Letter to School Board – Ken Palmer, 2/1/14

2018 Skylark Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Feb. 1, 2014

Trustees
San Luis Coastal Unified School District
1500 Lizzie St.
San Luis Obispo, Ca. 93401

Regarding the school board proposal to develop the Johnson Avenue Property:  Thursday night’s meeting hosted by city staff, while poorly organized and presented , surely kindled a great deal of interest and informed feedback, which no doubt has been shared with board members and staff  by others in attendance.

While I believe the district’s proposal is flawed, it is not my purpose to restate specific objections to the conclusions of the EIR. I am suggesting, however, that the board consider stepping back and taking a fresh look at this whole issue.

Cleary it is in the board’s interest, and is its responsibility, to use all of the assets of the district in a way that results in maximum benefit to classrooms and serves the district’s long term best interests.  In that context, any reasonable person would expect the board to exam all of its real property assets to see that they are put to the best use to meet that end.  That context suggests there are a few basic questions to consider.

Assuming there is the potential for cost-effective return on the development of the property, the primary consideration it seems to me should be:  What sort of development is in the district’s best interest irrespective of any “suggestions” about the specific nature of the project by the “city”, development consultants, or any other individual or entity?

Let me say at this point, I have heard a number of times that “the city” has insisted that this project be “high density” housing.  I have spent a good bit of time trying to track down this rumor.  What I have learned is that the city council, with advice from the planning commission, makes the final decision (absent court challenges) on any project. There is no record that either the planning commission or the city council has told the board or its consultants this project must include high density housing.

Likely, the board made the high density decision based on advice of their consultants, who may have talked to planning staffers, or based it on their interpretation of the scoping meeting with the planning commission, but the fact remains, there has been NO directive to make this project “high density”.  Under any circumstances, the question should be:  Is high density in the district’s long term best interest?

For example, what sort of development would be long term “good neighbors” for the high school and the district offices?   Isn’t it likely that a substantial number of those one and two bedroom “high density” units would in effect be student housing for Cuesta and Poly students?  Is that sort of tenant composition in the district’s best interest?  If that is indeed the case, the obvious and immitigable traffic issues are further exacerbated, (there’s likely to be more than one student in each unit, each with a car making several trips to class, etc.)

At the neighborhood level, I know from my  many  years in education , schools and school  districts strive mightily to be” good neighbors” with their communities and neighborhoods, which of course is both ethical organizational behavior and, for many very practical reasons, just good business.  Wading through the mind-numbing, convoluted   traffic mitigation section of the proposal, leads a reasonable person to only one conclusion:  for a huge investment on the district’s part, traffic at Johnson and Lizzie will remain, not only well beyond the city’s accepted standards,, but simply a nightmare for the neighborhood.

I would also ask the board to consider this whole costly development process.  Typically it’s a private sector land owner who is involved.  A consultant is hired.  The consultant develops a proposal which he/she knows from experience is unrealistic.  That proposal is then rejected by the planning commission.  The consultant develops another proposal (of course the consultant’s meter just keeps running.)  No one gets too excited at the escalating consultant cost which will simply be factored into the costs to the end user (building lots, commercial space etc.).

I know I don’t have to remind you that with this project, however, we are dealing with tax money—district resources.  The end user will pay, but that end user is district classrooms.

I am suggesting you break this cycle now.   Please consider the following, or some variation thereof:

  1. Put this project proposal on hold. Do not spend another dollar on consultants
  2. Put together a working group of community members and district staff and a board member or two
  3. The charge –outline a proposal that is “in the district’s long term best interest “(forget rumors  about what the city wants )
  4. Meet informally with city stake holders from the council and the planning commission to discuss, share and listen—not to seek approval.
  5. Edit the proposal as appropriate, consistent with “in the district’s best interest” standard
  6. Only at this point, hire a consultant to flesh out and format the proposal.
  7. You will now be submitting a proposal to the planning commission and the city council vigorously supported by the advocacy of neighbors and friends of the district.

Over the years, the board has accumulated all of the data (EIR, etc.) needed to facilitate this process, and I don’t see it as necessarily a long or protracted one. What it will be is a process that attends to the district’s interest and needs, and to the community’s concerns, while acknowledging that this is a “public” project and process, not some shopping center development.

By this action, you would demonstrate that you are hearing the legitimate concerns of your constituents, and are willing and able to say as a board: “Wait a minute, let’s go back and reexamine the basic premises of this issue.”  I would urge you not to  be held captive by the inertia of a flawed  set of institutional procedures and a decision making process that does not well serve either the district or the community as a whole.  I believe, should you chose a process such as I propose,  you have the opportunity to change this from an adversarial process, (city, community, school district) to one of shared responsibility, commitment and support.

Respectfully,

Kenneth F. Palmer

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