The Student News Site of San Luis Obispo High School




The Student News Site of San Luis Obispo High School



Get to Know SLO City Council Candidate James Papp


  With the election inching closer and closer, our local races have been getting more and more attention. Now, more than ever, San Luis Obispo High School students have realized that these local elections impact them.

  Two seats on the City Council have an opening this year, as many are already aware of. San Luis Obispo City Council Candidate James Papp is one of the familiar faces running for the council, as he was on the Cultural Heritage Committee before his run for City Council.

  Expressions sat down (virtually) with Papp to get to know more about him and his campaign.

Expressions: Tell us about your background. 

City Council candidate James Papp: I’m a professional historian and architectural historian (who knew there was such a thing?) and also give history, architecture, and ghost tours of San Luis to keep from getting fat behind a desk. B.A. from UCSD, PhD from UCLA, post-doc at the Free University of Berlin, and I served in the Peace Corps in Bratislava. I’ve lived in San Diego, Christchurch, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Bratislava, Budapest, Berlin, New York, Healdsburg, Paris, Bad Soden, Summit, Poughkeepsie, Ontonagon, and (for the last six years) San Luis Obispo (more or less in that order). My career has involved a lot of government oversight, from the University of California Systemwide Committee on Planning and Budget to chairing and writing the protocols for the Peace Corps/USAID Small Projects Assistance Committee Slovakia. I always try to shake oversight out of its complacency; an organization man who’s a pain in the ass. Budgets are like code; you read them for anomalies and fix them.

Expressions: What motivated you to run?

Papp: I decided to run for two reasons: after four years on San Luis Obispo’s Cultural Heritage Committee (our town’s preservation commission), two as chair, I perceived that the City Council had stopped listening to anybody but themselves. Then they decided, near unanimously, to become the first jurisdiction in history to ban all monuments to people because people are “flawed” and we must have monuments only to concepts. This struck me as so LUDICROUS that I wrote a Tribune op-ed and started a letter-writing campaign against it. The City Council unanimously retreated, but why did they want to die on that hill in the first place? Virtue-signaling. No sane person runs for office unless they think they can do a less terrible job than the people already in office.

Expressions: Tell us more about your platform.

Papp: The most important part of it is a number: (805) 470-0983. That’s my cell phone, because the job of city council members is to listen, respond, and adapt. There are eight issues I focus on at COVID control; economic recovery; affordable housing; homelessness; preservation; race, class, and policing; climate change; and smarter city government. I spent 4,000 words discussing them there, which is too long for here. The thread that runs through them is substance, not symbolism. San Luis has a “weak mayor” system of government. Most power resides in our city manager, who lets the City Council pass symbolic measures or gives them symbolic pots of money. Hence, for instance, the Council got to declare SLO a car-free, carbon neutral city, then immediately approved a 400-space parking structure for the city manager to put on his résumé. Since that structure was approved last November (I suggested that they should at least name it the Greta Thunberg Parking Garage and put “YOU HAVE STOLEN MY DREAMS AND MY CHILDHOOD WITH YOUR EMPTY WORDS” in low-efficiency light bulbs on the side), 4% of California has burned and Cal Poly reached Fahrenheit 120.

Expressions: What should draw youth voters to your campaign?

Papp: Less square, bland, and bougie than my opponents (except Robin Wolf; she was an actress in New York, and I managed a 130-year-old fencing club in New York). Republican or Democrat, the establishment here talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. That’s not working anymore.

Expressions: How would you address policing in this era of racial tensions?

Papp: People have their knickers in a twist and drawers in an uproar over “defunding,” but in the last 50 years, California has defunded public higher education by two-thirds and tripled prison funding. Police departments are the pipeline to the prison industry. Data point: San Luis Obispo spends a 22% greater proportion of annual operating budget for our police department than Monterey does for theirs. What do we get for that? Tear gas and gaslighting? Data point: a quarter of police calls in SLO concern homeless people. If we solve homelessness, we have less need of police. From a perspective of data and knowledge, question, question, question. Be a pain in the ass.

Expressions: What are your ideas for economic recovery from COVID-19?

Papp: The first step is masking to prevent spread and make vulnerable people more comfortable about reentering the local economy. But the city wants to talk about public peeing, not masking. Bizarre. The next thing to understand is that COVID has exacerbated problems that already existed, like the decline of local retail. Outdoor dining has disguised how few stores we have left, but that was already influenced by the internet, big box stores, and the shift of wealth to the upper from the middle class, who were the people who shopped. (By the way, outdoor dining happened so fast because we had been talking about it in SLO for literally 45 years.) Then there are weird effects like local housing rising in price because San Franciscans can telecommute from here. Plus Prop 15 will jack up local retail rents if it passes, Etc. So we need a multi-pronged approach. One big thing we can do is reformulate San Luis into an outdoor tourist city, with architecture, history, museum exhibitions, and performing arts all in the streets.

Expressions: What is your environmental policy and what can we do locally that City Council could pass? 

Papp: Substance, not symbolism. Stop building parking structures to create more cars (even electric cars have embodied carbon in their manufacturing equal to a lifetime of carbon tailpipe emissions). Reuse old buildings instead of tearing them down for unsustainable replacements for rich people. The world’s richest ten percent produce half of all carbon emissions. The world’s richest one percent produce double the carbon emissions of the world’s poorest fifty percent. Invest in greening and cycling, which also bring down local temperatures and improve local health.

Expressions: Who are you voting for this presidential election?

Papp: Joe Biden & Kamala Harris.

Expressions: What do you hope to get accomplished if elected?

Papp: Open discussion on City Council, real budget improvements, smarter use of city resources, the end of replacing existing working-class housing with luxury condos for second homes, cabin communities to quickly and cheaply replace inhumane camps for homeless people, recognition that our architectural heritage attracts tourists and bland bougie mini-skyscrapers don’t, shifting of resources from prison pipeline to crime prevention, starving the parking beast.

Expressions: How can people get involved?

Papp: Listen, read, ask, analyze. Example: I spent four months protesting for Black Lives Matter and promoting BLM issues in the Tribune, New Times, Cal Coast News, and social media. From my opponents (except for Robin Wolf): crickets. Meanwhile, the Democratic Central Committee sneaked behind everyone’s back and told BLMCA and other genuinely progressive groups that they had to endorse Andy Pease (who had praised Chief Cantrell after she had teargassed BLM protesters and arrested their leader) and Kelly Evans (who showed up to one protest and Instagrammed it to death), or it would split the Democratic vote and Abrianna Torres would win. Nonsense, as SLO has a 3-1 Democratic-Republican registration advantage and Abrianna has been a weak candidate. But the kids didn’t know that and got played, which is sadder for them than for me. You don’t move from protest to power by selling out to the establishment, but the establishment always has great arguments. Just be skeptical.

Expressions: Anything else you want to add?

Papp: The campaign was all fun except for a few days when it was hijacked by the personal vendetta of some angry cat ladies. Canvassing was the best, because people out there are keeping up with the issues in a thoughtful and informed way. It’s a great feeling to be able to represent others in their problems and concerns. Of course there are haters, so you just have to have a thick skin and hope that most people are people of reason and goodwill. 

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