Archive for the ‘city planning’ Category

As you may or may not know… I am one of 5 planning commissioners for the County of San Luis Obispo.  Today was the 8th meeting on a whether or not the Planning Commission should allow a Phillips 66 oil terminal rail project.    After extensive discussion and closing statements by all commissioners I called for a motion to deny this project… and that motion passed.     I cannot express how happy I am about this.

Below is the text of my closing argument:



Energy is the power realized from the utilization of a physical resource.

Carbon based organisms have existed on earth for Billions of years.

The “Fossils” in Fossil Fuels took 2.5 billions years to accumulate. They were primarily microscopic organisms that decayed and sank to the bottom of the oceans over millennia and their ensuing sediments were cooked by the pressures and temperatures within the planet until they became the hydrocarbons they are today.

We humans, over the course of the last couple of hundred years, have taken the billions of years of stored carbon energy from deep in the planet… and used it to power our industrial and technological revolutions.   This has been really great. I love driving my car… I love my computer etc.

The successful use of stored hydrocarbons, along with the invention of farming allowed humans to transition from a primarily hunter gatherer society, to an agrarian society, to an industrial society, to a technological society.

Each of these transitions… has meant greater and greater efficiencies in the utilization of energy.  Each of these efficiencies has meant we humans could utilize smaller and smaller land areas to support larger and larger populations.

The density of humans per acre on the planet has increased exponentially over the last few hundred years in particular. The density of new ideas has also increased proportionally to the increase in new humans.

This acceleration of knowledge and ideas can be seen in the rapid move from an agrarian, to an industrial, and to a technologically based society. The evolution of mankind has been turbocharged by oil. No one doubts that the burning of fossil fuels has allowed mankind to radically increase his knowledge and intellect. The vast majority of us here in this room would not be able to live here without oil.

However… the burning of fossil fuels used to create the industrial revolution has placed massive additional amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in a short period of time.

Simultaneous to that… deforestation around the world over the last few hundred years has dramatically lowered the planet’s ability to re-absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

SO we are in a situation where we are putting a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than the planet is used to… and we are also reducing it’s ability to remove it.

And we as a species have created a population that is addicted to the success that the burning of all that carbon has created.

We are also beginning to realize that the usage of all this oil to turbocharge our success as a species has had side effects….

One of the great new ideas created by all these great new human minds… was the concept of renewable energy… which is the natural evolution of efficiency in the way we use energy. It is simply of greater benefit to humanity to utilize sustainable renewable energy than it is to continue to utilize fossil fuels. There is no argument over this. Sustainable renewable energy will wipe out the use of fossil fuels.

The disagreement is only really over how and when to nurse ourselves off the fossil fuel addiction that we have become so enamored of…. And convert our technologies to the next level… to renewables.

I understand that it seems hypocritical to those who don’t see the hurry to make the switch… for others to say we should end the addiction to oil right this second. They see that the current addiction has had many positive benefits to society… They are not wrong.

To others… the side effects of the oil addiction are growing more and more important and that they cannot be ignored… they believe that the current usage levels will lead to massive planetary changes.   They are not wrong.


We are at a crossroads of sorts… there are alternatives coming on line… some people are ready to cross… and some are not. This is the way of the world.


Almost every decision I have made as a planning commissioner involves two parties that each believe they are in the right position… and that the other side really has no idea what they are talking about. And almost always… neither side is entirely wrong.

Every one of us has levels of risk we are willing to tolerate… each of us has things we do that annoy others.

The challenge of being in this Planning Commissioner seat… involves understanding a given project in detail… and then with total knowledge of the subject of that project… trying to understand the risks and benefits to society as a whole. Interpreting the public’s opinion of those risk and benefits is a big part of the equation.

Sometimes “public” is a special interest group with an agenda. Sometimes the “public” is a group of neighbors. Sometimes the “public” is just that. The public.

I try and understand whether a given speaker is a neighbor, or a special interest group, or are just a general concerned citizen…. so that I might better understand where they are coming from in their testimony.

We have heard from neighbors … who have their concerns… we had heard from special interest groups too on both sides… and in this case we have heard from an amazing number of concerned citizens statewide.

The concerned citizens in my opinion are the most powerful in this case. In this case we have the supervisors of seven neighboring counties… representing over 10 million people… all telling us to NOT approve this project. We have the city councils of dozens of cities. Along with this we have teachers unions, student bodies, health professional associations, etc., etc… all asking us to vote no. Not one of these entities asked us to vote yes.

