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SLO downtown beautification is over budget--again

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Sprucing up downtown San Luis Obispo is getting expensive. The city staff wants the City Council to pony up an additional $174,900 on top of the $611,600 already allocated to “beautify” two blocks of downtown SLO.

Two years ago, the City Council set out to beautify all of the downtown by installing trendy “mission-style” sidewalks, and installing upgraded trashcans along with new signs and newspaper racks. Despite criticism by many residents who said the project was an extravagant luxury that would only benefit a few at the same time city services were being cut, the council pressed on.

In 2010, the council reduced the project to three blocks, but the contractor’s bid came in over budget at $898,009, more than $258,000 above the allocated amount.

In an effort to reduce costs, the council shrunk the project in March to only two blocks of Higuera Street between Morro and Garden Street. This time, the project’s cost is 13 percent more than the city estimated.

Staffers have underestimated the cost of projects before. In July, they told the City Council charging for Sunday parking would cost $11,000 to implement, but the cost eventually grew to $102,500.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith seems displeased by the latest development and said in a Downtown Association newsletter, “the bad news on the project bids is going to call for some serious re-thinking.”

“Can I fathom what direction council will take with the increased dollars needed?” she wrote. “I have some thoughts, as I’m sure have other council members, but I freely acknowledge that such ‘mishaps’ in the field of city government are frustrating and difficult to comprehend. … If you have ideas on options for the investment of the dollars available ($611,000), I encourage your appearance at the Nov. 15 council meeting to share your thoughts.”

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