Club
Each candidate shared their views on pressing issues, answered questions from residents
—The Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce and the downtown Paso Robles Main Street Association hosted a candidate forum to feature candidates for Mayor and City Council on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 4. The public was invited to meet the candidates and ask questions. The forum’s moderator was Paso Robles Joint Unified School District superintendent Chris Williams. Andy Pekema, Maria Elena Garcia, Michael Rivera, John Hammond, Jim Reed, and Steve Martin were asked questions from cards submitted by the attendees.
Topics included: the gas tax, roads and city infrastructure, sanctuary laws, water, vacations rentals, downtown parking, and homelessness.
Where the candidates stand on the issues:
Andy Pekema: Pekema shared that he doesn’t like the gas tax, and won’t vote to repeal it, and thinks we should have had a chance to vote on it. “I try not to fill my tank too often,” he said.
Pekema feels that roads are the big issue, and decided to run to make it a priority. “The condition of roads is tough, and traffic bottlenecks I would like to try and fix, as soon as possible.”
He said he has mixed feelings on the issue of SB54 the sanctuary state bill. He doesn’t think any laws should prevent the government agencies from talking to each other, and shared that we should work at a state level and be understanding that SB54 does not stop criminals from being arrested.
“Sacramento thinks that for now we have plenty of water, but we must be more cautious about the tourism industry growth and responsibility, and not let developers run wild.” Pekema said that he is frustrated at how expensive Paso Robles’ water and sewer is, and feels that our rates are much higher than Templeton and Atascadero.
Pekema says he would like to act quickly with strong limits on vacation rentals and work with city staff, and the planning department.
Pekema says he is disappointed that there has not been action on fixing the parking issues in Paso Robles. He also stated that we need to devote resources to help the homeless. Pekema hopes to lead by example and feels it is important to act like a leader.
Maria Elena Garcia: Garcia shared, “I do not agree with the gas tax, we have enough taxes already.” Her top priority is public safety, and she stated that we have an opioid problem, and that we need more police and cameras in the community.
As far as SB54, she stated that it is a state law, and the city should not spend so much money getting involved. She shared that we need to have housing for workers and infrastructure that needs to be addressed.
“We don’t need to spend money on surveys for downtown parking and spend so much on signs around the city,” she said.
She is against supporting new short-term rentals, and that we have enough at over 200. She thinks we should make licensing more difficult to get ahold of, and that people from out-of-state should pay higher fees.
She expressed that we do not have enough senior parking downtown, and as far as the homeless, we should use grants and resources from Echo. Traffic issues could be improved by using roundabouts, she says.
Michael Rivera: Rivera thinks that we should repeal the gas tax, and “stand up to Sacramento.”
He said that we need to revisit the general plan, not let special-interests take over and that we should pay attention to the people’s interests.
He believes that SB54 “puts us all at risk,” and said “I push back on ideas like Sanctuary cities, but it has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. “
As far as vacation rentals, he thinks that owner-occupied vacation rentals are a good thing, and non-owner occupied rentals are not. “Short-term rentals are an issue, especially at the Hilltop, where neighborhoods are subjected to buses and dozens of people.” Rivera continued, ” We cannot let it get out of control like Pismo Beach or we will lose our soul.”
As far as traffic goes in Paso, Rivera said, “We should create a culture where you don’t need to drive downtown, and people should be able to walk more, or use Uber/Lyft services; especially with drinking and driving being an issue.” Rivera added, “Roundabouts are an okay idea, and the major traffic areas need lights, enforcement, and officer input.”
John Hamon: Hamon wants to open up development on the East side of Paso to residential, apartments, and affordable housing. He shared, “The council is thinking differently now, and I think that we will have a place for our children to live.”
He is not for an increase in the gas tax, stating, “We use every penny how you see it, and taxes will only help the bigger cities.”
Hamon said that one of the biggest issues facing Paso Robles is improving safety, and as far as SB54 is concerned, he says it puts county and sheriffs at bay. “We are welcoming, but if you break a law, you will get in trouble. This law has the federal and state government working against each other,” He expressed.
Hamon says that Paso Robles has plenty of water, but the state told us not to use so much, which we abided by. Hamon told the crowd that tourism pays more into the city then housing, and he would like to see visitors come, and then leave. Hamon expressed, “We need rules and regulations on vacation rentals.” As far as his ideas on homelessness, he feels that we should, “Give a hand up, not hand out.”
Regarding parking, Hamon said, “We have a parking issue for downtown employees, and need to start implementing time parking, and turn over parking spaces.” He continued, ” I would love to have a parking structure but it costs 30 to 40 grand per space in the structure. I think we can put time parking into place. Hamon added, “We have 27 more years until build-out, and can add 12,000 more residents. The traffic engineers are planning for the proper design of the city streets, and I fought for wider streets and voted to allow engineering on roundabouts. All of this growth is over a long period of time.”
Jim Reed: Reed says he is not in favor of the gas tax,”Sacramento thinks they can cram it down our throats, and governments decided to limit our water usage, too many things are coming down on our heads, and we already give too much money to the government.”
His feelings on SB54 go back to his feelings on Sacramento and that it is a constitutional issue he can’t understand how elected officials and law enforcement agencies cannot communicate. Reed stated he feels we need to fix the immigration policy and let law enforcement work to take criminals, and out prosecute them. “SB54 is a bad situation and needs to be fixed.” He added.
On districts and diversity in Paso, Reed stated, “Hell no, we need to stop this slip and fall attorney trying to cost us a lot of money by splitting Paso into districts.”
He believes vacation rental owners can destroy neighborhoods and he is all for owner-occupied rentals, but also doesn’t think houses should be turned into hotels.
Reed stated, “I feel that vacation rentals make it a bad situation for first-time home buyers, and the prices are jacked up so high nobody can buy them. I’d like to see us do something about vacation rentals before it gets out of control.”
Reed wants to look at the history of water in Paso. “I remember when the drought happened, the groundwater basin and wells went dry. The City of Paso Robles cut back on water by 25-percent on their own, and Sacramento got us to cut back even more.”
Reed wants to fix the parking issue in downtown, stating, “We need to incentivize employees to park somewhere else besides right outside of the shops. Homelessness is a real problem too, and we are trying to keep it at bay by investing into Echo.” Reed shared he’s been critical of the Creston Road plan from the beginning and is not impressed. He doesn’t feel the plan will work.
Steve Martin: Martin said he thought long and hard on the gas tax and believes that the Statewide infrastructure is in “dire need of improvement.”
On SB54, Martin thinks that it restricts how law enforcement agencies behave, in that they can’t communicate, or cooperate with all law enforcement agencies. “Safety is a top priority, but do I want police available for citizens calls or working with ICE, we need a balance of enforcement.”
On recent threats of lawsuits, Martin says he would also rather see that the city’s money is spent on the city, and not on fighting the case against districting.
Regarding vacation rentals, he said, “Universally, everyone sees that neighborhoods are taken over by a commercial enterprise. The base of short-term rentals grows and effects affordable housing. To handle the issue we need to restrict the number of S.T.R’s, the density of them in neighborhoods, and make sure they are locally owned properties. We need to implement aggressive rules- if someone breaks the rules, we repeal their license.”
Regarding homelessness in the city, Martin said that there are around 200 to 400 homeless in Paso. “We are working with solutions through Paso Cares, there are many things in the works,” He shared. Martin believes the city has done well at planning, with all of the necessary calculations, saying Paso is still in good shape water-wise. Martin thinks that in the long-term, the biggest challenge is traffic circulation, and how to address it. Building and development have to go through a process to identify issues.