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It's not just about trees 

SLO residents are adversely affected by the city's appetite for growth, and its leaders should know better

Picture a grove of 49 beautiful, large old trees surrounding a stately historic house. Imagine gazing through multiple layers of branches in various shades of green to the azure sky beyond. Better yet, see it in person! The setting is 71 Palomar Ave. in SLO, where you can view this unique scene. You may venture onto the steps at the sidewalk but not onto the property (Palomar is off Ramona near the Valencia Apartments.). Besides beauty, there are many reasons trees should be valued and protected, as they contribute to our health and slow down climate change. They do this by absorbing and holding for long periods of time, particularly in long-lived trees, the excess carbon that we emit daily into our air.

Sadly, an El Segundo developer, in conjunction with alumni from the now defunct Delta Tau fraternity, are partnering for large, long-term profits by clear-cutting 45 of these very large, old trees. Nature will surely weep. Slated for removal—and among those that are remarkably long-lived and disease-resistant—are two Norfolk Island pines, which can live an average of 150 years, although there is mention of a 1,000-year-old Norfolk Island pine in Chile; 18 eucalyptus globulus, which can live between 400 and 500 years in temperate climates; one Italian stone pine (there is a record of one that lived to 300 years); two olive trees, which could live more than 500 years and still bear fruit; and one coast live oak—in Temecula there is one that is more than 2,000 years old.

There is a proposal that this site be heavily developed with a dense “dorm style” student apartment complex similar to the recently completed Icon SLO project on 1340 Taft St. where the rent is $999 per month per bed (iconslo.com/photos/)! Wonder no more about high rents in SLO. Developers—being encouraged by our city manager, Katie Lichtig, and the Community Development staff—know profits are to be made by charging students unforgivably high rents. But this isn’t the end of the story. Everyone knows that without storage, easy access to parking, and fenced outdoor play areas, 71 Palomar is clearly “student housing.” But developers get a free pass by calling this instead “workforce housing,” particularly if they incorporate three to four low-income housing units into the project. In return, the developer qualifies for density bonuses and parking reductions. Isn’t it enough that for providing a few low-income units that the developer will be exempted on a per-unit basis the following: all planning, engineering, building review, permit processing, development impact, and water/sewer hook-up fees?

In the final analysis, the proposed development at 71 Palomar will have a huge negative effect on yet another R-1 neighborhood. Currently 71 Palomar is the only buffer that exists between the nearby high-density student apartments and this neighborhood made up of low-density housing.

Now let’s look at the bigger picture. Impacting everyone in San Luis Obispo is over-building everywhere. In light of the significant water shortages that we’re experiencing over this long-lasting drought, a prudent plan would be to grant building permits at a slower pace. Pleas from knowledgeable residents, with proof of limited water and predicted weather changes, have been summarily dismissed. However, the city, in partnership with the business community, has a vested interest in growing our population and local workforce because the city has ambitions to grow the government, and the business community is looking to increase its wealth. Government growth is sustained by approving every development project that walks through the door. And these developments will be built decades before the city can provide the necessary infrastructure—the water, roads, storm runoff, and sewers—sufficient to service all of them. The residents of San Luis Obispo will pay for all of this in the form of deteriorating quality of life, increasing taxes, and water rationing.

Affecting all is the sense of over-crowding, heavy traffic, and limited parking. These harmful effects are particularly felt in residential neighborhoods—caused not only by the city’s current appetite for growth but also by Cal Poly’s refusal to use third-party builders to more quickly build on-campus dorms. Over-crowding, heavy traffic, and limited parking is also caused by the CSU chancellor’s refusal to begin limiting Cal Poly’s future enrollments. A petition was submitted to the SLO City Council last January signed by 84 San Luis Obispo residents urging them to begin discussions on this pressing issue, but to no avail. These concerned citizens are simply requesting that the Cal Poly student-to-resident ratio be capped at one student for every 2.5 residents, which would still be the highest proportion of students to residents in the state of California. As a result of these growing enrollments, 60.7 percent of SLO homes are rentals, well above the statewide average of 44.1 percent.

And as a result of these growing enrollments, many of our neighborhoods have been severely affected with overcrowding and late night noise, forcing distressed permanent residents to leave family homes they have lived in and loved for years. Permanent residents’ rights are being undermined and ignored by the CSU, Cal Poly, and our city leaders.

But there is something you can do about this. We urge you to join us at the polls, as we need to elect into office those candidates who value nature and residents more than developers’ profits—profits made, in the case of 71 Palomar, by building for students whom Cal Poly should ultimately be housing on campus. 

Allan Cooper, Camille Small, and David Brodie are San Luis Obispo residents who don’t like the direction their city is heading. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor at letters@newtimesslo.com.

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