At the end of Princeton Place, a short street off Highland Drive near Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, there’s a boat parked atop a cement pad beside a driveway. The cement pad looks like it’s part of the driveway, it feels like it’s part of the driveway, but it’s not part of the driveway.
That’s the bottom line of an issue that arose between the city of SLO and the boat’s owner, Joe Gambucci, after he was cited for parking the boat in violation of the city’s Front Yard Parking ordinance in 2014. That ordinance, passed in 2012, requires vehicles be confined to the proper boundaries of a driveway or in appropriate street-side parking spaces.
Because the triangular slab that’s adjacent to Gambucci’s driveway doesn’t fit into the legal definition of a driveway, and because he has no permit on record for the construction of that slab, the city refused to grant Gambucci an exception.
Gambucci first received a notice to correct in May 2014, which he appealed. The city denied that appeal, but Gambucci left the boat there, in the same place it’s been since it was purchased in 1994. Eventually, Gambucci received a $50 citation.
Gambucci appealed that citation to the Planning Commission, which upheld it in May. He then appealed to the City Council, which heard the matter Sept. 1. Throughout that process, city officials said they could not grant a non-conforming use exception because there was no record of approval for the driveway extension.
“The city maintains no record that a parking space was approved at this location,” said Kyle Bell, assistant planner with the community development department, at the Sept. 1 meeting.
Gambucci told the council that because the concrete pad was there when he bought the house and may have been built before permits were required, he should be grandfathered in.
“Given the city’s argument about permit approval,” Gambucci said, “the burden of proof is on the city to approve that at the time of construction, a permit was needed.”
Gambucci added that he exhibits anything but the kind of behavior that laws like the Front Yard Parking ordinance—designed to maintain the character of residential neighborhoods—aim to control.
“My wife and I don’t drag furniture on the roof and drink beer, we don’t hang out in the front lawn of the neighborhood at 2:30 in the morning and serenade the neighborhood,” Gambucci said at the council meeting.
“If you want to say that the boat is a threat to residential neighborhoods, then the whole country is a threat to residential neighborhoods,” Gambucci said, adding that the threat list then includes “boats, Chevrolet, apple pie, and hot dogs.”
But, much to Gambucci’s chagrin, the majority of the council sided with the rules as written.
“I have tremendous respect for the applicant, and I appreciate the important role for owner-occupiers in these high student impacted neighborhoods,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “That’s not we’re looking at.”
“We have to narrowly focus on the statute and the criteria,” Marx said. “I don’t see that we really have the ground for making a one-time exception.”
Marx voted with Councilmembers John Ashbaugh and Carlyn Christianson to deny Gambucci’s appeal. Councilmembers Dan Carpenter and Dan Rivoire dissented.
Gambucci told New Times that he was disappointed with the council’s decision and will attempt to see if he can store the boat in his backyard.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay