About the Colony

Atascadero's motto: 'We don't need no stinking plan'

Lon Allan
Lon Allan

Someone wrote to the Atascadero News recently to complain about the lack of a downtown plan.

The writer, someone who works downtown, described himself as a “downtown small business employee.”

He was concerned that there doesn’t seem to be any effort on the part of the city to get retail uses into downtown spaces. Instead, these retail spaces are being filled by dentists, automotive uses, financial services and, soon, a martial arts school in the heart of the city’s original business district.

I have complained about this very issue for the past 20 years.

In fact, in the formation of the city’s downtown plan, it calls for retail uses only in the street-level shops. But when some downtown business property owners could only find nonretail renters for their shops, the city said OK and rewrote the ordinance to allow them under special conditions.

Maybe I’m a tad bit cynical, but it seems to me, after years of observation of local government, a “special condition” is whatever local business wants.

I remember when Atascadero no sooner adopted a restriction on metal buildings in the downtown that it turned around and allowed a large one that encroached into the creek reserve in the middle of the downtown.

I’m not really sure what city planning means.

I remember talking to someone in the city many years ago when the center for Albertsons market was being built right next door to the one where Food 4 Less sits. I noticed that there was no connection between the two; you had to drive back onto El Camino Real and go 300 feet and turn into the next commercial center. When I asked the city why the two centers weren’t required to be linked together, I was told, “They didn’t want to.” Seems to me that it would have served the public better if the city had required the connection.

Yes, Atascadero has a downtown plan. It has a sign ordinance, too. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in enforcing either. Even historically, housing was permitted to be built on what was downtown commercial property, forcing the strip-mall look of today.

I’ve said it before, and will say it again:

After almost 50 years of observing and writing about the local scene, I remain convinced “Atascadero” is actually a Spanish phrase meaning, “We don’t need no stinking plan.”