SLO’s Become ‘Anymall’ USA

Santa Barbara taking San Luis Obispo’s hints how to improve downtown? That’s a hoot!

San Luis Obispo’s “thriving” downtown’s problems are concealed by a plethora of construction stimulated by the city’s letting developers do what they want and by giving public land to developers for pennies on the dollar. Landlords rent to chains, so downtown’s become Anymall, U.S.A. Rents are so high local businesses can’t afford them, and even popular regional players, like Natural Café, are driven out.

As chains and storefront vacancies proliferate, nobody can claim downtown’s healthy or unique.

Community Development Director Michael Codron’s call for “process improvement” — or “streamlining” — means this: Developers need not be bothered by public hearings, where their projects might be improved or — God forbid! — rejected. Most of what previously required public hearings will henceforth be decided by city staff. The Architectural Review Commission, Tree Committee, and Cultural Heritage Committee will all be emasculated. This is about to be ratified by “progressive” council members put into office by the business establishment and developers.

Codron’s “authentic experiences for residents” are long gone. In place of our historic downtown, we have tall, out-of-context buildings, blocking sun from public spaces and mountain views we’ve cherished. Those views haven’t gone away, we’re told, but through the alchemy of city greed have been transferred from us to upper floor occupants of $300 hotels and $1 million condos for people not from here. Our spectacular ficus trees, which Andres Duany called the best thing downtown, are on the chopping block.

What we do have is a generic play zone for tourists, students, and drunks, and violent crime is up due to the latter.

Is this is the sort of “hint” for improvement Santa Barbara really wants?

Richard Schmidt was an SLO city planning commissioner for eight years.


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