San Luis Obispo residents to CSU: Cap enrollment at Cal Poly

Students walk through Poly Canyon Village at Cal Poly on May 17, 2011. The complex, constructed in 2007, was the last housing project that Cal Poly built. Some San Luis Obispo residents say that Cal Poly had increased enrollment for years without adding any new dorms.
Students walk through Poly Canyon Village at Cal Poly on May 17, 2011. The complex, constructed in 2007, was the last housing project that Cal Poly built. Some San Luis Obispo residents say that Cal Poly had increased enrollment for years without adding any new dorms. The Tribune

More than 80 San Luis Obispo residents from several neighborhood associations are asking the California State University Board of Trustees to cap the number of students at Cal Poly and build dorms for at least two-thirds of them.

“San Luis Obispo is crumbling under the weight of students,” reads the petition, which contains 84 signatures and was also sent to the San Luis Obispo City Council with a request that council members place it on a future agenda and support the residents’ efforts.

“We are concerned residents who have lived in SLO for decades,” the petition reads. “During this time, we witnessed the transformation of our city from a well-maintained family community to an alcohol-consuming venue for large numbers of students.”

The City Council did not take action to place the petition on an agenda, nor did any members say anything in response to several comments made by residents at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said the university is working diligently to achieve its goal of housing 65 percent of students on campus as soon as possible.

“In fact, in the coming months the university intends to begin the process of developing another student housing complex with the goal of housing all freshmen and sophomores on campus by 2020,” he said in an email.

The petition was signed by city residents and supported by various neighborhood associations: Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, Alta Vista, Monterey Heights and Neighborhoods North of Foothill.

Residents for Quality Neighborhoods member Odile Ayral, who helped spearhead the petition, said she planned to send it to CSU trustees after learning if it might receive support from the City Council — a possibility that appears unlikely.

Toni Molle, CSU director of public affairs, confirmed the CSU had not yet received the petition Friday, but said in an email that “the CSU is open to working with the community leadership where our campuses are based, and we do take into account how student enrollment impacts the community.”

Targets for California resident enrollment per campus are set by the CSU chancellor with input from CSU leaders, Molle said, and then the campus president is responsible for meeting those targets.

For 33 years, the residents’ petition states, former Cal Poly presidents Robert E. Kennedy and Warren J. Baker continued to increase enrollment without building new dorms.

According to Cal Poly, that gap was actually 31 years, from the time the Sierra Madre dorms were built in 1973 to the construction of the Cerro Vista Apartments in 2004. Poly Canyon Village was added in 2007.

Between the 1975-76 and 2003-04 school years, enrollment increased from 15,158 students to 18,303. In fall 2015, there were 7,377 students living in on-campus housing, while enrollment stands at 20,049.

Cal Poly has started construction on the new Student Housing South dorms at Grand Avenue and Slack Street, with 1,475 beds. The university has long-term plans to add more housing on campus.

“Cal Poly has increased enrollment year over year,” resident Carolyn Smith told the City Council. “By the time the dorm is completed in 2018, it will provide very limited relief to on-campus housing needs.”

Over the years, the neighborhoods surrounding the university have slowly transformed from homes occupied by owners to more and more student rentals.

“With insufficient housing, more and more students moved into the city, and as they moved in, long established families — distressed by noise, blight and waves of drunken crowds every weekend — moved out,” the petition reads.

In San Luis Obispo, 60.7 percent of homes are rentals — well above the statewide average of 44.1 percent, according to the most recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The residents want the ratio of Cal Poly students to residents capped at 1 student for every 2.5 residents. This is a modest ratio, they say, when comparing the number of students to residents at other colleges across the state, such as Chico State (5.3 residents per student), Cal State Monterey Bay (4.5 residents per student), Sonoma State University (17.8 residents per student) and Cal Poly Pomona (6.2 residents per student).

The residents also compared two much larger metropolitan areas: Sacramento State (15.4 residents per student) and Long Beach State (12.3 residents to each student). Ayral said she included those two universities because the CSU trustees can be contacted in Sacramento and Long Beach; Gov. Jerry Brown is the designated board president.

Following the residents’ request would reduce the current enrollment at Cal Poly to 18,000 students in 2017, and to 20,800 in 2035 (compared with the 25,000 in the master plan) when San Luis Obispo’s population is expected to grow to about 52,000.

Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong said last week that enrollment is expected to “remain steady” at just under 21,000 for the “next few years.”

The university’s goal is to house 65 percent of students on campus, with the student body ultimately growing to 25,000 in 2035.

Lazier noted that number could only be reached if “all other conditions to accommodate growth are in place.”

“As President Armstrong has said, the university is maintaining a steady state for the next few years because the university is not in a position to support further enrollment growth at this time,” Lazier added.

For proof that San Luis Obispo could fight back, the residents point to a 2008 settlement agreement between the regents of the University of California and UC Santa Cruz with the city and county of Santa Cruz and a group of residents who had sued the university over its anticipated growth.

That agreement allows a 4,500-student population increase, to a total of 19,500 students, through 2020, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The university agreed to house 67 percent of students above its 2008 baseline of 15,000 on campus and pay development and water fees that UC officials previously said they were exempt from, among other concessions, the San Jose Mercury News reported at the time.

“Santa Cruz (has) people who are fighters, so they got what they wanted,” Ayral said. “We have to keep fighting. We cannot let the city go down the drain.”