It shouldn’t take 25 years to widen Tank Farm Road

Overall, Chevron’s proposal for developing the area is sound

letters@thetribunenews.comSeptember 8, 2013 

Circular berms mark the locations of former tanks on the Chevron Tank Farm property, shown in 2006.

JAYSON MELLOM — jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Annexation of Chevron’s 332-acre Tank Farm property — the site of a massive explosion and oil fire in 1926 — is a logical step for the city of San Luis Obispo.

The area is immediately adjacent to the city’s southern boundary, and we believe any growth that occurs there should happen under the city’s watch, especially since Tank Farm Road is one of the city’s major east-west arterials. (More on that later.)

Along with annexation, the city will be considering a multifaceted project:

Chevron proposes to deal with remaining oil contamination by excavating some areas and capping others. As long as the Regional Water Quality Control Board and other regulatory agencies are satisfied, we agree that the combination of capping and excavation makes far more sense than ripping up the entire site.

We also believe Chevron’s plan to keep most of the area as open space, while dedicating 53 acres to business and commercial development, is advantageous to the city. It will guarantee protection of sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat and allow public access to at least some of the open space.

The limited commercial and business development — most will be clustered on the northeast corner of the property — will provide jobs and tax revenue, while providing room for the city to grow.

Keep in mind, too, that Chevron will be required to pay a substantial sum — the most recent estimate was $6.3 million — in infrastructure costs for road widening and other work.

Here’s our take: We support the plan in concept, with one major caveat. Under the proposal, Tank Farm Road would be widened to four lanes in phases. That could take as long as 25 years to complete.

That’s not acceptable. The road already is congested; the intersection of Tank Farm Road and Broad Street is rated a “D” in terms of level of service — the lowest rating the city considers acceptable. South Higuera Street and Tank Farm Road is rated a “C.”

And now we’re talking about widening it in piecemeal fashion?

That’s only going to create more bottlenecks.

The City Council must insist on road improvements early on in the project. That means full widening of Tank Farm Road — four lanes for traffic, plus bike lanes.

That may require some additional financial concessions on the part of the city, beyond the deferral of development fees that has already been discussed.

We urge the City Council to be open to that. After all, congestion on Tank Farm — like many traffic problems in the city — has been building up over many years.

While it’s tempting to look to a large company like Chevron to fix the problem, California law requires a nexus between the impacts of a project and the requirements imposed on an applicant. In other words, Chevron cannot be expected to pay more than its fair share.

That said, we urge Chevron and the city to recognize the benefits of improving Tank Farm Road, and to do all in their power to get the widening done sooner, rather than later.

We urge the city to give the annexation and development plan its blessing — as long as we don’t have to wait 25 years for Tank Farm Road to be fully improved.

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