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SLO park debate heats up 

Residents of a SLO neighborhood are feeling betrayed by the city after a recent City Council vote led to a proposal to move $640,000 previously set aside to for a park to other projects.

Last June, the SLO City Council allocated $900,000 in surplus revenue for the acquisition of parkland in the North Broad neighborhood, which is bordered by Foothill Boulevard, Highway 101, Santa Rosa Street, and Cerro San Luis Mountain. There’s currently one park in the neighborhood, the 0.13 Anholm Park (a “pocket park”), and the need for a neighborhood park was identified in the 2001 general plan.

“I got really excited when I heard the City Council put this money specifically aside for a park,” said Kit Gould-Himelblau, a North Broad resident who’s spearheaded several neighborhood events. “We don’t have any place in our neighborhood to meet. To have a place where the elderly, college kids, little kids can go to. … If you look at population area, I really think there’s a need.”

The council at the time moved the $900,000 from a capital improvement fund to the Parkland Development Fund, and earmarked it for that purpose. In November, the council incorporated the North Broad park into its 2020 Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan, and in December, the Parks and Recreation Commission named it as a goal for 2017-2019.

But, at a strategic budget meeting on April 18, the City Council gave direction to staff to tap into the park allocation to fund other projects, like the Bishop Peak/Pacheco Safe Route to School, the Broad Street Bike Boulevard, and an update to the Parks and Recreation Element.

North Broad residents began piecing together the history of the issue and dissecting the meeting videos to point out contradictions. City Manager Katie Lichtig is especially under fire for telling the council at the meeting, “You have complete flexibility to spend those dollars however you want.”

Former City Councilman John Ashbaugh told New Times he felt the previous council’s direction should be “respected” by the current council.

“The [neighborhood] needed and deserved this commitment from the council,” Ashbaugh said. “It’s frankly baffling to me how they could attempt to justify this.”

The main challenge for building a North Broad park is finding the space for it. The neighborhood is very dense, and the city would have to navigate real estate purchases in a high-priced area. SLO Parks and Recreation Director Shelly Stanwyck said the city hadn’t made progress on identifying properties that could be purchased for the park.

“We need direction from council to negotiate land acquisition,” she said.

Ashbaugh contends that the direction was there from the last council.

“We were quite clear,” he said. “We gave direction to staff to use that money in a deliberate process.”

The City Council will meet June 1 to discuss the latest draft of the 2017-2019 financial plan.

Gould-Himelblau said the back-and-forth and the city’s handling of the issue is “disheartening.”

“I feel a loss of trust, definitely,” she said, “after going to meetings and [having] this feeling like we’re moving forward. I feel a breakdown of trust.”

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