Lory Frank Farrior is ready to fight.
Sitting on the back porch of her house on a recent hot afternoon, Farrior took a drag from a cigarette and looked out at the field that falls away from the side of her house.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“I have to fight,” she said, looking toward some cattle grazing at the bottom of the hill. Farrior spoke the words calmly—not much louder than a whisper—but something in the way she said it made it clear it would be unwise to cross her. When she’s angry, Farrior looks like actress Diane Lane.
The would-be fighter lives on the corner of Orcutt and Johnson, just outside the official boundary of San Luis Obispo. She’s trying to stop something that traditionally you just can’t beat: City Hall. She wants to stop the city from taking over her property and all the land around it.
San Luis Obispo has big plans for Farrior’s neighborhood. The city and a few developers want to pave over the rolling open fields that surround her and build more than 900 houses and condominiums, a park, a school, and a small mall. The 230.85-acre area is part of the Orcutt Area Specific Plan and is just beyond the southeastern boundary of the city. The city has approved annexing the land.
The main annexation supporters are a few families who own much of the land in the area. If the plan moves ahead and a healing economy brings back the housing market, those families are set to make millions from future development.
Julie Jones owns 11 acres in the Orcutt area and has wanted her land to be part of the city since she bought it the early ’90s. She wants the benefit of municipal services and the chance to subdivide her property and develop it within the city.
“We’ve been working with the city and our neighbors for 14 years,” Jones said. “The good thing about this [plan] is it allows those who want to change to do what they want and lets others stay the same.”
Unfortunately for some, change may come whether they like it or not.
If all goes according to plan, the road in front of Farrior’s house will be significantly widened, infringing on a chunk of her front yard. There are five oak trees in that yard, one with a small swing that Farrior’s youngest daughter liked to ride.
It might seem silly, she admitted, but it’s something that really gets to her.
“When my daughter heard what might be happening, she asked me if they were going to cut down that tree,” Farrior said tearfully. “I told her they’re not going tear down that tree.”
She told the story of her daughter and the tree to the City Council at the beginning of a recent meeting. Though the five council members may disagree on many things, development is not one of them. SLO City Councils usually approve any development that comes before them, and the current council didn’t look pleased that Farrior was trying to stop this one.
Phil Dunsmore, the principle planner for the project, said he was surprised anyone was protesting the annexation.
“This will be good for the city and good for the people who live there,” Dunsmore said.
Farrior has single-handedly started an uprising to put a roadblock in front of a 15-year process that was considered a done deal by city and county bureaucrats. For the first time in its history, the Orcutt development might be slowed down or altogether stopped. If she can get 10 registered voters in the area to protest the project, she can trigger a special election for the neighborhood.
Banners hanging from her fences protest the annexation and advertise meetings so others can fight the project.
The Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, an obscure county organization that determines spheres of influence and has the responsibility of protecting against suburban sprawl, has called a special meeting on July 18 to see if there is enough support for an election—or even an all-out stop to the annexation.
David Church, executive officer of LAFCO, said if Farrior can get enough of her fellow residents to agree with her, she might just get what she wants.
“If 10 out of the 37 registered voters that live there file protests, that would trigger an election,” Church said. “If 19 or more file protest, then the annexation stops.”
Church said he’s only seen a few protests so far, but Farrior said there are more on the way. Eventually the road in front of Farrior’s house will be widened, Church added, though he said he doesn’t think she will lose any of her trees. The project Environmental Impact Report does imply it’s likely she’ll lose much of her yard from an expanded road.
Farrior said the city has never talked to her about losing her property to the road.
“The city had made no attempt to negotiate any dollar value of that at all,” Farrior said. “They tell me, ‘You can develop, you can tear down your house, and you can develop condominiums, and we’ll give you a credit toward your developmental costs.’”
Farrior doesn’t want to develop. She wants to keep her house and property for her kids and their children. If the project goes through, a tall fence and condos will loom over her wall.
It’s about more than her, she said.
“Imagine the traffic, and the competition for a limited amount of jobs,” Farrior said. “And the pollution you’ll get from this.”
Farrior knows what she’s trying to do is a long shot. She feels she has no choice. Her ultimate goal is to eventually get a citywide vote on the project.
“This is too important for just a few voters to vote on,” she said. “A whole city will be changed forever because of this. Shouldn’t the people of San Luis Obispo have a right to choose whether this happens or not?”
Staff Writer Robert A. McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.