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Don't park in the park 

The solution to the Mitchell Park question is a new senior center elsewhere

I love Mitchell Park

I'm pretty fond of seniors, too inasmuch as I hit the "classification" last year.

So, to be in a situation where I have to think about the "essence" of a park and its purpose might appear to put me in the quintessential place that defines a dilemma (a situation when each alternative is equally problematic). But, I am not at all conflicted--the park should emerge as a priority for us and for future generations, as well as a new and expanded Senior Center.

We must come together as a community and keep the green but hone the vision so in the very near future we can be proud of a state-of-the-art Senior Center that is a model for communities across the nation. We have an aging population. We have a population that will continue to need expanded social support and service assistance to maintain its quality of life. Creating a parking lot is not visionary, but creating a Community Center that can be a nexus for senior support and senior assistance is. Let's make this happen.

Mitchell Park is in fact also a "senior." The park has never been paved. The park has always been a place of repose, and for each of its more than 100 years it has been a place for the citizens of San Luis Obispo to connect with nature. In this truly historic park--President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the city citizens there in 1903.

Mitchell Park is a place of Frisbee matches, a place where dogs and their humans run through the grass, a place where toddlers can safely practice toddling, a place where students study, a place where people who work downtown can enjoy lunch, a place for children's birthday parties and so much more.

It is important to note that the members of the Senior Center don't come to Mitchell Park for the "park" they come to the Center.

This is perhaps the critical point.

Here's an analogy--imagine folks who find it hard to park near the mission suggesting putting a parking lot in Mission Plaza. The historic sense of place that each of these city resources has is what makes San Luis well, San Luis.

I think as a community we should advocate for more parks in our cities--not less parkland. It is difficult to believe that conversations about paving a portion of this green treasure are even taking place.

The situation that the mayor and council members have created puts the focus of what should be a conversation about community into a polarized dialogue that is completely unnecessary. The resulting design for Mitchell Park calls for 6,000 square feet of parking lot to be placed adjacent to one of the city's most noble heritage trees and for the replacement of trees, grass, shrubs, and park amenities. This parking lot footprint paves over existing picnic areas and would result in even more cement planned to cover a large section of grass to reconfigure the lost barbecue, tables, and benches.

The Funding Source: The sad evolution of the misuse of Measure Y funding provides more money for paving than it does for people. Only 2 percent of the entire Measure Y allocation goes to seniors. A third of this money is for the parking lot. A new parking lot does nothing to "protect or maintain essential services," as was promised to those who voted for the initiative. Together as a community we need to join as advocates. Let's fund the new Senior Center: Let's use Measure Y funding!

How did we get here? Consider the process: Here is where the insult to the general public's intelligence becomes particularly egregious. The parking lot as it is conceived is in violation of the City's Master Plan for the park, which visualizes community gardens in that area. With the backing of a majority of the City Council, the changes were pushed through the Parks and Recreation Commission, but the Cultural Heritage Commission balked, voting unanimously that a parking lot would forever violate the historical context of the park.

The Save Mitchell Park campaign was born in reaction to a blatant attempt to block public dialogue. The Save Mitchell Park movement grows daily. The public is indeed genuinely outraged. A Facebook group of more than 1,100 joins with a neighborhood-driven initiative of almost equal size that can be explored at www.savemitchellpark.org.

The money targeted to pave the park is $70,000. If the issue is to assist seniors to get to the center, why not simply divide the amount by $4 a ride and think of how many seniors could be assisted over time with the same money to get "door-to-door" service with a partnership from Ride-On. This concept would be a viable short-term solution until the new Senior Center is built. Everybody wins! We finish the vision of the city's Master Plan and create a community garden. We create community impetus for a new Senior Center. Seniors in need of transportation are cared for and we save a historic and irreplaceable community resource.

Send a letter to the City Council or come to one of the commission or City Council meetings. The next step in the review process is on April 7 at 5 p.m. in the council chambers when the Architectural Review Commission will consider the issue. Be heard.

I love Mitchell Park I'm pretty fond of seniors, too.


Stephan Lamb is chair of the Human Relations Commission of the City of San Luis Obispo, a member of the Senior Center, and a frequent visitor to Mitchell Park since 1979.

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