Relations between the San Luis Obispo community and Cal Poly students have been strained for several years. With events like the Poly Royale riots in 1990 and the St. Fratty’s Day roof collapse in 2015 seared into the minds of long-term community members, it’s easy to see why some have a distrust for Cal Poly students.
However, some residents think the blame does not entirely lie with students. In fact, hidden behind the seemingly negative facade of the community are people trying to bridge the gap between Cal Poly students and San Luis Obispo residents.
“People who live here are used to the fun neighborhoods made up of professors and kids riding bikes,” Alta Vista community member Kathie Walker said. “But things change.”
Walker has lived in her house on Fredericks Street and Kentucky Street for seven years. She has been involved in the San Luis Obispo community by seeking a way to bridge the gap between students and residents.
For Walker, the construction of new student housing is a part of that solution.
In May 2013, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong announced plans to build freshman housing at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Slack Street — Student Housing South.
The announcement was met with local pushback as long-term residents fought against the university’s plans.
Their concerns largely had to do with increased traffic at the intersection, student residents those neighborhoods and an increase in party related behavior. However, Walker thinks the creation of new on-campus housing will actually solve these issues.
“I think a lot of the tension comes because students are living with the residents,” Walker said.
She thinks that offering more on-campus options to students will improve the relations between residents and students. Unlike many who see the construction on Slack Street as an inconvenience, Walker sees it as a step toward a more cohesive San Luis Obispo.
However, Walker’s home is not on the front lines of the construction. Sitting in the shadow of the skeletal frame of the new housing sits Charles E. Teach Elementary School, an accelerated learning school that Walker’s youngest son attends.
At first, it may seem that the construction happening right across the street from classrooms would be a major distraction, but faculty at the school have the same understanding that Walker has.
“Is it noisy? Yes,” school counselor Mary Kay Stratton said. “Do I understand? Yes.”
In the front office of the school are cardstock flyers with “Cal Poly Student Housing South Project Fact Sheet” lining the top. These flyers were made available to parents and faculty and provide a basic overview of the project.
While the construction is not ideal, with dust and noise interfering with counseling, but Stratton has no resentment toward the university. In fact, after revealing that her eyes sometimes sting on windy days because of the dust, she chuckled and said, “That’s construction.”
The project began in September 2015 with site and foundation construction. Building construction began in January 2016 and the project is scheduled to be completed in July 2018.
The site is approximately 12 acres and will eventually hold 696 residence rooms, 492 parking spaces, 872 bicycle parking spaces, a solar system on top of the residential buildings or a parking structure and pedestrian walkways. All together, the project will cost $198 million.
All of this information sits inside a small cubby, relatively untouched and gathering dust. This cubby is symbolic when looking at the greater issue, the issue Walker has been trying to resolve.
“There is an unwillingness to engage with students,” Walker said.
She said that Cal Poly held a mixer, allowing members of the community to come and discuss their concerns with a university liaison.
“The people that didn’t come are the ones who have the most problems,” Walker said.
This construction has opened the door to a broader issue in San Luis Obispo, an issue of political reform.
“The current city council needs to be more open,” Walker said. “There needs to be a shift in city administration. I think students feel like they don’t have a say in the community.”
Landscape architecture junior Zach Streed thinks that students are taken into consideration often in community issues, but only when it benefits the city.
“I think that we are often appeased for the monetary gain for the municipality,” Streed said.
He also admits that he understands why community members may see students as just a form of revenue
“For those who have raised children and grandchildren here, I feel they are justified. I can’t say I would feel great about 5,000 people coming into my town and calling it home instantly,” Streed said. “Not everyone treats their home with the same respect.”
For Streed, the addition of more student housing would have an impact on community relations, but it is not a permanent fix.
“It will definitely have an effect, and probably aid in avoiding stirring the pot of problems that already exist,” Streed said. “But I feel like that segregation is just sweeping these issues under the rug and doesn’t tackle the root of the problem where ties have been severed.”