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Can there be too many student-populated neighborhoods in a college town?
For San Luis Obispo city council member John Ashbaugh, the answer is “yes.”
Over the years, the houses surrounding campus have mostly been rented out to students instead of being owned and occupied by families, Ashbaugh said.
“We find that the character of the neighborhood very much changes when they become occupied primarily by students,” Ashbaugh said.
To fix this, Ashbaugh is trying to implement a program to increase the amount of permanent household owners in the Cal Poly area, leveling out the student and permanent resident populations.
The plan would work like this: The city would buy homes as they come up on the market and sell them back to people who agree to live in them as permanent owners, not renters.
Ashbaugh didn’t think the program would have any large costs. According to him, it wouldn’t cost much because the city would both buy and sell the homes, making it a self-funded system.
Ashbaugh’s plan is one of many city council and others have come up with to help balance student and permanent resident populations in San Luis Obispo. The idea of some sort of stabilization program has appealed to many in the city.
The possibility of implementing a stabilization program is being considered by a group of Cuesta Community College, Cal Poly and city administration members, along with the University Police Department and San Luis Obispo Police Department.
San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx is on board with implementing a stabilization program. The city council is interested as well, she said.
“The difficulty that arises when you just have one group of people in a neighborhood is that it becomes like segregation,” Marx said. “And the city’s policy is that it’s healthier for everyone if there’s integration in neighborhoods.”
Ashbaugh said his stabilization plan would initially be targeted toward neighborhoods in Alta Vista and Monterey Heights. It could also be extended to the Highland Drive area, Cuesta and North Chorro streets, he said.
He thought the plan would be implemented in neighborhoods with at least 60 percent owner-occupied homes, as opposed to tackling neighborhoods with a large student population.
“In many cases, there are neighborhoods where there is such a penetration of student rentals — virtually 70-100 percent, something like that, I would say — I wouldn’t target any of our money with that particular neighborhood,” Ashbaugh said.
Ashbaugh said on-campus housing could fix the student population problem too. According to him, projects such as the Grand Avenue Housing Project would help level out student population in the neighborhoods.
On the other hand, Marx said these new residence halls added to the problem. Placing more student housing near permanent residents in the neighborhoods could also create an “Isla Vista phenomenon.”
Ashbaugh saw the program offering homes not only to Cal Poly faculty and staff, but to other potential owners. But, according to Ashbaugh, Cal Poly faculty and staff should be able to have first pick.
There would be some exceptions for renting. For example, if a faculty member were to get a sabbatical year and go abroad, they could rent out their place for up to a year as long as their intention was to come back, Ashbaugh said.
Marx is aware of other programs similar to the stabilization program outside of San Luis Obispo.
“There are programs that other universities and cities have instituted to encourage working-aged people, permanent residents to live in neighborhoods that would otherwise be dominated by the student age group, specifically programs that would encourage Cal Poly and Cuesta faculty and staff, to live in these student-dominated neighborhoods,” Marx said.
Ashbaugh believes the program would be simple and easy to comply with. Whenever the city would buy a home, the owners wouldn’t be coerced or condemned to sell for a lower price, he said.
“It’s all done with the best of intentions and under a grant of authority that is worked out between the university and the city and the neighborhoods,” Ashbaugh said.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Ashbaugh plans to implement his program in neighborhoods in Monte Vista Place. It has been changed to say Alta Vista neighborhood.
Clarification: A previous version of this article made it seem Ashbaugh’s program was the only stabilization program idea. The article has been revised to clarify his program is one of many stabilization program ideas. Both Marx and city council support a general stabilization program, not necessarily Ashbaugh’s.