Opinion » Commentaries

Gurnee on city growth

I am neither pro-developer nor anti-growth



In running for mayor, it's fascinating to see what positions have been falsely attributed to me on my stance on growth. On one hand, I've often been called a "developer" when the only thing I've ever "developed" is my own home in the early 1980s. On the other, I've been called "no growth" by many in the development industry. Both are false narratives, and I'm here to set the record straight.

I'm for responsible and sensible growth in keeping with our small-town character and the abilities of our resources and infrastructure needed to sustain it. I'm against growth that would obliterate that character, like 75-foot-tall buildings in our downtown or those projects that exploit our community such as those occurring on Foothill Boulevard.

To better illustrate my position on growth and development, I offer the following:

1. The biggest issue we face is the state's recent intrusion into local control. It's a dangerous and autocratic move against our community and all cities and towns in California. It essentially mandates our city to approve projects involving a tiny fraction of affordable housing, regardless of the consequences for our resources, infrastructure, or the livability of our neighborhoods. Rather than meekly surrendering to this new law as our current council has done, we need to join in with other cities to fight back against these draconian measures and take back our rights to self-determination through a statewide initiative.

2. Because of these state laws, the 75-foot-tall buildings our council voted to approve will become the norm rather than the exception. Such buildings would dwarf not only our downtown, but the two more than 50-foot-tall hotel buildings being developed in our downtown by more than 20 feet! And this in a town where our streets and infrastructure were developed for what is essentially a two- to three-story downtown. Who will be responsible for rebuilding that infrastructure or paying for the additional firefighting equipment and personnel needed to support such tall buildings?

3. An example of what I support in downtown development that would be in character with our community is the Bank of America building under construction at the corner of Higuera and Santa Rosa. It fits. It's a handsome brick building consistent with the ambiance and scale of our downtown, and the project being developed next to it will only further complement the attributes of the downtown San Luis Obispo we know and love.

4. The large development projects such as those approved by this and previous City Councils—San Luis Ranch, Avila Ranch, and the Righetti project—are the biggest component of the approximately 2,000 houses that are in the pipeline waiting to be built. The horse is out of the barn on these projects. There is no way to un-ring that bell, even if we wanted to. As mayor, I will use my extensive experience as a planner and urban designer to make sure these projects happen the best way that they can.

5. As for housing that is attainable to workers employed within the city of San Luis Obispo, some of that housing will be contained within some of these larger projects. Whether such housing will be rentals or for purchase, we need to ensure that that this source of "workforce housing" remains accessible and affordable to local workers in our city, both now and well into the future.

6. The use of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), tiny homes, and tiny homes on wheels has recently been on the minds of our community. But rather than have them proliferate all over our community without vision or guidance, we need to consider using them in the right places and under the right circumstances:

• ADUs should only be allowed on owner-occupied properties subject to the size and other prescriptions of our codes.

• Tiny homes would best be clustered in appropriate locations with adequate support facilities needed to serve them. But they should not be considered as an answer to our housing affordability crisis. One on South Street just went up on Craigslist for $1,900 permonth! However, tiny homes might be a good solution in addressing our homeless needs by placing them in an appropriate location where they can have access to the services they need.

• Tiny homes on wheels are another thing entirely. They should not be allowed in our established residential neighborhoods, nor should they be allowed to be jerry-built without regard to building codes or energy conservation. If they can address these concerns, perhaps some of our larger employers could allow them in their parking lots in appropriate locations so those who reside in them wouldn't have to commute to work.

7. As for the elephant in the room, we need to develop a much more constructive working relationship with Cal Poly, the biggest generator of housing demand in our community. As mayor, I would like to jointly sponsor a funded design competition with Cal Poly to design a new village on the northwestern quadrant of campus away from Highway 1 and the agricultural operations active on campus, provided Cal Poly can find the water supplies needed to sustain such a village. Should Cal Poly eventually require second- and third-year students to reside on campus as a condition to registering for classes, think about the amount of our existing housing stock that could be freed up for working people and the middle class. But if such an idea is to be workable, the design of that new village would have to be a place where students and faculty would want to live with a broad range of housing types with recreation and neighborhood support amenities.

Now does this sound like I'm "no growth"? Or like I'm a "deep pocket developer"? I am neither! But I do have the experience, knowledge, vision, and heart to help our city grow the best way it can. Δ

T. Keith Gurnee is running for San Luis Obispo city mayor. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

Add a comment