The San Luis Obispo City Council voted in the early morning hours of July 21 to put a Prado Road extension referendum on the November ballot.
The referendum gives voters the option to stop the city’s plan to extend Prado Road through a portion of the South Hills open space and alongside the Damon-Garcia sports fields. Supporters say the addition of a new road passing within 70 feet of young children playing on the fields is an unnecessary health hazard. Opponents of the initiative say it would throw a wrench into years of city planning and may indefinitely delay development on the south side of the city.
Mila Vujovich-La Barre, one of the authors of the initiative, said it would preserve the integrity of the sports fields, preserve more open space, and encourage smart growth in the city.
The main spokesman of the anti-initiative was Ken Hampian, the recently retired city manager. He advised voters to beware pleas from supporters who seek to “pull emotional triggers” and to examine carefully what the initiative would actually do if passed. He decried the use of “ballot box law” to upend years of planning and a million dollars of staff work.
Hampian set the theme of the initiative’s detractors. Ex-city council members and planning commissioners, business people, chamber of commerce representatives, and even a spokeswoman for Chevron railed against the initiative. According to them, the future of the city is threatened by what many of them called “ballot box planning.”
“We’ve done the planning,” said John Ewan, a former city councilman. “We made the decisions. This is just an effort by a few people who can’t accept what we have done.”
More than 3,200 SLO citizens signed a petition to get the initiative on the ballot.
The irony may be that the very reasons the council and the city’s establishment abhors the initiative may be its most impressive selling point. On the surface, the initiative would simply make the Prado road dead end before it gets to the sports fields and preserve the unfettered link between the Damon-Garcia sports fields and adjacent open space. In reality it would likely do much more.
It would delay and perhaps halt the building of four major development areas, potentially slowing the building of thousands of houses. Some city watchers say San Fernando Valley-type sprawl may be halted in a single instant.
Some of the detractors of the bill simply boil down the issue to what they say is the basic reality of the initiative.
“The citizens don’t want to do this,” said Councilman Allen Settle. “It will delay the east-west [traffic] linkage for decades.”
Earlier in the evening, the council did something surprising: It turned down a bus fare increase. The city staff suggested the fares should be upped to $1.50 from $1.25 and free transfers should be eliminated. The fare increase seemed to be gathering momentum until Councilman Andrew Carter pointed out that last year’s fare increase precipitated a significant drop in ridership, which caused a six percent drop in revenue. This revealing fact turned out to be a game changer. The council voted unanimously to send the fare proposal back to the transportation committee to rethink the bus fare issue.