I was interested reading Bob Dunning's give and take in last night's column with Sue at sbcglobal.net on San Luis Obispo and the San Luis Obispo downtown. I grew up in San Luis Obispo and attended Cal Poly for undergraduate school before moving to Davis in 1996 with a brief stop in Washington D.C. in between. My folks still largely live in San Luis Obispo, so I keep up somewhat with the local politics down there.
NEWS FROM THE SOUTH … "My son is living in San Luis Obispo this year," began the guided missive from Sue at sbcglobal.net … "This is the town we should strive to be." … Sue, please, there are children present … San Luis Obispo is a state school … you know, like Sac State …I somewhat disagree with Dunning and Sue's takes on the San Luis Obispo Downtown. For one thing, there is no big box store in Downtown San Luis Obispo. The development that would be closest to such a store, would be a complex very similar to Davis' Borders complex where there is a Barnes and Noble instead of a Borders, a Ben and Jerry's, a Starbucks and a movie theater. All of which Davis has already in the downtown.
"They have plenty of parking structures in all corners of their downtown, a trolley-looking bus to move folks around if they so desire and they have turned many of their alley ways into beautiful gardens that give patrons a porch to sit on rather than those we tend to make within parking lots." …
Yes, Sue, downtown San Luis is lovely, but the attitude in this town has always been that others should be copying us, not the other way around … "San Luis has also attracted many top retail stores to pull people into downtown and these stores are generally all open until 8 p.m. or later." … plus, there's the Madonna Inn to pull in all those gawking tourists …
"How cool would it be on a hot summer night to go downtown in the evening, shop and sit in a beautiful garden out the back door of one of our G Street or F Street businesses to enjoy a meal or dessert? I think our local small businesses are missing the point. In San Luis Obispo, the small businesses make it because of the larger chain businesses and their efforts to make beautiful garden walks and patios between buildings and in alleyways. "You don't have to look far to realize that our nicest (cleanest and best maintained) plaza, the Borders complex, was given to us via a large retailer." … indeed … instead of opposing Target, our local merchants you should tried to bring it downtown … another opportunity missed …
But the big point that jumped out at me in Dunning's column was his closing remark on Target. "instead of opposing Target, our local merchants you should tried to bring it downtown … another opportunity missed …" As if that somehow followed based on the analogy to San Luis Obispo.
That is certainly not what San Luis Obispo did. San Luis Obispo did not bring big box retail into the downtown. Moreover many of the signature local businesses that were in downtown San Luis Obispo when I was growing up are gone and they have been replaced to some extent by more chain stores that are less likely to be locally owned.
The biggest irony of course is that San Luis Obispo has gone through a fight, centering around Target, that would remind many people of Davis.
There was a property that the San Luis Obispo city council had agreed to annex and approve for development that was just outside of the city limits. They approved a development that would bring in a Target, a Lowe's, and an Old Navy. Now there was much made about the fact that in Davis, Target had to face an election for the first time, but that was a bit misleading, because in April of 2005, San Luis Obispo had a very similar election, albeit not directly on the issue of Target, but rather whether the city should allow the proposed Marketplace Development on the Dalidio Property.
That was placed on the ballot by activists for vote in April of 2005, and like in Davis last year, it was a very close election and unlike in Davis, the proposal was defeated by a 51-49 margin.
However, the developer was not dissuaded. Unlike the city of Davis, there is no county-city agreement on land-use authority outside of city limits but within the agreed upon sphere of influence. And the county placed on the ballot last fall, a county-wide measure authorizing the development of the property. With the entire county able to vote and the county being considerably more conservative than the city of San Luis Obispo, the measure passed overwhelming.
Of course that is not the end of the story. There has been a lawsuit filed on a number of grounds to prevent the construction of the development and it is now tied up in court with another hearing coming in the near future.
The situation in San Luis Obispo is remarkably similar to the types of things that we have seen in Davis. In fact, it is a bit more extreme, for this would be the equivalent of the voters of Davis voting down the Covell Village development and the Yolo County approving it. Unfortunately, that may not be so far-fetched as the County of Yolo has approved placing the Covell Property in a "joint study area" with the city of Davis. Fortunately, Davis is protected by their hard fought pass-through agreement whereas San Luis Obispo is not.
So I wonder how many people would rather have as Mr. Dunning suggests?
---Doug Paul Davis reporting