OPINION by T. KEITH GURNEE
What San Luis Obispo’s current mayor and city council are doing to our city is deeply disturbing, but it is the speed and joy with which they’re doing it is even more so. Let’s just look at the things they’ve been doing:
On July 17, the council unanimously approved the San Luis Ranch project to allow the full buildout of this 580-unit project on Madonna Road without the previously required Prado Road interchange. Without that interchange, they voted in lockstep to add more traffic congestion to our choking streets.
With three massive projects rising out of our once quaint downtown, out comes another proposal for the biggest of them all: a six-story 75-foot tall institutional building at the corner of Chorro and Marsh streets.
The city will shortly be holding hearings on yet another four-story behemoth at 790 Foothill Boulevard that was just approved by the SLO Planning Commission by a 4 to 1 vote. This project will block our views of Bishop Peak, the defining scenic feature of our city, while allowing a 32 percent reduction in on-site parking without any analysis of its traffic or parking impacts on the neighborhood.
City staff and the SLO Planning Commission had the discretion to use CEQA review of this project’s impacts on the community and chose not to. Next stop: SLO City Council.
Across the street at 22 Chorro Street, another massive dark structure is rising, thanks to Councilmember Carlyn Christianson who told neighborhood residents “Foothill Boulevard will be lined up and down with four-story buildings, so get used to it!”
The City Council will also be holding hearings on their new Zoning Ordinance update that contains provisions that will drastically alter the physical appearance and functionality of what has long been a high-quality small town and it is doing so without an Environmental Impact Report.
The city’s Active Transportation Committee (ATC) voted unanimously to run exclusive bicycle lanes down Broad Street in the historic Anholm neighborhood while eliminating much-needed on-street parking on both sides of the street.
The city also asked the Anholm neighborhood to form a special parking district, thereby notifying area residents of the city’s intent to approve under-parked developments that will impact the neighborhood adjacent to them.
After working so hard for so long to preserve the scenic open spaces and natural reserves that define our town, we should not exploit their wildlife habitat values with recreational overuse and abuse, especially by mountain biking during nighttime hours as recently approved by our city council.
It’s clear that this council and staff have bought into the planner’s new mantra of “urban infill” as their universally preferred development technique. Done tastefully with careful attention paid to scale and character, urban infill can an appropriate technique. But the way our city and its Land Use and Circulation Element (better known as the “LUCE”) is dealing with urban infill, this isn’t town planning.
It’s “town cramming” that is utterly out of character with our historic community.
Our mayor and city council are out to change the world by fundamentally changing the community we love. If they stay in office, that charming, carefully scaled town of San Luis Obispo that was once known as the “happiest place in North America” will be transformed into “anyplace USA.” With the notable exception of Councilmember Andy Pease, they don’t respect our residents or our historic neighborhoods, they ignore them.
They aren’t solving our problems, they’re creating them.
San Luis Obispo should not be doomed to becoming an urban metropolis of towering buildings and concrete canyons. We should have the determination and resolve to “right-size” our high-quality small town rather than exploiting and “super sizing” it.
We can’t let them do this to us. We can do better! It’s time to stand up for our residents and take back our town!