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The SLO story

A cautionary tale for the current generation of city leaders



Once upon a time, there was a wonderful little city:

Where the air was fresh and clean,

Where there were wonderful views of nearby mountains and hills from nearly everywhere in town,

Where there were beautiful mature trees shading streets and neighborhoods,

Where the sound of birds and other wildlife could be heard day and night,

Where open space trails were safe and wildlife enjoyed a peaceful nighttime repose,

Where everyone knew their neighbors—children went to the same neighborhood schools and street parking was plentiful,

Where driving across town only took a few minutes with little traffic and short stoplights,

Where the sun wasn't blocked by tall buildings while shopping downtown at locally owned stores and the smell of blossoming trees permeated the air,

Where beautiful downtown buildings stood out as an example of wonderful historic architecture,

Where no one had to worry if there was enough water because growth was controlled within its supply and its cost didn't break your budget,

And, most importantly, where resident voices and opinions were valued and respected by their city leaders.

Then, one day, a celebrity came to town and declared this wonderful little city the best place to live in all the world—and things went south from there. Before you could say "oh no," investors from all over the world soon realized that a lot of money could be made in this little city.

So leaders decided that housing for everyone and anyone who wanted to live in this lovely little town needed to be built, no matter what and the shouts of "densify" drowned out residents' cries for help.

Investors from everywhere came; bought up land and housing as rentals for college students, charging outrageous prices; and small accessory dwelling units (even on wheels) were promoted, to make even more money.

Increased traffic and party noise drowned out the sounds of wildlife.

Street parking was lost.

Families felt forced out of their homes—those left behind no longer knew their neighbors because they changed every year.

Area farmland became a boon for developers while leaders streamlined their profits and residents were asked to pay more taxes for infrastructure.

Mature trees were chopped down to make way for huge housing developments and open space protection was sacrificed for night users, despite concerns for wildlife.

Many worried: Is there enough water for the new growth? And watched water rates skyrocket.

Chain stores moved into downtown, forcing mom-and-pop stores out, making room for tall modern buildings that blocked those once beautiful views of mountains and hills. And that sweet smell of blossoming trees downtown? Gone—replaced by the stench of alcohol.

But most troubling of all was that it appeared city leaders no longer really valued resident voices, but instead paid more attention to special interest groups and out-of-towners.

Now this story doesn't have to have a tragic ending. What's left of this wonderful little city can still be saved. All our city leaders have to do is slow down and make cautious decisions, preserving the zoning and other tools that previous leaders put into place to protect the quality of life for residents. But more importantly, give the most weight in their decision making to the voices of existing residents, their constituents, rather than to those who don't live here and want to use this city for profit. Yes, this story can have a happy ending, if our leaders are brave enough to be heroes. It's all up to them. Δ

Carolyn Smith needs a SLO city hero. Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a letter for publication and send it to [email protected].

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