Pro & Con: Concerns of neighbors need consideration

April 7, 2014 

Zaf Iqbal

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune

The topic: Should Cal Poly build a new freshman dorm on the southeast edge of campus, near residential neighborhoods?

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As a prelude, I would like to say a few words about my association with Cal Poly. I am beholden to Cal Poly, where I served for 27 years, for several reasons. It was my distinct honor to be a tenured full professor and head of the accounting department when I was only 36 years old.

Two years later, I was provided the opportunity to serve as the associate dean of Orfalea College of Business. This august institution of higher education has been good to me for professional career advancement, pursuit of scholarly endeavors and personal growth. It does, and always will, have a special place in my heart.

For the above reasons, it is difficult for me to express an opinion that is contrary to what the university desires for the 1,475-bed freshman dormitory complex. Not surprisingly, neighborhood residents are vehemently opposed to the university’s plan, based on their experience with unacceptable student behavior as succinctly described in The Tribune’s March 30 editorial: “Drunken (late night) parties, loud music, public urinating and vomiting, trespassing, vandalism, reckless driving and illegal parking,” to name a few.

The neighborhood residents also are incensed that they were not given adequate opportunity to provide input during the planning phase. The plan was presented to them as fait accompli. They have concerns about the location of the planned dormitory complex because it would be contiguous to the singlefamily, owner-occupied neighborhoods. The other issues raised are the magnitude of the project and the noncredible environmental impact report; it failed to adequately analyze adverse impact of substantially increased traffic on the neighborhoods.

The main argument made by Cal Poly for favoring the planned site is that it is close to dining and other facilities and to classrooms. Apparently, the critical deciding factor was convenience of the students. As a Wilshire Hospice volunteer, I know a 99-year-old lady from Paso Robles who told me that she and her two sisters had to walk five miles to their school. Cal Poly has a rather compact campus; it would do no harm to the young and healthy students to walk for a few minutes to get access to the facilities. On the contrary, it would be good for them.

It is a truism that a person’s home is his castle. When students disrupt neighborhood residents with boorish and rowdy behavior, they do more than defile and desecrate the residents’ homes; worse, they violate the personal being of the occupants.

The university has announced that it plans to deploy extra security for the proposed dormitory complex in order to mitigate the problems. It is difficult to give any credence to this plan. I joined Cal Poly in the fall quarter of 1979; since then, there have been continual complaints by neighborhood residents about the adverse impact of students’ misconduct on their lives. The university has never been able to solve this perpetual problem. Adding a 1,475-bed dormitory complex, and then claiming that it would not exacerbate the situation because of added security, is ludicrous. Neighborhood residents’ complaints deserve serious consideration because their living environment would further deteriorate if the proposed plan is executed.

I would like to appeal to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong to personally take charge of the project. Where there is awill, there is a way. If it is infeasible to build the proposed dormitory complex at one location, then a viable alternative would be to build several small dormitories at various campus locations. It would not only provide the needed student housing, but would also be aesthetically more attractive.

With vision, creativity, imagination and sincere effort, (almost) any problem can be solved. And Cal Poly has a proven record of facing all challenges successfully.

Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting at Cal Poly's Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofits, including Wilshire Hospice and Caring Callers. He is past president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.

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