Don’t dismiss us as NIMBYs because we oppose the Anholm Bikeway

Bicycle safety is a big issue in San Luis Obispo; a letter writer who recently compared a proposed bikeway to “urban rape” has ignited controversy.
Bicycle safety is a big issue in San Luis Obispo; a letter writer who recently compared a proposed bikeway to “urban rape” has ignited controversy. The Tribune

I appreciate the Viewpoint written by Chenin Otto. It clearly states the opinion that those in opposition to the Anholm Bikeway project all think alike: are old, are totally resistant to change, and most of all have little to no empathy about bike safety or other city development issues under plan/implementation.

This is a request to those who find C. Otto’s opinions to be spot on to take a moment to explore a broader perspective of the concerns of those who are dismissed as NIMBYS. This is a request to all to use our collective passion to create change that honors established norms while creatively developing solutions to current demands for change.

There is a neighborhood perspective that deserves airing. Months ago Anholm residents were sent a survey from the city asking households to rank from options provided. Presented were proposals to modify street use in the Anholm District with bike paths and traffic-calming devices. This was our first notification, and it was evident that residents directly affected were the last to learn of months of city planning in response to the proposals from the Bike Coalition.

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One survey option was “none of the above.” This was the majority (well over 50 percent ) choice of Anholm residents. However, when attending the first council meeting, it was obvious that our majority vote carried no weight. From that night on, we have been defined as the “opposition.” We were never equal partners at the planning table.

At the first council meeting staff presented research, including computer driven images, stats and financial figures for this plan (thousands spent for staff planning) and what the actual “construction” would cost. In response, the allowed public comment time can only reflect brief reactions. These public meetings are not adequate forums for discussion, learning and understanding amongst city residents.

In addition to the bike safety issue there were three neighborhood housing/commercial projects put forth. These generated many concerns, most specifically a huge increase in population density, four-story buildings, minimal on-site parking and added commercial use where many vacant business fronts currently exist.

Everyone understands that change is essential to life; 22 Chorro will open for residents in a couple of weeks and 790 Foothill is fully planned and awaiting final approval. Large trees have been removed on the Palomar site.

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The repeated request to the city: “Slow down! “ Let 22 Chorro be open for a year and see the impact on traffic, parking and safety. Let actual information vs. computer simulations guide decisions as to the next appropriate steps regarding bike paths and density. Foothill commercial areas have seen many changes with varying results, many positive, so change is not foreign to this part of town. Residents have decades of knowledge that deserve an ongoing, equal place at the table.

What I hear form supporters of the bike path and massive housing structures: Children need safe paths for biking across town to chosen schools; increased ridership is a necessity for a healthy populace; the oversized housing units are acceptable because of state law; there is no refusal possible.

What I hear from the “NIMBYS”: 1) Bike/pedestrian issues are real and require significant education for bicyclists and drivers, as well as some street modifications to befit the objectives of safety. 2) Low-income housing and affordable housing are absolutely in much need in San Luis Obispo. It is the size and density of these developments that have aroused such negativity. Also, there are deep concerns about impact on natural resources, density and safety. These are broader than just quality of life issues.

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Dismissing the concerns as just rants of rude, selfish people is an insult to the viability and necessity of the continued development of a healthy community throughout the city and county. All SLO residents, current and future, are affected.

Do we really believe we have little in common except zip codes? Let’s find the courage to step back onto the common ground of our passion for this gem we call home. It’s definitely time to pull up the chairs at one table and start exploring, listening and working together. This change is too big to be created in this mire of negativity and hostility.

Crissa Hewitt is professor emeritus, Cal Poly Art and Design Department. Throughout her 41 years in San Luis Obispo, she has served her community on several nonprofit boards. For 19 years she has co-hosted Ears On Art, a twice monthly interview program on KCBX.