Opinion » Commentaries

Nighttime no-no

The SLO City Council needs to get its priorities straight



I urge the San Luis Obispo City Council to oppose any change in city policy that allows hiking in our open spaces after dark. The prohibition on nighttime hiking has been in place since the inception of the city’s open space program and is fundamental to its protection. The city’s standards of environmental protection should not be lowered, especially given the stress on wildlife and habitat resulting from climate change.

Furthermore, every single dollar of grant money, general fund, sales tax, and nonprofit and individual donations devoted to protection of the city’s greenbelt was invested in reliance on the strong policy that open space is closed to recreation at night and that the night sky would be protected for nocturnal wildlife. I know this because I have been personally involved in advocacy for SLO’s open space protection since 1988. Has City Council communicated with all of these granting agencies and donors regarding this proposed, wrong-headed undermining of city open space protection?

Nighttime hiking is fundamentally incompatible with protection of wildlife and the natural habitat. As clearly stated in Appendix C to the Conservation and Open Space Element, where uses conflict, the first priority is “Protection of existing wildlife and natural habitat generally.” The second priority is “Public access and passive recreation.” To allow nighttime hiking would have negative environmental impacts on wildlife and the habitat, as stated in the staff report. Has there been an environmental impact report?

Why is the council even considering this profound policy change? Apparently, a small, private, special interest group has asked council members to cater to their wish to hike open space at night after work—apparently, a higher priority than protection of nocturnal wildlife. Apparently, this group feels entitled to have what they want when they want it, despite the destructive environmental consequences and objections of property owners who do not want strangers wandering near their homes at night. Apparently, this group does not care if nighttime rescues would increase due to nighttime hiking. There are so many alternate ways to exercise after work, none of which undermine the integrity of our open space protection. Why should this group get special treatment? To cater to their wishes would set a dangerous precedent for other groups wanting to violate open space policy.

What’s next? Nighttime trail biking? Hunting in open space?

Councils since the 1990s have been progressively more and more protective of open space. Does this council want to be the first one to lower the level of protection? Pleases join me in urging the City Council to stand up for open space protection and reject the proposal to allow hiking at night.

Former San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx is a fan of protecting the city’s open spaces. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor at letters@newtimesslo.com

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