Cambrian: Opinion

Will growth bring more money, or more headaches to Cambria?

Marilyn Kirkey writes that growth could increase traffic on Main Street and streets that feed it out of Cambria’s neighborhoods.
Marilyn Kirkey writes that growth could increase traffic on Main Street and streets that feed it out of Cambria’s neighborhoods.

Of all the places you can live in the world, why did you choose Cambria? What is it about Cambria that keeps you here? Or, why might you consider leaving?

For my husband and I, the open space, clean air, light traffic, wildlife, scenic beauty and small town made Cambria an easy choice. We left the hustle-bustle, heavy traffic and overcrowding in Orange County to live in Cambria.

Now, change is afoot, as it is in so many similar places. In his book “Better Not Bigger,” Eben Fodor discusses the true costs of development in all kinds of communities. I was surprised to learn that “development does not cover new public cost; that is, it brings in less revenue for local governments than the price of servicing it.” Growth negatively impacts open space and the wildlife that requires it to survive, creating increased traffic and additional burdens on infrastructure.

Do we really need to grow with more houses throughout our forest and more building along an already clogged Main Street? If so, by how much? And if so, how will we grow? There are more than 660 lots on the CCSD water meter waitlist, to which I am told we have no legal obligation, yet we still do not have adequate infrastructure, including water, to allow development.

The Sustainable Water Facility we are paying for has essentially been idle since it was built in 2014 and faces major issues, especially relating to brine waste. Further, about one-third of those lots are owned by current residents. The CCSD board, with the exception of Directors Harry Farmer and, now, Aaron Wharton, saddled Cambria with tremendous debt to produce more water for growth. But simply adding houses and commercial buildings to try to offset the SWF costs makes no sense without careful consideration and planning for future impacts on our community. Importantly, once you build it, it’s there forever and the open space is gone forever.

Another major concern is our road system. Many of our residential areas have only one or two ways to access Main Street and/or Highway 1. In my neighborhood, we must either take Ardath or Burton to Highway 1. The Park Hill area has only Windsor. Highway 1 is a single lane north and a single lane south, with no plans for to make it any wider, so our path out of town is restricting. Imagine panicked people trying to get out of Cambria all at once on our limited road system. Having gone through a wildfire years ago, I know how fast fire. I had to leave in the dark at 4 a.m. in thick smoke, and it is beyond scary.

The critical issue before all Cambrians is: What do we want to preserve in our community, with future growth or not? Fodor puts forth the following: “What important characteristics and qualities of your community are threatened by growth?” What standards are we willing to establish to protect Cambria from these undesirable impacts? By setting these standards, Cambrians can say “we are not willing to sacrifice our clean air, clean water or abundant natural resources to growth.” I would add safety to this equation should all, or part of, the town have to evacuate due to fire or other disaster.

Many communities across America have made purposeful strides in preserving open space and severely limiting or stopping growth, including Lake Oswego, Oregon; Pittsford, New York; Jacksonville, Oregon; and Closter, New Jersey. They are not saying, “You can’t come here.” Rather, they are saying you join their communities by purchasing a home on the market. You cannot construct a new dwelling, but you can purchase an existing home and, if you desire, remodel/update it to make it “yours”.

So, what is it about Cambria for you that makes you want to live here? What do you envision for its future? Food for thought.

Marilyn Kirkey, a 14-year-resident of Cambria, holds a degree in business administration and is a manager for a large specialty medical practice in San Luis Obispo.