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What is the state of San Luis Obispo?

The City of San Luis Obispo
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

What’s the state of San Luis Obispo? That’s what city leaders sought to convey this week.

San Luis Obispo's mayor and city manager held the inaugural State of the City address at City Hall Wednesday night for members of the community willing to brave the rain. And while city officials touted many accomplishments, they said there are still plenty of challenges ahead.

Mayor Heidi Harmon praised work done by the city council in 2017, mentioning reduced noise complaints; limiting the use of single-use plastic bottles, cups and straws; and opposing new offshore oil and gas leases on the coast. And consideringrecent news surrounding mental health in San Luis Obispo, Harmon was particularly proud of the city’s work on the Bishop Street Studios.

"We were able to approve $850,000 for this project to create 34 affordable assisted units for folks living with mental health issues," Harmon said.  "And this is something that we need more of throughout the county for sure. But this was a big point of pride for the city of San Luis Obispo."

City Manager Derek Johnson also listed improvements financed from local revenue in 2017, like street maintenance and traffic signal upgrades. There’s also a plan in the works to update the city’s payment systems, which Johnson calls archaic.

"We’re in the process of launching a new financial and customer management system," Johnson said. "So you as a resident can come into the city [and] can pay bills on time: your water, your sewer. Pay if you have a parking citation. We’re going to modernize the way you interact with the community."

Document handed out at the San Luis Obispo State of City Address
Credit City of San Luis Obispo

When Johnson got to the challenges section of the address, the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon was high on the list. 

"1,800 heads of household, directly employed at the plant," said Johnson. "And what does that mean in terms of how that trickles through our economy? That mean roughly 3,000 jobs in our county are related to the operations."

Johnson said the city is working on a plan and partnering with private entities to come up with a solution.

As for future projects, Johnson referred to a police station replacement, a bike road to the beach, and downtown improvements. And how do these get paid for? The city may soon ask the public to consider an increase in both property and sales taxes to cover about $400 million in infrastructure project over the next two decades.

One of these proposed projects is a revitalization of of Mission Plaza. And when asked why voters would see a need to give the plaza a makeover, Johnson said it's because it might be the future of how visitors interact with San Luis Obispo.

"We know that in order to have a vibrant downtown, it’s going to be more about experiences in the future," said Johnson. "And less about purchasing, as we see the changing face of retail. So we have as part of our general plan a vision for an arts district."

The creation of an arts district may signal a new future for downtown San Luis Obispo. And both Harmon and Johnson acknowledged that the city is currently having to rethink how it interacts with consumers to bring in business dollars down the line.

The full State of the City meeting was recorded on Facebook Live, and city staff are holding a public forum next week on proposed new sales and property taxes.

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