Open Space

The City of San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast of California has been designated as the “happiest City in North America” by National Geographic’s Dan Buettner in his recent book, Thrive.  A major reason he cited for the City’s extraordinarily high quality of life is its Greenbelt Protection Program, which I have advocated and voted for enthusiastically over the years. Established in 1995 and rare among cities of its size, this Program preserves the City’s scenic surroundings and provides amazing recreational opportunities, just minutes from downtown.

Preserving Open Space enjoys widespread community financial and volunteer support. It has always ranked number one in community surveys. The City has worked with willing land owners, national and local nonprofits, and various governmental agencies to protect natural areas, farms, vineyards and ranches surrounding the City. Preservation has been accomplished by dedication, acceptance of donations, or outright purchase of land, easements and/or development entitlements.

Today, the program protects just under 7,000 acres in open space. The City holds title to approximately 3,500 acres of land, comprising ten separate open space reserves ranging in size from 30 to over 1,000 acres, plus many properties along the City’s creeks. The Calle Joaquin Agricultural Preserve (“City Farm”) protects and is cultivating 27 acres of prime agricultural land between Highway 101 and Madonna Road. In addition, a number of large conservation easement acquisitions now maintain many more acres of land in active agriculture or as wetlands. All of these properties must remain in their current land use and never be urbanized, thus preserving the City’s hard urban edge, protecting agricultural and rural land and preventing sprawl.

In order to ensure best management of these lands, the City has hired a Natural Resources Manager and a City Biologist and formulated Conservation Guidelines and Plans. Often, the land is left alone to allow Mother Nature to take her own course.  Trail routes and other resources are identified, so that passive recreational use does not negatively impact important natural resources such as waterways, springs, rare plants or animals, nesting habitats, or other important natural or cultural features. The City has also negotiated removal of two billboards from the Johnson Ranch Open Space to reclaim valuable visual resources.

The Greenbelt Protection Program has created approximately thirty-five miles of trails in the City’s open space lands, as well as extensive restoration of native habitat.  Trail construction, non-native invasive weed control, and native tree and shrub plantings have largely been undertaken and supported City Rangers and by volunteer labor.  This has been the result of the Program’s many partnerships with community groups such as ECOSLO and the Land Conservancy, student clubs and an extensive network of individual volunteers. Governmental organizations such as the California Conservation Corps have also worked with the City to implement the Conservation Plans.

The result of this monumental community effort is an extensive system of natural parklands which are the pride of the community and make the City an asset for residents and visitors from all over the world.  But, open space preservation and maintenance is not completed yet.  As Mayor, I applaud our city residents who are unstoppable, as they work together to realize their common vision of completely surrounding San Luis Obispo with rural green space, lovingly protected in perpetuity.