Viewpoint

A large natural park in Price Canyon can be a reality

November 15, 2012 

This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

What a difference a few miles — not to mention a few decades — can make.

The 154-acre Los Robles del Mar residential development proposed to be added to the city of Pismo Beach — conceived in the 1970s and ‘80s designed in the ‘90s and trying ever since to find support from a skeptical public — is an outdated project whose traffic impacts, questionable water supply, layout, mass grading and needless destruction of oak woodland require serious reconsideration.

The project offers virtually nothing to the community in the way of amenities, only a rather ordinary looking housing tract based upon mass grading and stair-stepping of homesites covering as much of the property as possible.

However, less than two miles away, the 900-plus acre Spanish Springs project has brought a more progressive and community-oriented, long-range planning concept forward for consideration. Here, a significantly larger project is based on the inclusion of community amenities such as a large area of open space, continued agricultural use of prime soils, a golf course and perhaps most significantly, a privately financed upgrade to the city’s wastewater system to a tertiary treatment level, allowing for the extensive reuse of treated wastewater.

The Spanish Springs project has its issues and its detractors. But it also commits the project sponsors to provide the community with the amenities described above, and the author sees the potential for realization of a longstanding vision of the citizens of San Luis Obispo County connected to the project. That vision is the creation of a major scenic park and open space in Price Canyon.

How can this vision be realized?

The Spanish Springs project proposes some 475 residential units in several clusters that together use about 155 acres of the project site. In addition, there’s a separate 13-acre, 300-unit senior housing site near existing development. Intermixed with this portion of the site will be several areas of open space (primarily oak woodlands), a golf course and a hotel and neighborhoodoriented commercial complex in addition to the residential areas. However, the largest single area of open space and most of the land proposed for retention in agriculture is located in the main canyon of Price Canyon, including areas along Pismo Creek and the ridge to its east. The to-be-developed portions of the property will be created on the lands further east. These areas are largely grassland, although there are scattered areas of oak savanna and oak woodland. The great majority of these oaks will be preserved, but the project anticipates loss of as many as several hundred oaks, primarily in connection with the proposed circulation pattern.

As the Spanish Springs project proposal has moved forward, its sponsors have been willing to modify the project design to accommodate concerns raised by neighbors, other interested parties, and city of Pismo Beach officials and staff. As a result, a number of changes have been made to the project. One significant change has been the relocation of a highly intrusive area of development that would have been surrounded by open space to a less sensitive portion of the site. Instead, this area will be used for environmental mitigation, including oak mitigation, and that part of the site will end up as a restoration area surrounded by natural lands, rather than a development surrounded by, and inimical to, those lands.

This change has sparked the idea that the long-envisioned Price Canyon Park can be realized. The park would include about 300 to 350 acres of land from the Spanish Springs project site, including the aforementioned new mitigation site and surrounding natural lands and extending westward to Price Canyon Road. It would allow for a developed park area along Price Canyon Road, which has been tentatively identified as the Anza-Portola Park in recognition of the Anza Expedition of 1776, which passed through the canyon.

If the adjacent 258 acre Big Bird is also approved by the city of Pismo Beach, another 100 or more acres could be included in the park, which would physically connect it to the existing Price House Historical Park, and would ultimately result in a beautiful, natural, scenic park with active recreation areas, the historic Price House, and miles of hiking, bicycle and bridle trails throughout it, covering 500 acres or more within Price Canyon.

Among the important aspects of the Spanish Springs project are the significant community amenities that would be included, many of them installed at private expense.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the project itself, the significant contribution to community infrastructure, permanent open space and agricultural land conservation, the provision for senior housing and other amenities must be an important item of consideration in the decision-making process.

Neil Havlik is the former natural resources manager for the City of San Luis Obispo.

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