Residents bash proposed Cal Poly dorm at SLO City Council meeting

One person calls the plan a ‘recipe for disaster’; council declines to vote on the issue

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMarch 25, 2014 

Residents at a San Luis Obispo City Council meeting raise their hands in agreement with a speaker criticizing a proposed dormitory complex at Cal Poly.

ANNMARIE CORNEJO — acornejo@thetribunenews.com

Dozens of impassioned San Luis Obispo residents pleaded with the City Council Tuesday night to oppose a freshman dormitory complex planned for the entrance of Cal Poly, but couldn't persuade a council majority to side with them.

The forum was held by the City Council after residents repeatedly petitioned the council to hear their concerns about the project. 

Mayor Jan Marx recused herself from the meeting because she lives near the project.

More than 100 people attended the discussion Tuesday at the Ludwick Community Center, and 40 spoke during public comment in support of building the dorms farther away from neighborhoods. Only one person spoke in favor of the project.

The project, planned for the campus’s Grand Avenue entrance, envisions seven four- to five-story dormitory towers with 1,475 beds. The towers would be oriented around a central greenspace, a parking structure for up to 500 vehicles, and buildings on three sides of the parking structure that could be used as offices, a community lounge, a coffee shop or a welcoming center. 

“This is a recipe for disaster,” said Paul Allen, a 40-year San Luis Obispo resident. “Cal Poly is intimidating families and homeowners and encouraging them to move away. ... This is to the advantage of Cal Poly and at very little expenditure of their own money.”

Residents said they oppose the location of the complex primarily because they fear that increased traffic, noise and rowdy student behavior would disrupt their neighborhoods. 

After hours of public comment, Councilman Dan Carpenter asked the council to consider a resolution opposing the project’s proposed location. 

The meeting quickly eroded into a political tempest. 

“We need to be the leaders you elected us to be,” said Carpenter, to a standing ovation. “We need to send a message to (Cal Poly President Jeffrey) Armstrong, but that will require each of us to set aside and stop protecting our individual relationships with Cal Poly. ... It is time to lead.”

Councilwoman Kathy Smith agreed. “I am in favor of anything that can move that dorm from the location currently being proposed,” Smith said. “I, as a resident in this community, am willing to go to the mat to do whatever it is we have to do to protect our neighborhoods.”

However, council members Carlyn Christianson and John Ashbaugh opposed the idea.

“I am not sure that without more information, information from more people, that this location is hopeless,” Christianson said. “I still believe housing on campus is ultimately the best thing for our city as a whole.”

Ashbaugh said he would be willing to file a lawsuit if an environmental impact report being done on the project was found to be inadequate, but he refused voting in favor of a resolution against the location. 

“The push, shove and belligerent rhetoric on the other side of the dais is disappointing,” Ashbaugh said. 

The city does not have any authority over the project but is working with Cal Poly to discuss mutual goals, according to city staff.  

The comments made at the forum Tuesday night will be forwarded to Cal Poly and the California State University trustees. 

The city is writing a response to the draft environmental report addressing concerns regarding traffic, view of the landscape, police and fire response, and noise.  

The deadline for comments is Monday.

Residents near the project have expressed concerns about it since it was unveiled late last year.

University officials considered and rejected two alternative sites after residents complained. The Grand Avenue location was preferred because of its proximity to dining facilities, other freshman dorms and services.

Armstrong said the university intends to beef up security in the area by hiring two additional patrol officers to address residents’ concerns. 

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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