SLO residents rally to have their voices heard
July 3, 2016
OPINION by ALLAN COOPER
On Tuesday, July 5, at 5 p.m., a group of residents will be standing on the San Luis Obispo City Hall steps with signs reading “Resident Voices Matter.” Why? Because over the past two years our collective voices, particularly within the context of SLO City Council appeals, are not being heard.
What is an appeal? San Luis Obispo residents can pay the city up to $273 to appeal any decision made by an advisory body providing it’s done within 10 days of that decision. The appeal is a reconsideration of the specific facts and circumstances of any final decision made by that advisory body. If the appellants make a convincing argument, the City Council may over-rule these final decisions.
However, the appeal process should be a last resort. Yet it’s being used more and more by residents because of systemic problems which remain unaddressed within our city government.
Six times over the past two years the council has been presented with neighborhood-backed appeals. Six times the council failed to be swayed by the overwhelming public testimony presented to them. This pattern is giving the residents of SLO the impression that these council members have had their minds made up long before hearing from the public.
Our council members appear to be in denial with regards to the serious problems plaguing our community. What are these problems?
1. The city contributes to the deterioration of single family-neighborhoods by repeatedly approving incompatible, high-density infill projects, particularly high-density de facto student housing projects. This leads to a corresponding decline in our quality of life and to owner-occupant flight. Residents are fleeing San Luis Obispo.
2. The city refuses to stand up to Cal Poly and protest its rapidly expanding student enrollments. Increasing student enrollments result in the deterioration of our neighborhoods and increasing crime, particularly alcohol-related crime both downtown and in the areas surrounding campus.
3. The city is promoting growth that outstrips our infrastructure, particularly our roads. Moreover, population growth should be curbed, not encouraged, in light of imminent climate change and increasing water shortages.
4. The city is outstripping its financial resources by growing its staff and increasing its debt due to unfunded pension liabilities.
In the rush to grow our population and housing stock, city staff appear unconstrained by existing restrictions that are in place to insure quality development. They routinely ignore restrictions that are memorialized in our general plan, our zoning regulations, our historic ordinance, our Hillside Ordinance and our Community Design Guidelines.
City staff are now falling into the role of the developer’s representative. They place pressure on advisory bodies to approve every project that “comes down the pike.” And as with last Monday’s disappointing Cultural Heritage Committee review of 71 Palomar, our advisory body members eventually acquiesce to these pressures.
Neighborhood wellness advocates in SLO are presently being confronted with the following challenges:
1) University expansion negatively impacting residential parking and neighborhood cohesion
2) Proliferation of bars downtown and related anti-social behavior within the surrounding neighborhoods
3) Decline in resident owner-occupied housing
4) Expedited environmental impact assessment for urban infill projects within existing neighborhoods (Senate Bill 226 supporting “categorical infill development exceptions”)
Approximate dates of SLO City Council ruling neighborhood:
Feb. 4, 2014 City Council appeal lost: Monterey Place Dana/Monterey Street neighborhood
Feb. 17, 2014 City Council appeal lost: Monterey Hotel San Luis Drive neighborhood
Oct. 18, 2014 City Council appeal lost: Mission School Mission Orchard neighborhood
Nov. 17, 2014 City Council appeal upheld: 1327 Osos Street Old Town neighborhood
March 6, 2015 St. Fraty’s Party Roof Cave-In Hathway neighborhood
May 15, 2015 Court case lost: Cal Poly Master Plan update EIR Alta Vista neighborhood
June 2, 2015 Architectural Review Committee and the City Council appeal upheld: Mini-dorms Grand Avenue 323-353 Alta Vista neighborhood
September 17, 2015 City Council appeal lost: 1144 Chorro Street Discovery SLO Downtown neighborhood
May 3, 2016 City Council appeal lost: 85 Buena Vista Monterey Heights neighborhood
July 27, 2016 Cultural Heritage Committee lost: 71 Palomar N. Broad Street neighborhood
Allan Cooper is the secretary for Save Our Downtown.