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Let's talk calmly about smart growth 

The plan to annex the Orcutt Area to San Luis Obispo would add open space, parkland, and ball fields, provide affordable housing, improve safety services, and streamline public transportation

Misinformation is again distorting what should be a rational discussion about the future boundaries of San Luis Obispo. Our opportunity to make good decisions and shape our city with smart-growth principles is once more in jeopardy because of a harsh clash of personal interests. We can do better.

The issue is the annexation of the Orcutt Area, where 231 acres on the eastern side of San Luis Obispo are surrounded on three sides by the city. The plan to annex this area into the city has been discussed by the landowners and city for decades, and the annexation has been actively pursued in the form of a Specific Plan since 1997. I am the owner of the largest of the 21 parcels that make up this proposal and have been intimately involved in the process from the beginning.

I am aghast, because a recent New Times article (“Can city hall be stopped?” July 14) unfairly depicted City Hall as an evil entity partnering with “developers” to take over landowners’ property. Sweeping overstatements of “paving over” rolling fields ignores the years of work and investment made by property owners and city staff to assure the annexation plan is one that enhances the community. The story is a one-sided slam at the plan.

The fact is all property owners in the area have worked with the Community Development Department for years, with hours of input from all concerned. Our City Council approved the annexation proposal more than a year ago, on March 3, 2010. We are now at the final step in the process, seeking approval from LAFCO, the government agency that reviews and approves annexation requests.

Annexing the Orcutt Area will provide such benefits as open space, parkland, and ball fields, along with affordable housing, improved public safety services, and public transportation.

A significant aspect of the annexation for my family is the plan to preserve 48 acres of Righetti Hill in permanent open space that will include hiking and biking trails and parkland. We are proud of this element of the plan, because much of the open space to be preserved is the land where we operated our family dairy for more than 35 years.

But there is more to this plan than the property owners’ personal gain. The Orcutt Area annexation plan embraces the principles of smart growth. For too many years county development on the fringe of our city has compromised and complicated our ability to manage growth. It has contributed to sprawl and poor traffic circulation. It has inhibited our city’s ability to minimize environmental impacts. Annexation will correct the conflict that occurs when county development abuts the city. It will bring this area into the oversight of the city, where it belongs.

Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, a small group of annexation opponents is threatening the plan. Opposition interests are misstating the facts and attempting to prevent a thoughtful decision on long-term land planning for one of our city’s last remaining large properties.

As a San Luis Obispo native who has witnessed exaggeration and emotion flaw many property decisions, I fervently hope this discussion can be measured and reasonable. It is time to determine our future by an intelligent process, free from undue emotion and irrational thought. It is imperative the media report on the process responsibly, in an informed way that does not inflame the issue by one-sided points of view. We simply cannot trade our city’s future for sensationalism.

San Luis Obispo native Barbara Righetti Parsons is a landowner who has been involved in city discussions about annexing the Orcutt Area. Send comments via the opinion editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

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