In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night, the San Luis Obispo City Council approved the proposed construction of a 12-space parking lot behind the San Luis Obispo Senior Center at Mitchell Park.
The approved plan is slightly different from the original Mitchell Park Master Plan that called for a 14-space lot. The decrease in the number of spaces lowered the expected cost of the project from nearly $195,000 to $150,000.
The issue has stirred controversy in the community, pitting those in favor of preserving the downtown park against those in need of easier access to the senior center. The decision to lower the number of spaces to 12 was made by Mayor Romero in order to try to appease both sides of the argument.
Members of the senior center make up the majority of those in favor of the new parking lot, as street parking in front of the center is hard to come by. The parking lot would provide easier access to and from the center for those who require the use of walkers, canes or wheelchairs for mobility.
“I’m just overjoyed,” said Marie Wilson, chair of the office volunteers at the Senior Center. “I couldn’t believe it almost. I was very surprised when someone told me it had past. It was a gift from God.”
According to Wilson, many members of the senior center are older; some are in their 80s and 90s. For these people, finding close enough parking on popular nights such as bingo night is crucial because their mobility is so limited.
Dave Kuykendall of the Save Mitchell Park group expressed the group’s disappointment in the decision to pave at Mitchell Park.
“Going into this, we knew there was little chance of us delaying the decision,” said Kuykendall of the group’s expectations. “Although we did have an excellent design and alternative plan, it seems that the city council had already made up their minds before hand. We’re very disappointed.”
The three council members who voted to approve the measure were Mayor Dave Romero, and Councilmen Andrew Carter and John Ashbaugh. Councilman Allan Settle and Councilwoman Jan Marx voted against the parking lot.
According to Kuykendall, Mayor Romero and Councilman Carter were expected to approve the lot because they had voted in favor of it in the past. It was Councilman Ashbaugh’s vote that was uncertain prior to the city council meeting.
One concern of those in opposition to the lot is the fate of the 100-year-old Heritage tree located just behind the center. According to Agatha Reardon, board president of the Senior Center, the plan has been written to ensure that the tree will be preserved during construction.
“We have agreed upon a compromise design of the original plan so that there would not be any controversy over the tree, which would be a problem for other people,” said Reardon.
Also of concern is the possible increase in traffic around the park on Santa Rosa and Buchon Streets. Both the entrance and exit of the parking lot are going to be placed on Buchon, a street in which cars line the sidewalk and the route 4 bus takes regularly.
San Luis Obispo resident Deepali Kenjale brings her young son and daughter to the park quite often and was surprised to find that the council approved the measure.
“I come here all the time and there is quite a bit of parking around,” Kenjale said. “I never find trouble getting a space here. There will be a bit of traffic now, I’m sure.”