Neighboring residents are understandably concerned about Cal Poly's plans to build a complex of new dorms on the southeast edge of campus. After all, Cal Poly neighbors have a long history of putting up with loutish, inconsiderate behavior: drunken parties; loud music; public urinating and vomiting; trespassing; vandalism; reckless driving; illegal parking; the list goes on.
To their credit, both the university and the city have made progress in trying to get a better handle on the situation through education campaigns; ordinances cracking down on loud parties and underage drinking; and strict regulation of fraternity and sorority parties, among others.
Neighbors, though, are tired of promises and platitudes; they want as much of a buffer as possible between themselves and the new dorms, which will house 1,324 freshmen.
They make a good case. However, Cal Poly has a number of interests to consider, and student success is - and should be - chief among them. The university believes the surface parking area at the southeast corner of the campus is the best location for freshman dorms. It's close to dining facilities, classrooms and other facilities. It's less costly to build there than at other locations studied. And it's a more efficient use of space than a huge surface parking lot. (Indeed, the current master plan - which runs from 2001 through 2020 - didn't envision maintaining the space for parking; it allows for recreation, athletics and P.E. facilities.)
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For those reasons, we support Cal Poly's proposal, provided the university continues efforts to curb the town-gown conflicts that have made living near the university such a frustrating experience.
We still don't expect neighbors to support the idea of building dorms on the edge of the campus. But can we at least all get on the same page as to what this will mean for the residents of San Luis Obispo?
Over the past several days, we've heard claims that SLO taxpayers will be on the hook for everything from buying a new ladder truck for the Fire Department to access the upper stories of the new dorms (not true) to reconfiguring Highway 101 ramps (also not true.)
Here's what we learned:
According to Assistant City Manager Michael Codron, the Fire Department already has a 100-foot ladder truck capable of capable of accessing tall buildings currently on the Cal Poly campus.
"The city has provided comments to Cal Poly regarding the preliminary design of the proposed dorms, and will continue to work with Cal Poly to ensure that the new buildings can be served by the city’s ladder truck," he wrote in an email to The Tribune.
As to traffic improvements:
"There are locations, such as Foothill at Santa Rosa, California at Taft and California at Highway 101, where the city has identified reasonable ways for Cal Poly to make immediate improvements, and participate in future capital improvement projects, to address the traffic generated by additional housing on campus. There are also intersections that Cal Poly did not study in its draft EIR – such as the Slack and Grand intersection - that we believe should be studied to ensure these locations continue to function properly and that traffic congestion impacts are addressed," Codron wrote.
It's also important to note that the city has several service agreements with Cal Poly, whereby the city is reimbursed for services provided, such as transportation, fire and emergency medical aid.
The city also is having "conversations" with Cal Poly about how to provide for additional police patrols in residential neighborhoods near the campus, possibly by having campus police to patrol there.
That's good to know.
Cal Poly is an invaluable member of the community, but it should not get a free pass. The city has a long-standing philosophy of requiring development to pay its own way, and Cal Poly is no exception.
In the coming weeks, there will likely be more debate about the Cal Poly dorm proposal. There are many issues to discuss, but claims that city taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for expensive infrastructure projects and additional police are untrue, and should be off the table.