A SLO City Council Merry Christmas to downtown shoppers
December 8, 2015
OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT
Monday, downtown shoppers hoping to park in the 60-plus public parking spaces in the San Luis Obispo City lot off Broad and Marsh streets, were greeted with signs telling them the lot is closed permanently, and yellow construction tape blocking entrances and exits. So, right at the beginning of the holiday shopping rush, the city erects yet another impediment to shopping downtown.
The lot, which was bought and paid for by taxpayers for public use, has been transferred to a developer to erect one of the new tall tourist-serving view-blocking projects (Garden Street Terraces) taking over our beautiful downtown. Thus, parking passes from public use to private gain. Views are transferred from street level to the windows and balconies of high-paying hotel customers.
In addition to parking, the transfer includes some very expensive public restrooms with some very expensive public art on them. All surrendered by the city council acting as fiduciary for the public. And they claim there’s no such thing as developer welfare in this town.
This parking is the third major swath of downtown public-owned parking to be transferred to developers. The Copelands got the Court Street parking lots, and also the Chinatown parking lots, for pennies of what they were worth. Collectively, that means hundreds of parking spaces acquired by the public, with their tax dollars, for public use, have been transferred by the city council, acting as fiduciaries for the public, to developers for their private use — for far less than the fair value of the assets transferred.
Taking away public parking during the Christmas shopping rush illustrates the myopia facilitating this entire enterprise of transferring public assets to developers. It has nothing to do with serving the public, which is supposedly why we have a city council.
Downtown doesn’t look especially healthy these days. Lots of vacancies, and it’s unclear who’s going to occupy all the new space being built. Can there be still more restaurants and bars? How viable is retail in a downtown without convenient parking? How many boutique hotels are economically viable? The one boutique hotel we have is thriving, and adding a tall new building with more rooms. It is about to be joined by four more upscale downtown boutique hostelries collectively containing hundreds of pricey new tourist rooms.
This seems an economic crap shoot. It’s happening so fast, moreover, the buildings will be built before anybody knows if they’ll be viable.
One of the few bright spots downtown is the return of thrift shops. There used to be lots of thrift shops, real local stores, and “experimental” businesses downtown, before a handful of monopolistic property owners lined Higuera Street with corporate chain stores found in every suburban strip mall. Thrift shops are the paradigm of our time: cheap slightly used stuff for the masses made feasible by cast offs from those with too much stuff. They may reflect the inequality of our culture, but they also bring back a reason to go downtown again.
As downtown transforms more and more into a partyland for the young and for tourists, there’s less and less reason for residents to bother going downtown. General retail seems doomed. With public parking being taken away, it’s easier to go to the mall or shop online. So thrift stores – the more the better – are good for downtown.
As for the city’s timing for their latest parking lot closure, it’s just one more indicator how clueless the gals and guys who run this city have become. Merry Christmas residents – you can walk a half mile to shop from where you park. The city’s big Christmas gift is to WestPac, the Garden Street developer.
Will they write a thank you note to all of us?
Richard Schmidt is a former member of the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission. He recently wrote in CCN about views disappearing from downtown due to the city’s approving a slew of tall view-blocking buildings.