The San Luis Obispo City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to override a ruling by the Airport Land Use Commission, which allows the city to move forward with long-range plans for large residential developments at the city’s southern edge.
New Councilman Dan Rivoire, who was sworn in Dec. 1, decided the city’s path forward by providing the swing vote needed to pass the override.
Rivoire said the benefits of moving ahead with housing and transportation planning outweighed the negatives of potential future litigation and concerns about long-term liability issues.
“I know well the responsibility and consequences of this action,” Rivoire said. “In moving forward with the Land Use and Circulation Element Update, we can move forward with the issues we face today.”
His vote was needed for the city to move forward with updating its General Plan — the city’s blueprint for growth — which will shape development for the next 20 years. The plan envisions new developments in the southern section of the city where the airport is located.
The airport commission believes the city's plan is inconsistent with its own Airport Land Use Plan which, based on noise and safety concerns, limits development near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.
More than 50 people attended the council meeting Tuesday — which was the council’s third attempt to gain the 4-1 vote needed to pass the overrule.
The council’s decision takes land use planning near the airport away from the Airport Land Use Commission and instead puts it in the city’s control.
In the past year the controversial issue has triggered fierce debate on the dais and in the community.
Several large developments that have been proposed, including the 131-acre San Luis Ranch planned for the Dalidio property on Madonna Road and the 150-acre Avila Ranch on the north side of Buckley Road will still have to go before the Airport Land Use Commission for comment but Tuesday’s decision lays the groundwork for the City Council to make the final decision on those projects.
Future challenges lie ahead.
Both the airport commission and the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics have implied that they will take legal action against a City Council decision to overrule the airport commission's findings.
Councilman Dan Carpenter, the sole dissenter, has said he could not support an action that could expose the city to costly litigation.
On Tuesday, the city’s deputy director of long-range planning Kim Murry, told the council that Caltrans has also cautioned that future transportation projects would be complicated by the overrule.
Kevin P. Rice, a San Luis Obispo resident and frequent City Council critic, also plans to launch a referendum against the override.
Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson, who has been resolute on the vote to override, said Tuesday, “If the city does not take action, then inaction becomes its own action and slowly but surely the city we love would die.”
She went on to say that the seven-member Airport Land Use Commission is not the expert in land use near the airport and that concerns about building housing in an area that was unsafe were unfounded.
“This is about noise, not about safety,” Christianson said. “I can’t support irresponsible fear-based decision-making … my decision is based on the future.”