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Develop differently

Is there a new path forward for Los Robles Del Mar in Pismo Beach?

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I found the article written by Chris McGuinness (“Unbroken ground,” Sept. 3, 2015) about the Los Robles Del Mar (LRDM) housing development project in Pismo Beach to be quite informative and entertaining. I have watched with great interest as this project has lurched from one setback to another, and, after 28 years, has never come close to “breaking ground.” One might think that the project sponsors would begin to suspect that something was wrong with their vision, that perhaps that vision just wasn’t being shared by the citizens of Pismo Beach or by their neighbors, and maybe decide it was time to do a little rethinking.

But some would rather fight than switch, and so the LRDM project sponsors continue to sue, or threaten to sue, the city of Pismo Beach, the San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), and perhaps others in an effort to salvage whatever they can of the project. In this writer’s opinion, the most significant statement in Mr. McGuinness’ article was that the local courts determined that the 2004 development agreement between the LRDM sponsors and the city of Pismo Beach was no longer valid or in effect. This means that the city is no longer bound to support the project in any way. I can understand why, after spending all this time and money, the project sponsors are trying to save the project by litigation, but they might also be well advised to stop throwing good money after bad.

When LRDM completed its environmental impact report, back in 1996, the EIR team identified an “environmentally superior” alternative to the project. That alternative still met many of the goals of the project, but greatly reduced and in many cases eliminated its negative environmental effects. However, neither the project sponsors nor the City Council supported the environmentally superior alternative at that time, and today the project still relies on this document from 1996 as its environmental clearance.

The legal finding that the development agreement is no longer in effect is a huge change; it basically means that there is no project and the sponsors really do need to start over. With a very different City Council in Pismo Beach today than in 1996 and 2004, the project sponsors are resorting to lawsuits rather than admitting failure and starting over.

It seems to me, however, that that is exactly what the project sponsors need to do: admit failure and start over; the site is a logical “rounding out” of the city of Pismo Beach in that area. This time, however, they should do things a little differently, as outlined below. 

When you are ready to try again, engage the community; don’t assume that the citizens are as unaware or uninvolved in city affairs as in 1996 and 2004, because they are not.

Figure out a real supply of “wet” water to satisfy concerns of the city of Pismo Beach, as well as LAFCO and the surrounding rural areas.

Forget about the inland arterial, and respect the wishes of the Mankins family, who wants to preserve the family property.

Work with the homeowners association across Oak Park Drive to purchase an interest in and improve the stormwater detention system there, below the homes on Meadowlark Drive, Robin Circle, and Quail Court, rather than creating one on the LRDM hillsides above them. 

Make the project a transition from the urban residential areas of Pismo Beach to the open, low-density rural areas off Oak Park Drive.

Preserve the oak woodlands on the property as a true open space preserve (don’t try to transplant the trees), and come up with a viable plan for preserving the endangered Pismo clarkia (a native wildflower) populations on site.

To do these things means a smaller project with fewer homes, but it also means less grading, less road construction, less wasted effort trying to transplant mature oak trees, less danger from flooding especially to downhill homes, and less traffic impact. These things all mean that the overall project will cost less to build, cost less to maintain, and have less impact on its neighbors.  Such a revised project might have a reasonable chance of moving forward. Trying to revive the dead horse of the current (1996) project doesn’t seem to be working very well.

Neil Havlik is a resident of San Luis Obispo. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or send a letter to the editor (for publishing!) to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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