Setting the record straight on SLO County: We’re not that small and we’re not “Louie”

Traffic backs up on Highway 101 southbound at the Shell Beach Straits in San Luis Obispo County. The portion of Highway 101 that runs through Santa Clara County was ranked among America’s top 50 most dangerous highways.
Traffic backs up on Highway 101 southbound at the Shell Beach Straits in San Luis Obispo County. The portion of Highway 101 that runs through Santa Clara County was ranked among America’s top 50 most dangerous highways. Tribune file

We’ve all been there. We’re sitting in a restaurant or waiting in line at a movie theater and we can’t help but overhear someone droning on about such-and-such.

And they’re WRONG! Only, we can’t do anything about it, because, well, that would be rude, and we’d look like pompous, eavesdropping know-it-alls.

We keep silent, but we can only take so many mispronunciations and “fake facts” before we break.

So, as a public service, we’ve decided to set the record straight on a dozen of the most common mistakes/misconceptions/wrong-headed conclusions about San Luis Obispo County that we’ve all had to suffer through over the years.

If you’d like to add to the list, drop us a line at letters@thetribunenews.com.

1. It’s so small!

To a visitor from L.A., much of SLO County may seem like Little House on the Prairieville. But with 280,101 residents, we rank 23rd out of 58 California counties in population, according to state Department of Finance estimates for 2017. When it comes to land area, we’re 16th, with 3,298.57 square miles. (Monterey is right behind us, with 3,280.6, and Santa Barbara is 21st, with 2,735.09.)

2. You grew up here? Then you must know everybody!

See No. 1. With 280,101 people spread over 3,298.57 square miles, it’s almost impossible for one person to “know everybody.”

3. SLO County’s way too liberal! Or way too conservative!

Republicans outnumber Democrats, but only slightly. According to the most recent figures from County Elections, 37 percent of registered voters are Republican, 35 percent are Democrats and 21.5 registered as “decline to state.”

In last November’s election, SLO County joined the rest of the state in choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump; she won here by 8 percentage points. In the race for the House of Representatives, Republican Justin Fareed finished first in the county, though Democrat Salud Carbajal won the district. In the state Senate race, Democrat Bill Monning won here, and in the state Assembly contest, Republican Jordan Cunningham came out on top.

SLO County voters said yes to legalizing marijuana and to banning plastic bags and approved every local bond measure except for a half-cent transportation sales tax. It was approved by 66 percent of voters, finishing just shy of the necessary two-thirds (66.6 percent) required for passage.

In other words, we’re too much of a mixed bag to be “way too” left or “way too” right.

4. Wipe off that frown! Oprah says SLO’s the happiest city in America.

Oprah gets credit for christening SLO the happiest town in the whole USA; her show featured a segment on Happy SLO in 2011, and we’ve been milking that title ever since.

But the credit really goes to the author Dan Buettner who wrote, “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” published by National Geographic in 2010. To be honest, we don’t know what “Blue Zones” are, but we do know we’re one of four places in the whole world to be named the happiest cities on Earth, the others being Singapore, Arhus, Denmark and Monterrey, Mexico.

5. Cal Poly is an ag (or engineering) school.

It may be the home of the Mustangs, but Poly’s no one trick pony. Sure, you can learn to grow alfalfa, make cheese (and wine!) and grade sugar beets at Cal Poly, but you can also study philosophy, music, psychology, art and design and lots of other things. In fact, Poly offered 63 different undergrad degrees this year.

Still not convinced?

Here are the top five majors, by enrollment:

▪ Business Administration, 2,392

▪ Mechanical Engineering, 1,202

▪ Biological Sciences, 839

▪ Architecture, 786

▪ Computer Science, 731

6. It’s way too hot to live in Paso Robles!

Tell that to the 31,745 people who live there.

Yes, Paso Robles does get warm. The average highs in July and August are 93, according to U.S. climate data. In San Luis Obispo, the average highs are 77 in July and 80 in August.

But for some perspective, let’s look at Palm Springs, where the average high is 108 in July and 107 in August. And guess what? People live there, too!

7. Nipomo is a city.

Nope. Nipomo flirted with the idea of cityhood several years ago, but it is not a city. Neither is Cambria or Los Osos or Oceano. They are all unincorporated communities. (Oceano is, however, one of the “Five Cities,” as the South County is sometimes collectively known.)

Some people do like to use the term “city” loosely, and that’s OK. Just remember, you cannot fight City Hall in Nipomo. It does not have a mayor, a police chief, a city council or a city hall.

8. There’s hardly any traffic!

If only that were true. Our freeways aren’t as congested as L.A.’s, but if you’re planning to take the 101 from San Luis Obispo to the Five Cities (see No. 7) at around 5 p.m. on a weekday, allow yourself some extra time because you will be sitting in traffic. And if there’s a stalled car or a fender bender on 101? Forget about being even close to on time.

9. The air is so clean!

For the most part, yes. But don’t tell that to residents of the Nipomo Mesa, where air quality standards are frequently violated due to blowing dust and sand particles. Last year, the county Air Pollution Control District issued 20 alerts advising residents to reschedule outdoor activities on the Mesa.

10. See that big “M” on the hill? It’s for the Madonna family.

Nope. The “M” is for Mission College Prep, and the “mountain” it graces is Cerro San Luis, not Madonna Mountain.

11. The Santa Maria Refinery is in Santa Maria.

That would make sense, wouldn’t it? But it’s actually on the Nipomo Mesa. And the Cambria Winery is in Santa Maria. San Luis Reservior is in Merced County.

We could go on, but you get the point, right?

12. I just love San “Louie” Obispo!

Arrrgggg! We can live with “SLO” (in fact, we make liberal use of it in headlines). We can even overlook “SLO Town.”

But trust us on this. If you want to fit in here in Happy Town, you’re going to have to learn to lose the “Louie.”