Does the livability of SLO neighborhoods matter anymore?

April 2, 2023
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee


The short answer is no, no thanks to the our city council.

Neighborhoods once mattered in San Luis Obispo. From 2011 to 2017, city residents supported “neighborhood wellness” as one of the city’s highest priorities. Now, under this city council, “neighborhood wellness” is missing in action.

On March 7, 2023, the city council voted 4-0 to approve the so-called North Chorro Neighborhood Greenway project, an utterly unnecessary set of exclusive bikeways along the Chorro and Broad street corridors that will eliminate over 90 heavily used on-street parking spaces in the neighborhood.

When this idea came up in 2016 under Mayor Heidi Harmon, the neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed it. Now the city has signed a contract to build it, and on April 24 construction is set to commence. It’s actually going to happen.

But the city’s action raises significant questions that just won’t go away.

1.   Why is it so expensive?

When the Anholm Bikeway was originally proposed, the preliminary cost estimate was just over $1 million. By July 2022 when the city approved the plans to go out to bid, the updated cost estimate was $3.2 million. Then the bids came back this February at over $6 million-nearly six times the original cost estimate. With an additional allowance for change orders, the city awarded the bid on March 7, 2023 for upwards of $6.3 million. This will truly be the Taj Mahal of bike paths.

Only Councilmember Jan Marx, who couldn’t attend the council meeting due to illness, came to the defense of the Anholm neighborhood and questioned the costs in a one-page letter that was read into the record, a letter that was quickly ignored by the council.

2.   Why did the council override the Revenue Enhancement Oversight Commission (REOC)?

On Nov. 3, 2020, voters approved a permanent 1½% sales tax increase under Measured G-20. In order to get voters to approve it, the city created a four-member commission to act as a watchdog over the proper expenditure of Measure G-20 funds.

On March 1, 2023, the REOC met to consider a staff request to allocate over $1.6 million in Measure G-20 funds, as well as stripping the funding from a number of other projects to make up the difference in cost. Having attended that meeting, I was pleased that the REOC voted 2-1-1 against those fund transfers.

When Councilmember Michelle Shoresman spoke at the council meeting, she opined that “the REOC overstepped their bounds” in making its recommendation. No Councilmember Shoresman, the REOC did its job! You and your three colleagues did not do yours!

This is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. So much for enticing voters to support Measure G-20, only have it turn into “a bait and switch.”

3.   Will the bike paths really be safe?

As a resident on Broad Street for over five decades, I don’t think so. The Broad and Chorro street corridors have been inherently safe low-speed streets for both cars and bicycles since the mid-1970s when they installed the stop signs and speed bumps on Broad Street. Since then, there haven’t been any car on bike accidents, allowing our kids to grow up safely riding their bikes through the neighborhood.

The North Chorro Neighborhood Greenway is proposing two double lane bikeways along both Ramona Street and Chorro Street. The double cycle track along the west side of Chorro will require residents on that side to back out and cross the double lanes from 16 driveways on Chorro to get into the travel lanes. Even Barry Rands, an avid cyclist active in the cycling community, strongly urged the council not to include this dangerous feature, albeit to no avail.

This project will invite danger into a safe neighborhood. I have no doubt that someone will be hurt if not killed. Not if, but when this happens, such a tragedy should fall squarely on the shoulders of the council members and staff who backed this project.

4.   What about the loss of on-street parking?

The city council appears to be blithely ignorant about the housing laws that have been passed by our state legislature and signed into law by our Governor. Over the past six years, the state has essentially declared war on local government control and on single-family neighborhoods.

Laws like SB 35, SB 9, SB 10, and others have essentially rezoned every single-family neighborhood in every one of California’s 482 incorporated cities and 58 counties. They have increased the allowable density and development standards for all neighborhoods. As a result, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are popping up all over the place, and SB 9 allows “urban lot splits” whereby an owner of a single-family lot can split that lot into two lots and develop them with four to six units where one home once stood.

But the real clincher is the state’s outright prohibition disallowing local governments from requiring off-street parking for projects developed under these laws. We are seeing a number of ADUs going up in our neighborhood without any off-street parking.

At a time when the demand for on-street parking will only be increasing, our city is taking it away. Where are they going to park? What about where delivery vehicles, mail carriers, plumbers, contractors, landscapers, and gardeners going to park?

That this city council would be aware of these laws and act to eliminate 92 on-street parking places in the Anholm neighborhood is thoughtless and destructive.

5.   What’s next?

If this can happen to my neighborhood, it can happen to yours. The bike lobby’s Alternative Transportation Commission has plans for these types of projects all over town. And our city council is aiding and abetting them.

As a former council member from 1971-1977 who served with the best mayor we ever had, Ken Schwartz, I thought I would never see the day when our city council turned its back to its neighborhoods in favor of a narrow special interest group.

