Cal Poly’s housing plans debated by SLO City Council

Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly should provide incentives for faculty and staff to live in existing neighborhoods — not on campus — to help stabilize areas close to the university, and any new residential neighborhoods it does build should be designated for staff, faculty and family housing, San Luis Obispo leaders said this week.

The San Luis Obispo City Council discussed a dozen comments that Mayor Jan Marx will send in a letter to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong on the university’s Master Plan update, which will guide development and land use on campus for the next 20 years and eventually support a maximum fall enrollment of 25,000 students.

Cal Poly’s future housing plans — specifically the university’s long-term vision to add more student housing and homes for employees or families — were a key issue discussed by council members.

The city will have more opportunities to comment on the university’s plans through the environmental impact report process, but final approval of the Master Plan and adoption of the final environmental report will be considered by the California State University Board of Trustees — not the city.

Cal Poly is in the process of putting together a detailed project description, which will guide development of the environmental report, said Linda Dalton, interim university planning officer.

The council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to give input to Cal Poly for consideration.

Councilman John Ashbaugh, who cast the dissenting vote, thought the council should take a stronger stance on two parts of the plan: a university sewage facility west of California Boulevard, and plans for two new neighborhoods north of Slack Street and one west of Stenner Creek Road.

“I don’t believe any residential neighborhoods on the Cal Poly campus are necessary because we would prefer that Cal Poly staff and faculty be housed in the neighborhoods,” Ashbaugh said.

It would strengthen the neighborhoods to have Cal Poly staff and faculty in (them).

San Luis Obispo Councilman John Ashbaugh

“Stenner Creek Road is so remote from anything,” he added. “I view it as sprawl development. And the other neighborhoods above Slack Street are very steep and highly visible. We’ve traditionally seen that as a valuable open space gateway between the city and the campus corridor.”

Over the years, the character of the neighborhoods surrounding Cal Poly has changed as more homes housing long-term residents have been turned into student rentals, increasing problems with noise, parking and large parties. Local officials have been urging Cal Poly to help reverse the trend; San Luis Obispo’s General Plan calls for the city to encourage Cal Poly to build housing for all of its students.

San Luis Obispo resident Sharon Whitney, speaking on behalf of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, said the group was pleased with the recommendations encouraging faculty to live in neighborhoods adjacent to campus instead of providing them with housing on campus.

“We believe these recommendations would go a long way toward enhancing relations between Cal Poly and (residents),” she said.

Cal Poly’s revised Master Plan update states that more on-campus housing for students is a central goal. Armstrong said in a previous interview that the university aims to house 65 percent of all students on campus. After completion of the new Student Housing South project by fall 2018, which replaces the parking lot at Grand Avenue and Slack Street, Cal Poly will be able to house about 40 percent of its student body on campus.

Marx said Tuesday that an earlier version of the Master Plan had identified more areas for student housing and thought Cal Poly should re-examine those plans.

“I would like to see more student housing on campus and more support from Cal Poly for more ... programs to try to repopulate neighborhoods around Cal Poly with workers,” she said.

65 Percentage of undergraduate students that Cal Poly hopes to one day house on campus

40 Percentage of student body able to be housed on campus once the Student Housing South project is completed for students to occupy starting fall 2018

Council members Carlyn Christianson and Dan Rivoire disagreed with Ashbaugh’s views on the new neighborhoods for employees and possibly grad students or students with families. Christianson said she supports more housing “whenever we can get it.”

Rivoire agreed, adding, “We have roughly 50,000 people commuting to work every day in our community, and providing housing anywhere we can, including on campus, will help address some of those concerns.”

The other concern raised Tuesday centered on a sewage facility that’s shown west of California Boulevard on the Master Plan land-use map. The city recommends Cal Poly further evaluate potential impacts, such as odors and noise, and consider relocating it.

“We’re on the verge of upgrading our wastewater plant, and I would hope that whatever Cal Poly decides to do would be carefully coordinated with our utilities department,” Marx said. “There may be a more cost-effective and less-impactful way of doing it.”

Cynthia Lambert: 781-7929, @ClambertSLO