Like many other people, I try keeping up with what is happening in politics: both nationally and locally.
Locally, one thing that has come into question in the media is the "residential status" of one of San Luis Obispo’s city councilpersons, Allen Settle. It seems that although Councilperson Settle has a "legal" and "primary" residence in SLO, he doesn’t appear to actually be living there. He seems to be living in another city elsewhere in SLO County. That’s a no-no.
The rules are that any person who wants to hold an elected office must live in the "district" for which they want the position. So if Councilperson Settle is indeed living in another city, he isn’t allowed to hold political office in the city of SLO.
The SLO New Times has published two articles this month which are trying to determine Councilperson Settle’s actually "residential status." The first, "Where has Allen Settle(d)?" had these opening lines,
At the undramatic end of a recent Tuesday night’s San Luis Obispo City Council meeting, Councilman Allen Settle climbed into his 1999 Toyota four-door sedan and took a long and winding drive to his house.
To the one in Arroyo Grande. The one that’s not in the city he represents.
The second article, "Allen Settle responds to questions of residence," began with,
At the March 18 SLO City Council meeting, former mayor and current council member Allen Settle responded to questions of whether he’s living in the city he represents. Settle said that he’s been busy lately at his home in Arroyo Grande, preparing for a "very involved and expensive" family wedding.
Understandably, Councilperson Settle is trying to minimize the situation.
In a March 26, 2008 Letter To The Editor, Let me explain residency for elected officials, Councilman Settle wrote,
The law does not preclude local, state, or federal office holders from spending some time in another location. To suggest this would invalidate essentially all citizens from holding elected office. The reason is that those elected to Congress often acquire property in Washington, D.C., or Virginia or Maryland while keeping their residence in their district and return to their district as they wish and this does not preclude them from serving their community.
Councilperson Settle’s implied explanation for the home in Arroyo Grande is that he uses the residence there while traveling on SLO City or Cal Poly University business.
I can understand Councilman Settle trying to save his own bacon, but for him to use members of the U.S. Congress as an example to vindicate his actions is absurd. The reason members of Congress rent or acquire property in and around Washington D.C. is because the majority of them can’t just climb into their cars drive home from Capital Hill each night. Arroyo Grande, on the other hand, is a "pebble’s toss" from SLO.
According to the first article "Where has Allen Settle(d)?" Councilman Settle owns at least five houses. But, I don’t really care about that. He could own 100 houses for what it’s worth.
What angers me about all of this is that there are over 400 people in SLO who have no place to call "home" and here is an elected official – with multiple places to call home – who seems to be doing nothing more than playing political games and trying to save his political hide.
Tonight, there will be some 473 men, women and children who will be trying to find a "safe" place to sleep. A small percentage of them (about 79 – or less than 1 in 5) will actually be able to get a bed at the local homeless shelter. The rest of them will be at the mercy of fate.
They will sleep in their vehicles, if they are fortunate enough to have one – or they will be sleeping in some darkened corner of one of the city’s public parks. Some will be sleeping behind a building somewhere. A number of them will be sleeping, tucked away in their tent in some empty field. Some will curl up in the bus shelters at the downtown transit center. And some of them won’t sleep at all tonight. They’ll wander the city streets until morning. Then they’ll head over to the Prado Day Center and "nap" there during the day – only to repeat the entire cycle tomorrow night.
Despite the mostly temperate weather that we enjoy here on California’s central coast during the day, of late the temperatures have been nippy during the night and early morning hours.
Those homeless who will face the night sleeping out of doors will use whatever means they can to stay warm.
I recall one evening, as I walked over to a convenience store for a cup of hot chocolate, I saw a homeless gentleman using one of the bus stop shelters as a place to sleep. It was colder that evening. He didn’t have a blanket to keep himself warm. What he had were two plastic garbage bags.
He was using one of the trash bags as a type of sleeping bag for his lower body. He had cut holes in the other bag for his head and arms. And, there he lay: curled up as best he could on the bench, using his backpack as a pillow.
I wonder in which of the five homes which Councilperson Settle owns he slept in that night.