Unique to the city of San Luis Obispo is that every resident—of every income level and every diverse background—is within a 20-minute walk of a protected open space/natural reserve. This public resource makes us different from other communities in which only the economically privileged have access to protected nature, whether in wilderness resorts, ranches, compounds, or second homes on private acreage.
Our city's provision of inclusive, equitable, and free access to unspoiled, protected nature did not happen by accident and must not ever be taken for granted. The city's open space/natural reserves program exists thanks to decades of passionate open space advocacy by residents and support by successive City Councils, which, honoring the people's will, have made open space protection a reality by providing funding for them and enacting visionary policies.
Here are a few reasons that preservation of open space/natural reserves is so valued by residents:
1. Many hundreds of animal and plant species are sheltered by our oak forests, scattered grasslands, shrub-covered slopes, and steep rocky cliffs. The primary purpose of preserving undeveloped land in perpetuity is the protection of wildlife, their habitats, wildlife corridors, and other natural and indigenous cultural resources.
2. The secondary purpose is to provide passive recreation opportunities on carefully sited trails that do not disturb wildlife. Open space is different from parks, which prioritize human recreation.
3. These undeveloped habitats continuously sequester tons of carbon, reducing it from the atmosphere. This regenerative capacity of open space land is a crucial asset in the city's fight against climate change. The more land the city can protect from development, the more carbon will be automatically sequestered.
4. As our city continues to urbanize and become more densely populated, long-term preservation of the open space and protection of viewsheds become increasingly important to nurture human mental and physical health. "Getting away from it all" is especially healing during the pandemic.
5. The city's compact urban form, surrounded by our open space greenbelt, is central to our outstanding quality of life and unique sense of place. It enriches the lives of residents, as well as visitors. For a complete map, including trails, go to the city's website, slocity.org, and click on slocity.maps.arcgis.com/apps/maptour.
Does the community still care about the preservation and maintenance of open space during the COVID era? The answer is decidedly yes. When surveyed recently, as in many years past, city residents have placed permanent protection of open space/natural reserves and environmental conservation very high on the list of community goals, values, and priorities. However, during the Jan. 14 community forum, survey data alone may not be sufficient to persuade the new council to continue funding the program during the 2021-23 budget cycle, given competing requests.
Enthusiastic public support is needed. Now is the time to urge the mayor and council to make preservation of open space/natural reserves a major city budget goal. You can do so via email (email@example.com) before or during the upcoming community forum, to be held virtually on Jan. 14 at 5 pm. Δ
Jan Marx is a San Luis Obispo City Council member. Respond via a letter to the editor emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.