The 154-acre Los Robles del Mar residential development proposed to be added to the city of Pismo Beach is an outdated project whose traffic impacts, questionable water supply, layout, mass grading and needless destruction of oak woodland require serious reconsideration. This project is a dinosaur, conceived in the 1980s, designed in the 1990s, and trying ever since to find support with a skeptical public.
The project seeks to jam more than 300 residential units onto the site, which is underlain by one of the most easily eroded soils in the world, the Pismo loamy sand. For more than 100 years, this soil type has been recognized for its erodibility. It was the site of a major restoration project by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to combat poor agricultural practices that had led to massive erosion at that time. Much of the work was done within a mile of the Los Robles del Mar site and some of the CCC’s handiwork is still functioning and visible today in the same small valley.
Because most of the site is sloping, creating roads, house pads and other flat areas requires significant amounts of grading. It is not known just how much grading is needed because a grading plan has never been finalized. This basic flaw extends to other considerations as well: For example, the requirement for mitigation of impacts to rare plants, especially the Pismo clarkia (a local and rare wildflower) is addressed simply by saying there will be a plan to address this impact someday.
The need to address stormwater management is likewise left uncertain, except to suggest a series of pits 20 feet deep with dams along the property’s main drainages, which will still be called “open space.” Whether these basins will be capable of holding up to 5 million gallons of water without failing will remain to be seen until they are tested by a storm.
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The outdated Environmental Impact Report for the project, completed in 1996, stated that up to 80 percent of the oak woodland on the site would be impacted or destroyed by grading, yet it refers to an oak woodland preserve to be created as part of the project. Presumably this will be the part that is left. Amazingly, in counting numbers of trees actually destroyed, the EIR states that more than 170 mature oak trees will be “transplanted,” and thus counts them among those saved! This in a soil that falls apart when it is disturbed!
Community impacts are just as severe and actually unknown in detail. It is not clear where Pismo Beach will get the water for this project, and whether that water can be delivered to the site or even to the city itself. Past proposals to use groundwater have been rejected as unacceptably taking water away from already existing rural and agricultural uses, which are dependent upon that water.
The traffic generated by the project will be in excess of 4,000 trips per day, which will exit the property by one of two roads, turning those roads into major sources of traffic, noise, dust, smog and accident potential. The project proposes to develop right up to the property line of a major agricultural parcel whose owner, former Supervisor Howard Mankins, has repeatedly stated that his family wishes to keep their property in agriculture; despite this, the plan shows a major roadway poised to extend across the Mankins property all the way to Price Canyon Road.
The city of Pismo Beach has doggedly moved forward over the years with this project despite its many drawbacks, design flaws and citizen opposition. The City Council even granted the project a tentative map and development agreement in 2004, thereby taking away from themselves and later City Councils — including the current one — the ability to effect needed changes.
As a result of all of this, the people of the South County are being presented with an out-dated project more akin to LA-type developments of the 1960s than anything that is considered acceptable today.
Planning standards have changed, community standards have changed and what our citizens expect of the building community has changed. This project is a throwback to earlier times that have no place in San Luis Obispo County today.
It is time to finally reject this dinosaur and demand that the developer and city of Pismo Beach go back to the drawing board and come up with a project that represents something that is in harmony with its neighbors, that properly handles stormwater discharge, that provides permanent protection to its rural and agricultural neighbors rather than threatening them with a vehicular Sword of Damocles, and that is more respectful of the fragile soil conditions, oak woodlands, and sensitive plant and wildlife species that exist on the site today.
This can be done, but we must start by discarding this badly designed project and starting anew.
Neil Havlick holds a doctorate in natural resources management. He serves on the board of directors of the Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District.