Musa Faraha is an anthropology and geology and microbiology freshman and Mustang News columnist. Olivia Peluso is an English senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
The proposed expansion outlined in the 2035 Master Plan may cause serious environmental implications to spaces and habitats both on campus and in the larger community of San Luis Obispo.
On Friday, May 1 the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was released to the public. The report divided the findings into three groups based on potential impact: (1) impacts that were found to be less than significant, (2) potentially significant impacts that could be made less severe, and (3) completely unavoidable significant impacts.
The Final EIR considers rather serious issues to be “less than significant,” and many environmental mitigation measures have social repercussions. The EIR asserts that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines, social issues do not fall within the required jurisdiction of an EIR, and therefore must not necessarily be addressed. However, some of the proposed mitigation plans worsen the social climate of our campus and are worthy of reconsideration.
Sustainability is a three-legged system: environment, social equity, and economy. All must be taken into account when working towards a campus that can sustain growth, promote a valuable education, and equip our students for the future.
This expansion will generate a considerable amount of light pollution and water usage, which can cause problems ranging from quality of life to where to place additional runoff from the current hydrology system. These are the potential problems that could be made less severe — others are unavoidable and detrimental.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most unavoidable environmental impacts in this study is the change in air quality. The planned increase in students certainly means an increase in air pollutants ranging from toxins found in car emissions to those found in popular e-cigarettes.
“Construction activity associated with development of the project is estimated to generate a total of 14,079 MTCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide). Operation of the project would result in GHG emissions associated with mobile sources, area sources, building energy, water consumption, and wastewater and solid waste generation. After full buildout, the project would generate approximately 14,537 MTCO2e/year, including the total construction emissions amortized over 25 years. This would exceed the identified threshold of 4,255 MTCO2e/year. This impact would be significant.” (ES-45)
This impact is met with a series of mitigation plans, including Energy Star appliances, Cool Roof systems, and ZEV parking and charging stations on campus. According to the Master Plan, the university has planned to “attain a modal shift from cars to more pedestrian, bicycle, and transit use.” This is a great way to start fulfilling one of the other objectives of this expansion, which is to “reinforce campus-wide environmental sustainability.”
Yet how will this be enforced? The Master Plan is unclear when explaining how this expansion will pull our campus towards a more sustainable future.
The increase of individuals and a continuous stream of construction efforts will severely degrade Cal Poly’s air quality over time, regardless of their mitigation efforts to promote electric vehicles. The increase in students will certainly cause environmental problems stemming and ranging from littering to overpopulation.
Impact 3.14-1 listed in the Final EIR states “Implementation of the 2035 Master Plan would increase the volume of water conveyed through the existing City connections. Modeling indicates that there is adequate conveyance capacity to accommodate anticipated development associated with the 2035 Master Plan under average day demand, peak daily demand, and peak hourly flow. New campus development would require connections to water supply pipelines. Because the campus already contains substantial pipelines and water delivery infrastructure, construction of additional infrastructure to connect new academic buildings, student housing, and other development to the existing system is expected to be minor, consisting of relatively short pipeline connections to the existing delivery pipeline. Thus, the impact would be less than significant.” (ES-64)
However, Cal Poly does not state from where their water will be sourced. The current hydrology system, as is, can sustain the campus body for up to five years. The rest is entirely uncertain. And while the Final EIR asserts that the impact on our water systems is “less than significant,” I believe that reflects an utter lack of urgency and care to secure a water source beyond the next couple years. Much of the Master Plan is contingent upon the ability of Whale Rock Reservoir to meet the needs of our swelling campus and the community. If the impact is “less than significant”, then why did Cal Poly administration approach the City of Morro Bay at their November 12, 2019 meeting with intent to purchase some of their State Water on an ongoing basis? (The City of Morro Bay declined the offer).
The failure to disclose this information in the EIR appears as a gaping hole in the integrity and honesty of administration. While the Final EIR displays confidence, their actions tell a different story.
Water is a crucial conversation in San Luis Obispo on a regular basis; the county includes five basins mandated to prepare Groundwater Sustainability Plans regularly, many other areas are dependent on fractured rock formations that are easily depleted, and the increasing presence and severity of drought years all contribute to an on-going, collaborative discussion about water sourcing in our county. Cal Poly should provide a more careful and conscientious role when approaching crucial resources.
University-based retirement community
The expansion proposes a University-Based Retirement Community to be built on the corner of Grand Avenue and Slack Street, where a large field currently sits across from a neighborhood. While the EIR takes into account the “scenic degradation” for residents (indeed a very necessary consideration), it does not take into account the many species of foliage and fauna that inhabit that space year-round. More than half the year, horses inhabit the field. Turkeys (in numbers upwards of 20) can be seen during all seasons. There are field mice, falcons, and even a few owls that inhabit the treelines. In the spring, the field is covered in mustard flowers. I have lived facing the field for three years now, and recognize the serious habitat destruction that would occur should Cal Poly develop this small yet precious and lively slice of San Luis Obispo.
Another consideration that needs to be addressed is the residents of the neighborhood immediately across the street from the proposed construction. The EIR does mention the potential light glare that will affect residents, but I think a deeper consideration is warranted. There are residents who have built their homes on that street and lived there for decades, many of whom were unaware of Cal Poly’s proposed development project in their front yard. The public notice and comment period are another discussion, but the EIR seemed to have skated over the very stark environmental circumstances and that of the long-time residents.
Make your voice heard
If you have comments or concerns about the Master Plan, reach out to the Board of Trustees at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Board will discuss the plan on Tuesday, May 12.