Mitchell Park will get a new lot

SLO City Council approves a controversial parking amendment



The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-2 on May 6 to pave a section of Mitchell Park, intending to ease parking at the senior center. The vote came after two-and-a-half hours of grueling public testimony, and against the judgment of three advisory bodies.

The council began the marathon meeting rather unconventionally, by offering five minutes of public comment time to two individuals, who, mayor Dave Romero surmised, best represented the opposing viewpoints on Mitchell Park: Agatha Reardon, president of the Senior Center board, and Stephen Lamb, who has headed up the Save Mitchell Park campaign and recently announced a campaign for the mayoral seat.

The council’s de facto endorsement of a debate during the public comment period set the tone for the meeting; from that moment on, the issue became emotional, and subsequent speakers divided into warring camps, speaking either for the seniors or for the neighborhood, as Councilman Andrew Carter put it.

Parking at the center was identified as a problem 20 years ago. The issue has gone before the council three times in the last 10 years. In 2001, when the council last addressed the center’s parking issue, the matter was shot down, and the 6,000-square-foot section—now slated for paving—was designated for a specialty garden.

The May 6 City Council vote is to amend the master plan for the historic downtown park, changing “specialty garden” into “parking lot.” The plan will create 14 new parking spaces in an area that’s currently “underutilized.” Proponents of the lot acknowledge that the new parking spaces won’t solve the Senior Center problem, but they say it will help.

Cars will enter the lot at Buchon Street, and exit kitty-corner at Santa Rosa. The new driveway will eliminate two street parking spaces at each threshold for a net gain of 10 parking spaces. The estimated cost of the parking lot is $195,000, or about $20,000 per parking space. Thanks in part to Measure Y funds, the city has already found $70,000 to fund the lot.

Since February, the issue has gone before three city advisory bodies, which each rejected the plan—for a combined vote of 20-1. Romero suggested that those votes didn’t count because the advisory committees were influenced by the number of people who showed up to the meetings in opposition to the lot. The mayor wasn’t swayed.

“They are advisory bodies,” Romero said, “but ultimately the buck stops with the City Council.”

At least one member of the Architectural Review Commission did speak during the meeting; Allen Root urged the council to stick with its established goal of removing surface parking lots from the downtown area.

“The master plan is for broad, long-range planning,” Root said, “and the parking lot is a short-term solution.”

The vote breakdown paired Cal Poly professor and former Mayor Allen Settle with council veteran Christine Mulholland in opposition to the amendment. Mayor Romero, who pitched the parking lot in 2001, cast his vote for the parking lot amendment, along with Paul Brown and Andrew Carter.

Brown and Romero seemed all too aware that this is an election year, each noting that their endorsement of the parking lot would likely cost them votes in the coming months, although neither councilman has officially announced his candidacy. Mulholland will be leaving the council, since her term limit is up, so there are a total of three seats up for grabs on the council in November.

“I knew it was a political loser,” Romero said after the vote. “But I feel strongly that it’s the right thing to do.”

The meeting was rounding 11:30 that night when the council finally cast their votes.

Lamb said that he was disappointed that alternatives for parking and transportation weren’t fully explored. Moreover, he said that the political process surrounding the Mitchell Park parking lot was disappointing.

“My decision to run for mayor was based in part on the process that we experienced during this issue,” Lamb said. “Promises were made to a small group and now we’re in a situation where the council’s not talking input or dialogue from the community. It’s really disheartening. People came to the meetings thinking their voices were going to be heard, and it’s so obvious that [the council members’] minds were already made up.”

Contact Staff Writer Kylie Mendonca at

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