Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: What is really fair in the Orcutt area annexation?

The idea of making one’s voice heard is a great one. But when the voice drowns out common sense and fairness and relies on misinformation and emotion to be heard, that’s an idea gone bad.

Such is the case with the Orcutt Area Annexation, a 14-year effort to annex 231 acres into the city of San Luis Obispo.

There are 13 property owners within the footprint of the site. Nine of them represent 92.6 percent of the acreage. They have been working for years to bring their land into the city and support the annexation.

The annexation has dozens of benefits, with hiking and biking trails, open space preservation, affordable housing and improved police and fire protection leading the way. All good ideas.

The bad idea: that at the eleventh hour and a year after the city has approved the annexation and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) has given it preliminary approval, four protesting property owners and a handful of renters are seeking to derail our effort. Renters with no vested interest in the property can affect how we longtime landowners proceed.

That’s how the process works, and whether it makes rational sense or not, that process is now allowing this small group of opponents to sabotage a well-thought-out plan. We are extremely dismayed by this turn of events.

We have invested hundreds of hours in public meetings. We have collaborated with city staff and council members to develop a proposal that’s a point of pride for all of us and represents the best in Smart Growth principles and future planning.

After years of public scrutiny, our City Council and LAFCO approved the annexation, and it is in the final stages of the process.

We are not clear why we are now being scuttled by a small but vocal group of opponents who claim the process is unfair and that the city, partnering with “developers,” is threatening to take away property and force them off the land.

These owners and their renters are using sweeping overstatements and misinformation to charge that the annexation will force undue hardship on them. Their claims are misleading and untrue.

The fact is that when one of the loudest protesters bought their property, it was already identified in the city’s General Plan as a future annexation area. The decision to now protest the city-approved annexation is something akin to moving next to an airport and then deciding you don’t like the noise from the planes.

These objections could kill what we believe to be a great plan. Annexing the Orcutt Area is good for San Luis Obispo, offering 80 acres of permanent open space, parkland and ball fields, 7.5 miles of hiking and biking paths and trails and much-needed affordable housing. City public safety and public transportation services will finally serve the area.

This annexation offers a means of preventing sprawl and uneven development — problems that have crept onto our city’s fringe for too many years. Annexation enables our city to more effectively manage environmental impacts and growth and improve transportation and circulation problems.

But perhaps the most important fact of annexation, and one not mentioned by opponents, is that it allows current property owners to control their own future. No one can be forced to change current land use. Neither the city nor neighboring property owners can force owners to do anything with their own individual properties. Renters concerned with displacement have only their landlords to deal with. Individual property rights do not change with annexation, so where is the threat? There is none.

We believe the only threat is to us. We have been paying mortgages and property taxes (in some cases on property owned for more than half a century) and taking care of our land, and now we are being denied the right to make reasonable use of it.

The planning process for the Orcutt Area annexation has been a good one.

There have been dozens of opportunities for comment in this process. As a result of those voices and opinions, a plan that is good for the city, for property owners and renters has emerged.

Let’s hope that fairness and common sense will prevail so that annexation can proceed.

The Phil Gray and Righetti families, Ernest and Julie Jones and Chuck A. Pratt are Orcutt area landowners.