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Send in the clowns? 

Let's say you're a SLO Town resident, living your dream and minding your own business, but then you discover your beloved city's government has approved a Clown School next to your house that's going to impact your neighborhood with a ton of noise (ahooga horns and popping balloon animals), traffic (mostly little cars that fit lots of people), and pollution (oversized shoes dangling from powerlines and used red rubber noses littering the sidewalks).

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Hey, you're an openminded person, but seriously? The city couldn't find a better place for aspiring Bozos, Krustys, and Pennywises to study how to pratfall and spray audiences with water from plastic lapel flowers?

Naturally, you're going to want the city to rethink this cockamamie plan, and since you took a civics class, you know your rights, one of which is "the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances." To top off the neighborhood impacts, let's say you also tragically suffer from coulrophobia, a fear of clowns, which is no laughing matter (pun, sadly, intended). Obviously, this clown school is going to make your life a living hell. What to do?

Hey, no problem. You can file an appeal ... but you'll have to pay to do it because the city of San Luis Obispo considers accepting an appeal and reconsidering a use permit a "service" it provides. Is it just me or does this seem like a giant pile of steaming Ringling Brothers elephant dung? Why should a citizen have to pay to petition their government for a redress of grievances? It's a right, not a service, right? It says so in the First Amendment, which is part of the so-called Bill of Rights. It's not the Bill of Services. Sheesh!

This isn't mere conjecture. Instead of a clown school, substitute a fraternity, and instead of coulrophobia, substitute frataphobia, fear of douchey frat boys who party too hard. The Planning Commission has already approved a conditional use permit application for Lambda Chi Alpha to have 24 of its bros occupy four residential buildings on East Foothill Boulevard and Monte Vista Place. The worry is it will become a partying hub that will attract more than its approved 24 residents, and some neighbors are not stoked.

Local grassroots organization Residents for Quality Neighborhoods (RQN) is also concerned about the permit and how it may be interpreted to allow excessive noise after 10 p.m. and attract more than the 24 approved occupants. RQN President Sandra Rowley filed an appeal to change the permit language to ensure the occupancy is limited to 24 people during quiet hours, and to add requirements that if the frat house is issued citations or violations, the Planning Commission will automatically review the permit.

Sounds like a reasonable request, but should Rowley and her organization have to pay to make it?

Back in 2017, the city charged $281 to appeal a decision to the SLO City Council. Later that year, the fee was raised to $623. When Rowley filed her appeal of the Lambda Chi Alpha permit in June, she was charged $745, and now city staff has requested—and received—another fee increase. Staff wanted $3,500, but the City Council, apparently to appease some unhappy citizens, voted 4-0 on July 2 (with Councilmember Jan Marx absent) to "only" raise it to $2,507. What a clown show.

"There's really not a lot of joy in raising fees," Mayor Erica Stewart said at the meeting. "This is not, 'Yay, we can't wait to raise fees.' We have to get to the point where we recover more of the funding so that the people who are actually getting the services are paying for the services."

There's that word again: "services." Filing an appeal shouldn't be considered a service. It's a right. I understand that dealing with appeals requires staff, who are paid though our taxes. That's part of their job and dealing with public grievances is part of our government's function. What this outrageous fee increase is doing is effectively pricing out poor people from exercising their right to appeal their government, which strikes me as a direct violation of the First Amendment.

Now, if you want an example of someone receiving services they should pay for, look to Diller Ryan, who owns two dilapidated and unoccupied single-family houses that are zoned as office space at Casa Street and Murray Avenue, which have been so neglected over the years that they've become a magnet for trespassers and a dumping ground for scofflaws to discard furniture and other trash.

"The lack of maintenance and control from the property owner has led to over 80 calls for service to the Police Department since 2018, as well as recent code enforcement action related to the state of the property," a city staff report said.

As of Nov. 11, 2023, Ryan had racked up more than $42,000 in fines, and the city said if he doesn't get his property cleaned up, the city will pursue an abatement warrant from the court to deal with the property and charge Ryan accordingly.

"I'm not incompetent and I'm not a recalcitrant curmudgeon. I think I'm a victim," Ryan said, but the real victims are the taxpayers who are footing the bill to deal with his mess. What a clown. Δ

The Shredder is extra aggrieved. Tell it your grievance at [email protected].

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