OPINION by ALLAN COOPER
Mayor Heidi Harmon and Council Member Carlyn Christianson are campaigning on the premise that they have made significant strides in addressing San Luis Obispo’s “climate action plan” by adopting the Community Choice Energy program, by forcing us out of our cars and onto bicycles by taking away our parking and by increasing density and height in our downtown core and in our neighborhoods to counter sprawl, though sprawl is indeed taking place – witness the Righetti, San Luis and Avila ranch developments.
Permit me to counter the new mantra we’re hearing from these incumbent candidates as well as from the self-proclaimed YIMBY’s. Their argument is that “if more people are living in our town, more people are affording to live in our town.”
Within the city limits of Los Angeles, there are approximately four million people. LA is the fifth fastest growing city in the nation. Nevertheless, the median cost of a home there is about a million dollars.
If we are to learn from this example, rapidly increasing our population by building more homes will not result in more affordable housing. But doing so will make developers very rich because the bar is set so low on the number of affordable units they must provide. The belief that housing will miraculously “trickle down” to the less affluent members of our community by giving away the keys to market-rate developers is a pernicious myth.
What our incumbent candidates don’t want to talk about is that all of this new construction and increased population will not only overtax our infrastructure, but will ultimately make impossible our ability to adapt to climate change.
Both Harmon and Christianson seem to be dancing around four proverbial “elephants in the room” and those are job creation, Cal Poly enrollment growth, solar-powered electric cars and biome carrying capacity.
The council is tasked with maintaining every five years a five percent growth cap on commercial square footage. But this cap on commercial square footage fails to take into consideration that job growth has averaged three and a quarter percent per year, far exceeding the maximum one percent per year growth in our housing supply. And so follows more traffic due to an explosion in our daytime population plus an increasing jobs/housing imbalance.
Cal Poly growth over the past four years has averaged two and a half percent per year. Some of these increases may be absorbed by on-campus housing but this burgeoning on-campus student population will still have an adverse impact on our roads, water and waste water treatment capacity.
The council’s argument that we must reduce the number of cars in order to reduce our GHG’s will no longer hold up when most of us will own solar-powered electric cars. And finally California’s carbon footprint is six times the State’s biome carrying capacity and this number most likely is higher for San Luis Obispo. This will only get worse as our climate becomes more like that of the Mojave Desert.
There is such a thing as “right sizing” a city’s population and SLO has far exceeded its “right size.” Yes global population growth must be absorbed somewhere but not where there is no longer any slack in the environment’s carrying capacity.