Now it has happened, and in the process this council is ruining what was once considered “The happiest place in North America.”

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Years ago, I lived in the 300 block of Foothill Blvd. I rode my bicycle extensively to commute downtown to work, to visit Farmer’s Market, to Sinsheimer Pool, and to ride in the Edna Valley. I accessed these locales via Chorro usually and occasionally Broad Street. I rode with intention, a clean line, decent speed, and stopped at the stop signs. Never did I have an issue or conflict with motorists or an accident. Chorro was safe then and it is safe today.

I just looked up NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) guidelines for Two-Way Cycle Tracks. A very bizarre & unconventional concept that likely will increase danger to cyclists and create confusion and conflicts for motorists. Because of the generally downhill slope, a healthy cyclist riding south on Chorro from Foothill into town can easily attain speeds close to 17-20 mph along certain stretches. The proposed Two-Way Track for the west side of Chorro Street would have north bound cyclists riding from the opposite direction in very close proximity towards the potentially faster southbound cyclists with resultant closing speeds approaching 35 to 40 mph. This is insanity. Only morons would advocate for such a reckless and unnatural design scheme. It flies in the face of the concept that cyclists are vehicles obligated by the Vehicle Code to adhere to the customary flow of traffic and obey the same laws that apply to motorized vehicles. Cyclists are supposed to ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic, not against it. Yet the risky & illogical Two-Way Cycle Track will turn this very natural and safe protocol on its head. Very serious consequences are in store for cyclists and motorists if this idiocy is implemented on Chorro and other streets in SLO.

The lack of support for our neighborhoods began back in 2014 when an irresponsible city council passed the LUCE (Land Use & Circulation Element) update. The document was supposed to have a focus on quality of life through the protection of our residential neighborhoods. Instead, a developer backed council salivated with amenities like this nonsensical “North Chorro Neighborhood Greenway Project”.

REOC was a joke from the onset. It provided coverage for staff to push a sales tax initiative on the people of SLO. When REOC opposes a staff recommendation & council support, they’re taken out to the woodshed like Shoresman did here.

Listen people, you get what you vote for…now you get to live with it!

C’mon, Keith! It’s obvious to anyone, that with the lack of off or on street parking in the Anholm, a giant multi-level parking garage will be the answer to this completely and totally unexpected consequence that absolutely nobody could possibly foresee!

That a huge section of historic housing, and possibly businesses, of the Anholm will have to be razed to support the breadth and width of this much needed garage (first 90 minutes are free), must be regarded as the price to be allowed to live in such a prestigious neighborhood.

Progress, Keith. It’s always progressive…

Good time to buy stock in U-haul.

Living on campus has consequences. Unfortunately the State has expanded their influence on the College Town of San Luis Obispo, into their Campus Town of San Luis Obispo. Few ratepayers know that when the toilet is flushed on campus the utopia flow goes to SLO, the less discussed nitrogen cycle path.

One thing I forgot to put in this piece. The new state’s housing laws prohibit local governments from requiring off-street parking if the housing units are “within 1/2 mile of a transit stop”. There are at least 3 bus stops well within 1/2 mile from my house. 

More NIMBY rhetoric from the crowd who believes it should be illegal to build more housing on MY private property and whose end goal for urban planning is parking lots, big roads and Santa Maria 2.0.

1. Cost increases are unfortunate, too bad it wasn’t approved earlier, look what feet dragging has brought us!

2. They’re an unelected commission, as a small d-democrat and small r-republican, I prefer the final decisions to be made by our elected representatives. This project has debated for many years – voters have given their mandate.

3. Yes it will be safe. Review the NACTO guidelines (in full). It will also achieve the goal of making biking more accessible for people in the Foothill area getting downtown. Less traffic, more parking!

4. The loss of parking is unfortunate for those directly affected, but someone always going to feel spillovers in any infrastructure project – it’s a cost worth paying. To the larger point; California is making progress towards housing affordability through abundance and market urbanism. Entrenched NIMBYs seek to make it illegal to do anything that would allow for any new housing, they would use government power to force people to live a certain way – that to me is thoughtless and destructive.

5. More is what’s next!! More projects like this, more bike infrastructure, more hybrid beacons, more housing, more downtown (new structures, taller buildings, more sidewalks) , more thriving local businesses, more members of our community. SLO is great and continues to become greater!

Bravo Keith, well said.

I well remember your avid support of bike riders over 50 years ago so I hope any ‘newbies’ who find fault with your comments are informed you were aiding bike riding here before they were born.

It is pretty sad that our council has prostrated itself to the developers and overly vocal bike community at the expense of the general population.

Like you I have been around here for awhile and have never seen such contempt for the public by our City Council since that damn Harmon took office.