Before the start of the San Luis Obispo City Council meeting Tuesday evening, the room was filled with the low chatter of community members in anticipation of the possible council decision regarding the proposed construction of a new parking lot behind the Senior Center located in Mitchell Park.

Newly-elected council members heard the issue for the first time. Jan Marx vowed to overturn the parking lot proposal in her campaign and John Ashbaugh said he will seek better parking for the senior center while keeping the park safe.

The council tentatively approved a smaller version of the parking lot than originally proposed by a vote of 3-2. The issue will come back to the council at a meeting on Jan. 6, 2009.

For the past 20 years, seniors have requested additional parking while they struggle to find adequate parking near the Senior Center located on the corner of Santa Rosa and Buchon streets.

Nearly 30 community members, ranging from park neighbors to environmentalists to seniors, spoke in front of the council in both opposition and support of the issue.

“Our city’s growing density places ever more pressure upon our few open spaces,” said Rosemary Wilvert, a senior San Luis Obispo resident. “A central square block historical park is a treasure few cities have. To pave one of these is backward thinking.”

Emily McBride, along with 12-year-old brother Peter, who held signs in protest saying “Save Don’t Pave,” spoke against the parking lot after growing up playing in the park.

“I know that this will not be a positive change,” McBride said. “There are alternatives to a parking lot like making half of the parking spaces around the park for seniors to use the center during the day. Many people, including kids, love this park.”

Alternatives for the lot suggested by community members included utilizing public transportation, carpooling, walking, riding a bicycle, adding drop-off spaces for seniors and the addition of diagonal parking. However, the council and a number of seniors viewed these alternatives as unrealistic because there are seniors who may not be able to walk certain distances or ride bicycles.

Supporters of the proposed parking lot claimed that the lack of parking prevented seniors from visiting the center and more parking would create better access.

“The off-street parking is just as important for our aging community, not only for their safety, but also to support their ability to recreate, socialize and serve their community,” said Agatha Reardon, a San Luis Obispo resident.

The four-hour meeting ended with the 3-2 vote, but not without council members Marx and Allen Settle clearly objecting to the idea of paving Mitchell Park.

The proposal that has been under consideration was different than what was presented at the meeting, which surprised some of the council and audience members.

A 14-space lot with diagonal spaces, possibly affecting a Heritage Tree in the park and exiting on Santa Rosa Street, was the proposal under consideration. However, the council ended up voting on a new lot with 12 spaces with an entry and exit on Buchon Street.

Mayor Dave Romero, along with council members John Ashbaugh and Andrew Carter, voted in favor of the lot. Council members Marx and Settle opposed the idea.

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