These are not nimbys… these are not special interest groups. These are our fellow Californians.

In my 9 years as a planning commissioner the people who commented on this project outnumber all other projects I have ever considered added together by far.

I have read each and every one of the more than 21,000 comments submitted to this commission… and after tossing out the special interest group form letters and the nimbys… what remains is the balance of the citizens of this county who are not special interests… nor nimbys. They… and the people of the counties and cities represented by the letters we received from city councils and supervisors all up and down the Union Pacific line. Of those last letters… The vast majority… I’d say at least 96%… including ALL of the letters from city councils and Supervisors asked us to vote against this project.

I cannot see how any commissioner from this county… who’s district may cover approx. one fifth of this county… (so approx. 50,000 people)… I don’t see how that commissioner can sit here and say that the opinion of that small constituency he says he represents… is more important than the wishes of the representatives of the 10 million people up and down the tracks. IF these commissioners represent so many people who are for this project… WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? WHY ARE THEY NOT HERE IN GREAT DROVES?

How can you ignore the actual pleas our neighboring representatives… who represent over 10 million neighbors… asking us to not endanger their citizens…

How can you say that the the profit of one multinational corporation… and the supposed creation of 12 jobs outweighs the possibility of just one death… one burn victim… one person who loses their spouse or child? This project will not change the trajectory of oil in this nation… whether or not this refinery gets oil by train or not will have ZERO effect on the supply of gasoline in this nation. So why do you vote against all of your neighboring cities and counties? We have been told that the likely hood of a wreck does exist… albeit small… and you have decided that, for you, this is an acceptable risk. You are willing to accept the possibility of 1 death… or 20… or 100…

Yet the representatives of every county and city around you have said it is not ok. You are basically saying that the taxpayers and property owners of this state should accept the risk to their pocketbooks and to their property… so that this oil company can achieve a higher margin… and that that margin is more important. You are saying that the taxpayers and property owners who are represented by the supervisors and city councils of every jurisdiction up and down the track are wrong… and that your opinion is correct.

I strongly disagree.

I live by a simple rule in my life:  Do unto others… as you would have them do unto you.

I vote against this project.

eric-insideEric Meyer


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Dear SLO:

San Luis Obispo has a maximum buildout of 57,000 residents according to it’s General Plan. Currently (2016) SLO has approx +/- 47,000 residents. Going through the planning process right now there are a total of approx 3000 units within San Luis Ranch, Avila Ranch, the Orcutt Area Specific Plan (area north of tank farm, west of Orcutt road, east of UP RR tracks), and other smaller urban infill sites. (not counting new Madonna housing project behind/south of Home Depot that is being discussed).

At +/- 2.4 residents per housing unit. (SLO occupancy average) these 3000 units will house 7200 people. This leaves SLO with an additional 2800 people to plan for before we meet “buildout”. That means there are only 1167 houses left to plan for… that are not already in the planning process.


These last 1167 houses and what size/price/location they are… are theoretically all we get. We have to make our best efforts to get these 1167 houses to try and balance the issues we are trying to solve. That… and we need to convince the powers that be that the 3000 homes already in the planning process should also carefully consider who they are being built for.

The real fight I believe… will come once that last 1167th house is planned. I suspect that will happen within the next 5-10 years. (keep in mind that the actual buildout of the 3000 houses listed in the various existing plans… as well as the 1167… may take up to 30 years.)

The city and it’s infrastructure, resource acquisition etc… all have been focused on a max of 57,000 people. But then what?

This is one of the reasons we need to think about the various properties that surround our city that are NOT yet in conservation easements or owned as city open space. Because after we reach max buildout the social pressure is really going to rise. All it takes to change that buildout number is 3 council members. (that’s why I italicized theoretically in my third paragraph above)

In order to assure we don’t sprawl… the solution is conservation easements or public ownership of open space surrounding the city completely. That reframes the growth conversation to only height/density/resource availability and housing price.

Meanwhile… people still seem to enjoy having children…

So if you think there is a fierce discussion going on this now… just wait!  Things are gonna get REALLY interesting once we hit buildout!

