Cambrian: Opinion

From Hwy. 1 to a high school pool, take your time, get it right and don’t get burned

An artist’s rendering shows where a group has proposed putting a swimming pool at Coast Union High School.
An artist’s rendering shows where a group has proposed putting a swimming pool at Coast Union High School.

Caltrans is taking its time sizing up the Mud Creek Slide before taking any steps toward restoring Highway 1 where the road has disappeared south of Gorda.

“By taking time now, we hope to be able to save time later,” said Susana Cruz, public information officer for Caltrans District 5. “We’re taking our time to make all the assessments necessary.”

Considering the stakes, that’s a good idea. Slides have happened before along that stretch of coastal highway, and they’re bound to happen again.

As the saying goes, it’s better safe than sorry. It really is.

In a society that thinks in 140-character messages and 30-second sound bites, the temptation is to do just the opposite — especially when faced with government gridlock and bureaucracy that sometimes seems to move more slowly than plate tectonics.

In our frustration, we elect entertainers-turned-politicians who promise to “drain the swamp” and “get things done” quickly … only to find that it’s a lot more complicated than saying, “Hasta la vista, baby” or “You’re fired!”

Ah, those pesky checks and balances.

One reason people get so upset at journalists and citizens with a penchant for questioning things is that those questions can throw inconvenient monkey wrenches into cherished projects their supporters wish had been done yesterday.

Donald Trump, who wanted to get a health care bill passed during the first 100 days of his presidency, lamented that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Actually, plenty of people knew that. Trump just wasn’t among them.

The longer something takes, the more impatient people get. Health care reform is one example. But if something takes a long time, that often means it needs a long time to make sure it’s done right. What if Caltrans just plowed through the Mud Creek Slide and laid down some asphalt without doing all the necessary geological testing in advance? Would you feel safe driving on such a road?

The same principle holds for Cambria’s water project. The community has been trying for years to come up with a supplemental source of water, so when the services district finally committed to a course of action known as the Emergency Water Project (now the Sustainable Water Facility), the understandable, human instinct was to go full speed ahead and get ’er done — with the prolonged drought adding to the sense of urgency.

But the prudent course in such situations is often to do just the opposite: The more complex the project, the more you’ve got to be sure you’re doing it right, regardless of how long you’ve waited to get there. Things such as environmental impacts and cost analyses have to be done thoroughly.

The same goes for a potential new ambulance station — even though the present one has been in use for 60 years.

Another case in point: a proposal to build a swimming pool at Coast Union High School. This idea has been around a long time, too, and few would say it’s a bad one.

A group of supporters put together a well-thought-out proposal and submitted it to the school board, which was asked to consider allowing such a pool to be built at the high school.

As it turns out, however, the land in question appears to have been the site of a Chumash village. In a letter to The Cambrian, local historian Dawn Dunlap wrote that a contractor digging a ditch at the high school in 1999 unearthed a “massive Chumash burial site.”

She added that Father Juan Crespi used his diary to make a record of Don Gaspar de Portola’s visits to the village on Sept. 10 and Dec. 24, 1769.

It’s a case of a great idea that should be explored, but explored fully. The arguments made by pool supporters are good ones: It could serve as a rehabilitation facility as well as a competitive venue, and it’s just common sense that a beach community ought to have a year-round pool where kids can learn how to swim.

That pool might have to be built somewhere else, but here’s hoping that, if the high school site doesn’t work out, supporters don’t become discouraged and say “hasta la vista, baby” to their vision.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; an effective health-care plan won’t be, either. Nor will Highway 1 or a swimming pool. They’re all worthy projects, which is all the more reason to take the time necessary to be sure they’re done right.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune