Proposed SLO campus for homeless moves forward after land-use vote

Barraged by calls to show compassion for the homeless, the Airport Land Use Commission on Wednesday afternoon grudgingly allowed an exception to its land-use plan in order to move forward a homeless campus on South Higuera Street.

The commission’s decision to read its rules flexibly rather than rigidly was 6-1, with Vern Dahl the sole dissenting voice.

Scores of people, including many city and county leaders, asked the commission to declare the “unique circumstances” that would allow the proposed 200-bed homeless campus at 3751 S. Higuera St. to move through the city’s planning process despite it being “obviously not consistent with … strict application of land use) policies,” as planner Bill Robeson put it.

The site is in the flight path of planes leaving the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, which brought it under the commission’s jurisdiction.

The focus on the homeless rather than on safety irked several commissioners.

“This commission doesn’t do homeless shelters,” Chairman Roger Oxborrow said, after numerous people stressed how much the campus is needed.

“It’s going to happen,” he said, referring to the potential for a plane crash at the site. Commissioner Gerrit Vanderziel concurred. “Sorry, it’s going to happen,” he said.

Nonetheless, the pair voted with the majority, as did a reluctant Bob Tefft, who said voting "no" could delay a homeless campus for at least five years.

The vote was a tacit concession to Commissioner Tracy DelRio’s contention that the campus would be “good for the entire community” and that the need for it outweighed “the theoretical idea that a plane is going to crash in a one-acre lot.”

The commission vote followed a two-hour hearing at which more than a dozen people argued that the county’s homeless population is growing, and the county must act now.