Thanks to Carpenter and Smith for protecting SLO

October 23, 2014
Richard Schmidt

Richard Schmidt


The following letter was sent to the San Luis Obispo City Council regarding their “failure,” as the Tribune put it, to approve general plan provisions that would allow high density housing beneath the flight path into and out of the San Luis Obispo Airport. Such development is prohibited by the Airport Land Use Plan – and for good reason since the areas in question are the noisiest (producing noise lawsuits) and most dangerous (there have been many accidents already from planes crashing in these areas).

Council members Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter held the line against providing a 4-1 council vote needed to override the Airport Land Use Plan. They are being severely pressured and criticized by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and its allies, including the Tribune, whose publisher until recently sat on the chamber’s board.

Those of us who feel differently need to tell the council this was a good “failure” that presents an opportunity to go back and do a much better general plan update.

Dear City Council Members,

I wish to thank Kathy and Dan, and congratulate the rest of the council, for derailing this awful general plan update.

Perhaps now we can go back and get an update that works for residents of this city, and creates a future somebody other than the chamber and its developer cronies want.

There is precedent for starting over. That’s what happened as the 1988 update became the 1994 update.

The council promised this would be a focused resident-centric update, and then stood by as staff turned it into a radical chamber-centric update that closed out residents and environmentalists from significant roles in the update.

This plan is a dagger to the heart of every existing neighborhood’s quality of life.

Its promotion of profligate and unnecessary “infill” will destroy the physical character of every existing neighborhood.

It is a gift to developers, particularly the sort who purchase land that’s cheaper because it’s not zoned for their intended use, then try to get profit-raising land use changes approved.

This plan is transformative — the most radical and reactionary plan ever created for this city’s future. It totally reverses the “Schwartz Revolution” which made SLO “happy” and great, and launches the city into a future of mediocrity and worse — Slum Luis Obispo is what it will create.

The plan fails utterly to take any significant steps towards making our city a more sustainable organism, or towards making it more resilient in the face of coming climate change.

All of this reactionary change is justified by the mumbo-jumbo of questionable academic planning theory that has zero relevance to a place of the size and physical character of San Luis Obispo — and as a reformed academic planner I know what I’m talking about!

Almost everything about the changes made to the perfectly workable 1994 plan is a step in the wrong direction.

This plan, in short, is a disgrace.

You need to go back to the starting point with it, involve residents and environmentalists in actively shaping its successor, and come up with a modestly-revised version of the 1994 plan that deals with solving actual problems, not turning the entire city into a Monopoly board for developers.

You need, in short, to start over.


Richard Schmidt

PS. As for the proposition of putting high density housing beneath the most dangerous parts of the approach and takeoff paths of planes from our growing airport — you’ve got to be out of your minds. Thank you Kathy and Dan for saying no to this insanity. It’s not a question of whether such poor planning will result in a horrific accident, it’s only a question of when that will happen.

Richard Schmidt is a former city planning commissioner, and has taught in Cal Poly’s architecture and city planning departments.

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One other comment on this article. The author derides developers “particularly the sort who purchase land that’s cheaper…” and sounds a little jealous. What every liberal needs to remind themselves is, if they are living in a house or (god forbid) apartment, they are living in something a “developer” built.

I bought a lot in a town at the low point in the market when no one was buying. When I went to get a building permit, I found out the city installed their sewer pipeline outside the easement. The city wanted me to give them a much wider easement because of their mistake. I told them no. Property values had dramatically increased at this time. In a meeting with the city engineers, one engineer told me I should pay to move the pipeline. He asked me how much I paid for the property, so I told him. He said the lot was worth a couple hundred thousand more now. I said “So? Why didn’t you buy the lot?” That shut him up fast.

Don’t worry. I ended up prevailing in the end (I know you are all happy to hear that).