Eric Meyer


(Note: The recent legislation about infill studios and tiny homes may pre-empt any local jurisdiction’s ability, within the studio housing category, to create a building moratorium on growth for that studio category, based on a population max.   I’m not sure.)

Photo: Ken Kienow

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This morning the Board of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) unanimously adopted the feasibility study over the Corridor that will eventually contain the Edna Price Canyon trail between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach.  This will eventually become a segment of the Anza Historic Trail.  This study has been ongoing for the last year or so and is the result of a CalTrans Community Based Transportation Planning Grant.  It was developed by Questa Engineering.

Next steps are the creation of various Environmental Impact Reports (EIR’s) that will cover the various segments of the trail.IMG_2603

The Feasibility Study identified  opportunities and and constraints along various trail segment options.  There are preferred routes… secondary options etc… all of which need to be analyzed in great detail taking into consideration all the various constraints so as to be able to create the best ultimate alternative given the constraints.

It has been about 8 years of work so far.  I started chatting with stakeholders circa 2008.. and that work led to an initial mapping outlined in previous posts… and then advocacy work with the various communities and stakeholder groups along the route.  There are many steps still to go… but we have started… and we are well along the way.

thank you to all the jurisdictions, individuals, and groups that have lent their support.


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ShowImageBy Eric Meyer (with Dan Rivoire) spring 2015

Eight years of careful planning — and a bit of luck — paid off last year in a big way for bicyclists in San Luis Obispo. We amended our transportation plan (known as the “Circulation Element”) in three very innovative ways.

First, we revised our transportation mode objectives, dramatically increasing the bike and pedestrian trip goals.

The new mode split goal:

50 percent motor vehicles
12 percent transit
20 percent bicycles
18 percent walking, car pools, and other forms

This is one of the most pedestrian- and bike-centric modal split objectives in the United States.

Second, we changed our roadway analysis from Level of Service (LOS)to Multi-Modal Level of Service (MMLOS).

San Luis Obispo rejected Level of Service — an outdated standard that measures transportation projects only on the basis of automobile delay — in favor of Multi-Modal Level of Service. MMLOS puts all modes on a level playing field so that the needs of one mode may only trump the needs of another in a manner designated by the modal hierarchy given to that location.

With this MMLOS objective in mind, we re-prioritized the modal hierarchy of all of our streets. Some high-traffic arterials are automobile-focused, then transit, then bikes, then peds. Other streets have different hierarchies. Residential neighborhood streets are prioritized for pedestrians first. Major arterials are prioritized for transit first. It is a complex “complete streets” effort that will balance the needs of all modes in the city over time as streets are rebuilt or modified.

Third (and most important!): We created a policy that allocates general fund transportation spending by mode to match the mode share percentage goals desired.

If you remember only one thing from this article, this is it.

This policy mandates that our city must allocate general fund transportation spending at the same ratio as the mode share goal desired. Meaning 20 percent of funding needs to go to bicycling.

This is a huge shift from business as usual in America.

These changes didn’t happen all at once. They happened over the course of about eight years under the guidance of many minds at Bike SLO County and with the help of many hundreds of citizens. If we citizens had tried to make this all happen at once during a Circulation Element update, we would have failed.

It happened because we focused on the smallest relevant plans first. Our first opportunity for meaningful policy change came when the City Planning Commission was approving the Climate Action Plan, with the aim of reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. One of the suggested strategies in this plan was to decrease single occupancy vehicle trips. One way to do that is to encourage an increase in the mode share of alternative modes such as biking and walking. I was on the city planning commission at that time and pitched the idea of pushing the bike mode share goal to 20 percent, thinking that we might get 15 percent as a compromise. But in a surprise vote, the balance of the planning commission agreed to the new 20 percent bike mode share goal.  The City Council later approved the new Climate Action Plan.

But other older city plans, like the Bicycle Master Plan and the city Circulation Element, still had the old 10 percent bike goal. (Note that the current bike mode share is only about 6 percent.) So a year or two later, when the Bicycle Master Plan came up for review, it was modified to match the new 20% from the Climate Action Plan. Since city staff were able to explain that they were merely updating the bike plan to match the more recent climate action plan, it went through without a hitch.

