Little develops from San Luis Obispo County land study

San Luis Obispo County supervisors listened to a lengthy and highly detailed report on rural land use and “smart growth” last month, and then they and several others declared it not very useful.

The “value is extremely limited,” said Jerry Bunin about the state-funded $35,000 study conducted by ECO Northwest. Bunin is government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast.

Bunin later said the report takes on value in a larger context, as part of other analyses.

But the Board of Supervisors showed little enthusiasm about ordering more research, as was suggested by Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business of San Luis Obispo County. (COLAB).

“I don’t think it’s worth going too far down the line,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.

Although nobody said the money was poorly spent, neither did they demonstrate enthusiasm for pursuing the particular approach taken by ECO Northwest.

Gibson said the analysis had a narrow focus, “an extensive list of assumptions,” a “highly simplified economic model” and a “narrow range of policy options.”

The intent of the study was to measure the effects on the economy if the government were to limit growth in rural areas.

It is part of a larger series of steps by the Planning and Building Department to implement “smart growth,” a policy that, among other things, seeks to move development closer to urban areas.

Planner Airlin Singewald stressed that any proposed changes were a long way off and would go through extensive public outreach, environmental review, and Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings.

The ECO Northwest study sought to measure the potential effect of restrictions on building in rural areas over 30 years.

Consultant Terry Moore laid out several scenarios that, in a nutshell, said the greater the restrictions, the less growth would occur and the greater the economic impact would be.

However, Gibson and other supervisors took issue with the parameters of the research. It did not, for example, put the numbers in a larger context that would include the cost to government of extending roads, sewer, water and other services, Supervisor Jim Patterson pointed out.

Others said it is not clear where people would go if they could not build in rural areas. Suggestions that they might move to a nearby city, such as Paso Robles, do not take into account neighborhood opposition that routinely springs up, Bunin said.

“Urban residents do not support smart growth,” Bunin said. Those who study these questions must “address the issue of NIMBY” (not in my backyard), he said.

Moore hedged his language in the report and in his presentation to the Board of Supervisors. He conceded that “the future is uncertain,” and he underscored that the scope of his firm’s work was limited by the money it had to work with under the contract.

Supervisors filed the report.