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Oh say, can you see? 

We’re simmering down like an especially bitter and cantankerous reduction sauce

San Luis Obispo is shrinking. We’ve got shrinkage. It’s like someone with cold hands came and grabbed the whole city and stuck it into an icy shower.
 
I’m not talking about physical dimensions. As far as I can tell, everything’s still right where it was yesterday, and it’ll still be there tomorrow, as big and bad as ever, which is good, as long as you like stuff like waterfall urinals and gum-packed alleyways and giant letters on hillsides in the first place. We’ve got a “P� over by Cal Poly and an “M� over by the Madonna Inn. We just need an “S� somewhere to let visitors know what we’re really like here. Maybe over my house?
 
Our numbers, however, are getting smaller. Dwindling. Dropping like snowy plovers flying through clouds of exhaust at the peak of dirtbike season.
 
The California Department of Finance just announced that it finished adding and subtracting and carrying the 2 for its annual county and city population reports. Through a process called “hickification,� Santa Maria continues to balloon up like a strawberry in the sun or a cow in a grain silo or a tiger salamander in a microwave. It’s now officially bigger than Santa Barbara—not that size matters.
 
On the other, hipper hand, San Luis Obispo is getting smaller. So are Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. We’re the incredible shrinking trio, though SLO is still the most populous city in the county. Hooray.
 
On some level, I’m glad that people are leaving or getting abducted or dying faster than they can be replaced locally. Fewer people around means fewer annoyances for me. Fewer neighbors. Fewer questions. Fewer people mistaking me for somebody who cares.
 
I’m not sure why SLO’s population is heading toward zero instead of a million. Are housing prices driving people to look for an affordable life in Utah? Or was there a mass food poisoning that I somehow missed? I’ve been bringing my own lunch to work more often lately, so if some underdone hamburger is the culprit, I’ll just eat my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off and try not to say “I told you so.�
 
I fooled around on the Department of Finance’s web site for a while trying to find out whether SLO natives are kicking their collective buckets in large numbers or are moving somewhere where there are fewer urinals with national prominence, but I just kept finding pictures of State Finance Director Michael Genest and reminders to flex my power by turning off light switches whenever I leave a room. That doesn’t go over too well here at work, especially when I’m the first one to go home.
 
To be perfectly frank, I don’t care either way. I’m just happy that we’re not on the fast track to become the next LA.
 
The downside to losing people, though, is that the ones who are left behind are particularly cranky. We’re simmering down like an especially bitter and cantankerous reduction sauce—and the hardcore locals are even more worried about the Central Coast getting trashed than I am. They’re also not as attractive as me, but that’s neither here nor there.
 
Katcho Achadjian and his fellow county supervisors have been hearing from a few such constituents lately. (The worried locals, not the ugly ones.) Since November, county planners, leaders, and residents have been discussing a proposed amendment to the Land Use Ordinance that would establish “critical viewsheds� for Highway 1 and the Cayucos Fringe.
 
A viewshed is more like a watershed without the water than it is a cowshed without the cow. As near as I can tell, people who want to establish these “critical viewsheds� basically don’t want any sheds to obstruct their views. They don’t want anything to obstruct their views at all, unless it’s a tree that grew there naturally and is, therefore, part of the view, unlike, say, a chimney or a satellite dish.
 
People who want to be able to build on hilltops because they can afford it—and because the views from there are probably spectacular—argue that they can build houses that blend into the trees and rocks, or at least don’t stick out like a sore Hearst Castle. The view purists aren’t buying it, though, mainly because they can’t afford it themselves. So they’re petitioning the county to implement development standards that protect scenic views, at least in the Adelaida Planning Area, whatever that is.
 
I fooled around on the county’s web site for a while to try to find out whether this area is anywhere near Templeton or Cayucos, but I just kept finding pictures of the County Government Center and charts that explain how county leadership is organized.
 
In my search of cities to the north, however, I happened to click my way onto the Atascadero News web page, where 137 people voted in an online poll about a medical marijuana dispensary. Ninety-four people voted in a poll about traffic enforcement for speeding.
 
I mention this because I visited the site a couple days ago and saw that almost 10,000 people had voted in a poll about whether Atascadero should get a Wal-Mart.
 
Did that many people even vote in the last election up there? Either everyone in the city has something to say about big-box stores, or someone found out that the monitoring system let you click your mouse as many times as you wanted, allowing you to vote early and vote often. Not that it matters. It’s an online poll.
 
We should know. We conduct similar polls on the New Times web site, too, though we never do anything with the results. We do, however, believe in one vote per computer. This is America, after all. ∆

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