Cal Poly needs more housing

Here's a rendering of the proposed student housing project at Cal Poly.
Here's a rendering of the proposed student housing project at Cal Poly. Courtesy photo

We strongly support the addition of more on-campus housing at Cal Poly. While we have some reservations about locating it at the Grand Avenue entrance, we believe it will work, provided Cal Poly continues efforts to curb binge drinking and other student behaviors that have affected neighborhoods near the university.

We see that, from the university’s perspective, the Grand Avenue site makes sense. It will cost less to build there than at other sites studied; it will allow first-year students to be housed in the same area of campus; and the location is close to existing dining facilities, classrooms and other services.

And frankly, the prime property in question is too valuable a resource to devote to a sprawling surface parking lot. (That said, we strongly urge Cal Poly to add a parking garage large enough to make up for the loss of surface parking.)

On the other hand, it’s understandable that neighbors oppose the project. They’re worried that existing problems with noise, traffic, littering, vandalism, unruly partying and other headaches will be even worse with the addition of the 1,430-freshman dorm in their vicinity. One neighbor pointed out that, because freshmen are too young to get into downtown bars, they wander residential neighborhoods in search of house parties.

We don’t, in any way, mean to push aside such concerns.

But in this age of instant messaging, all it takes is a quick text to alert students to a house party — no wandering necessary. Even if dorms were tucked away on a far corner of campus, that’s not going to prevent some students from finding their way to off-campus parties and disrupting a neighborhood’s peace and quiet.

We believe, though, that the university can minimize those consequences.

Cal Poly’s job, as we see it, is three-fold:

No. 1: Continue efforts already underway to curb excessive drinking and other behaviors that have been such a thorn in the side of neighbors. That includes educating new students on expectations, as well as increasing monitoring and enforcement of rules.

To that end, the university has committed to hiring two additional campus security officers when the dorms are built. Beefing up campus security is all well and good, but we’d also like to see the university fund additional city police officers to patrol neighborhoods adjacent to campus.

No. 2: Do more to encourage students to stay on campus at night and on weekends. How about a movie theater? Late-night eateries? More concerts that appeal to young audiences? An on-campus pub for older students?

No. 3: Better long-term planning and communications. By their own admission, Cal Poly officials did a poor job of keeping city of San Luis Obispo and neighboring residents abreast of plans for anew dorm. Plans were presented as more or less a fait accompli, and though the university did agree to consider other locations for the dorms (beyond several it had considered earlier), that should have occurred on the front end, rather than the back end of planning.

Given that President Jeffrey Armstrong has repeatedly stressed a desire to increase enrollment — along with a stated preference to house students on campus — it’s obvious that the university is going to be adding even more housing.

We strongly urge that the university update its master plan to reflect where those dorms will be located. The city of San Luis Obispo, as well as neighboring residents, should be kept in the loop and given ample opportunities to express concerns and make suggestions.

While some town-gown conflicts are inevitable, we believe that the university could go a long way toward easing tensions by being as transparent as possible about its long-term plans for growth.