A few years later, the city’s transportation and land use plan, known as LUCE (for “Land Use Element and Circulation Element”) came up for updating. Because I was a current City Planning Commissioner I was appointed as chairman of the citizen task force dedicated to overseeing the update. The task force debated where to go with the modal split percentage goals in this new Circulation Element.  But the simple fact that the Planning Commission and City Council had already approved the 20% figure in the Climate Action and Bicycle Master plans led to the task force agreeing 20% bike mode share should also be the goal in this new Circulation Element.

In addition to this new modal split objective, the new MMLOS policy, and the requirement to allocate transportation funding in the same ratio as the desired modal split were all incorporated into the new Circulation Element Update.

This 20 percent mode bike mode share goal would never have been approved in the LUCE had it not already been part of the two smaller plans.

This is a key point and may be a pathway that others can follow to create similar changes in other jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, Dan Rivoire (Executive Director of Bike SLO County) was elected to City Council shortly after the City Planning Commission approved the LUCE update, so when it came before the council, his was the deciding vote that approved it and he is now in a position to help shepherd the new prioritization of funding.

Together these new policies create one of the strongest funding mechanisms for bicycle infrastructure in the nation. We hope that other cities might be able to learn from our efforts.

None of this would have been possible without the efforts of hundreds of members of the public and the tireless efforts of many Bike SLO County Advocates who showed up at City Planning and City Council meetings to voice their concerns and desires. It is the public that creates the demand and the advocate’s job is simply to help the public and the city find the way forward.

And our efforts have been recognized!  Last month the City of San Luis Obispo was awarded gold status by the League of American Bicyclists.  This ranking puts SLO amongst the top 30 cities nationwide for bicycling. Thank you SLO bike advocates!



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This is a map of the average daily time spent commuting to and from work here in San Luis Obispo County published by Trulia. SLO is in the center… San Miguel at the top… and Santa Maria is at the bottom.  Click on it to focus and enlarge it. (bright green is 5 minutes… darker red is 1 hour)   I’m not certain how accurate it is… I just like maps.

(here is a link to Trulia SLO)


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Last week we had a new sidewalk poured out front of our house… and in it we spontaneously placed a little “love note”.  It almost didn’t happen though… as the concrete was setting pretty fast.    I expect this little gesture will last a few decades or more.    They city guys said it would be ok if we wanted to put our initials in the concrete…  but we thought this might be more fun.  Cynthia had a cookie cutter laying around… and I had the extra chain ring from bike I’d taken apart.  After this photo was taken we dyed the heart red…

What is it that gives a place charm?  Why are some cities memorable and others forgettable?   I think it has something to do with the tiniest of details.  This little art project would have never happened in a condominium development.  The CCandR’s would never allow it.  I would only happen in a place where the city officials and workers are allowed a bit of freedom to make a random decision.  The city guys in our case… made sure it was below the sidewalk such that folks won’t trip on it… and the bolts in it are sunk in about 4 inches… so it won’t come out.

I believe cities need policies written… to allow their workers to be creative like this every now and then.  To allow the citizens to make their own tiny little secret spontaneous art projects.  These things won’t happen if we involve the city leaders in every single one… that would only homogenize the end results.  It needs to be random… perhaps slightly controversial every now and then.

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This is a link to a long govt. report on transportation trends moving forward… Lots of demographic info and population projections… interesting to planning nerds like me…


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This is an interesting map I just found on Zillow, via Tableau Software.  It shows the status of home selling in the USA.  Darker blue means houses are sitting longer and selling for less than asking… darker red means houses are selling faster and closer to asking price or over asking price.   Sure looks like there is a migration going on.  Is it just boomers retiring?  I don’t know.  All I can say is here they come… whoever they are.

real estate heat map

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My friend John Cutter, a bicycle designer and builder here in San Luis Obispo, sent me this link this am… about a new city being built in South Carolina… called Riverwalk.  It includes a huge outdoor velodrome, a very large BMX area, permanent criterium track, and all sorts of other outdoor activity related areas for the citizens to enjoy…

here is the blog post John sent…. from a blog called redkiteprayer.com

here is the link to the community website itself

It is a community built around outdoor activities… specifically cycling… but not exclusively.

Interesting stuff… dig in a bit.


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Check out the attached video that shows the issues of a San Luis Obispo Parent riding with his son to School.

We as a city need to consider and create solutions for this.  City staff are aware of this stretch and the issues I believe… and are already working to create small changes for greater safety as quickly as possible… but the real change will come only when enough parents and other cyclists show up at City Council meetings to convince Council of the need and the priority.

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