Last Tuesday evening, the San Luis Obispo City Council upheld the city’s Architectural Review Committee recommendation and approved the proposed Prefumo Creek Bicycle and Pedestrian path and bridge. This bridge was originally approved by the city in 2006 as part of an agreement with the Windermere Condominiums Homeowners Association.
In 2007, the city received an $800,000 “Safe Routes to School” grant for the bridge and pathway, which will connect the Laguna Middle School and C.L. Smith Elementary School neighborhoods by spanning Prefumo Creek between Vista Lago Park and Oceanaire Drive. It includes a concrete, lighted pathway with fencing along each side using a narrow strip across the north side of the Windermere property.
Twenty people spoke at the council hearing Tuesday. Of these, two-thirds expressed support, including many parents with young children. The city has received support from many organizations and individuals and from the principals of both schools. The main intent is to provide school children a safe walking and bicycle route, avoiding the dangerous traffic on Los Osos Valley Road. We expect that it will be very popular and well-used by people of all ages.
The project is carefully designed to minimize impacts to the Windermere Condominiums, but one resident there opposes the project and appealed the Architectural Review Committee action. This late opposition could jeopardize the entire project.
This week, the Windermere Homeowners Association board is sending a ballot to its members on this project. We respectfully ask that they support it, for the following two reasons:
Reduced Homeowners Association fees: The project was conceived in response to a proposal by the Windermere board in 2006 to convert their unused recreation building into a residential condominium. This building has been boarded up for several years and became a liability due to misuse and vandalism. The Windermere owners have invested heavily in a proposal to convert this “white elephant” to a condominium that could be sold or leased, providing significant revenue to the homeowners association. The loss of this costly on-site recreational facility will be offset by improved access to Vista Lago Park, linked by the new bridge.
Improved property values: The experience of most neighborhoods shows clearly that access to a popular bicycle and pedestrian path enhances home values. Condominium buyers are usually younger households who look for walking and bicycling linkages in their neighborhood. People of all ages appreciate the health benefits of a daily stroll in a safe, well-used, attractive facility away from speeding cars.
Listening to some of the opponents to this project last Tuesday, we heard many arguments that deserve a careful response:
"The project is poorly planned:" This project has been carefully designed over a period of almost five years. The Architectural Review Commission reviewed this project and added conditions to improve its appearance. The City Council requested a wider pedestrian path and additional lighting to enhance safety and convenience.
"The project would disrupt peace and quiet:" The project will provide easy access to one of the city’s “hidden treasures” at Vista Lago Park, increasing the sound of children laughing, quiet conversations between people (and pets) and the “whir” of bicycles, wheelchairs and strollers ... no competition with the sounds of birds along Prefumo Creek.
"The bridge will be a safety hazard for children:" The entire purpose of this project is to improve safety for children traveling to both schools, removing them from the hazardous Los Osos Valley Road. Which path would you choose?
"The gate to Windermere will invite trespassers:" Only Windermere homeowners will have keys to the gate from their property onto the path and bridge.
"The proposed bridge is too large:" The bridge is a single span crossing the creek and provides a safe, sturdy, long-lasting structure that will serve for many years to come. When completed, willows and sycamore will quickly regrow to screen it.
"An alternative path on Los Osos Valley Road could improve safety for school children:" The council directed staff to explore relocating the path and bridge to the existing Los Osos Valley Road right-of-way. This route might marginally improve safety for school children, but it provides no amenity value to the neighborhood, and it would remove landscaping that buffers the neighborhood from the street.
"The project creates a liability for Windermere homeowners:" The city expressly agreed to assume all liability for this project, just as we do for all sidewalks, streets and bike paths.
The Windermere homeowners should keep the good faith commitment made in 2006 by their association and approve this project.
To learn more, please call the City Council office at 781-7114 or visit this Web site: slocity.org/cityclerk/agendas/2010/031610/ph2arcappeal1269vistalagoprefumo.pdf
John Ashbaugh is a San Luis Obispo City Council member, Dan Rivoire is the executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition and Michelle Shoresman is a Laguna Shores homeowner and parent.