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Pismo Looks at the Old Heart of Town

A full two years after deciding that it was a major city goal to identify ways to reuse the Old City Hall and other facilities on Bello Street, the Pismo Beach City Council took action.

Staff presented them with a study that reviewed exiting city uses, including the police and fire stations, a look at area zoning and exploration of “public / private opportunities.”

Feedback summarized by Pismo Beach Building Department, Community Development Director Jeff Winklepleck, noted that, “it was very apparent that the residents and people in the general area are supportive of the existing uses along the corridor, especially police and fire, and don’t want to see new uses introduced that could be detrimental to the character of the area.”

That was all fairly definitive for the general area, but the Old City Hall, a former school dating to the 1920s and on the same parcel as the fire and police stations, proved trickier.

The building was decommissioned in 1995. Since then it’s been a glorified storage unit, holding, among other things, obsolete or broken computers.

A study dating back to 2011, had identified opportunities to renovate the building, gut it and rebuild or entirely replace it, Winklepleck added.

In the end, staff recommended that the second option, representing a desire to preserve the historic outward architectural features but modernize the facility for split use between fire and police, with a meeting facility and possibly a museum included in the public use.

Not in the agenda packet, but a comment made as an aside to the council, Winklepleck brought up the old theatre inside the existing structure noting that previous planning documents had already allowed for it’s removal, “the theater is nice. I’m not sure there’s a good use for it though.“

That prompted later questioning by Councilmembers over the possible need to replace the theater if it was torn out. The consensus was reached that the replacement clause in policy referred to active parks and open space recreation, which the theater was neither.

Weighing in before the council vote, Mayor Ed Waage, said that, while he likes to preserve as much history as possible, the final plan would have to recognize public safety uses as priority. While attention to such items as employee break rooms might seem odd, he thought it especially important to make sure that the agencies have the storage and operational room they need in case of a large scale emergency.

City Manager Jim Lewis said the goal going forward with the study and budget allocation would be to find a successful applicant in the specific field of reuse of historic buildings with an understanding of municipal needs.

He indicated that it would not be the last chance for council decision-making.

“We’ll come back to you after we know more,” he said.

Also looked into as part of the study was the future of the St. Jude Tunnel and Downtown Connection from Bello Street.

Winklepleck explained to the council that, “sure it’s scary and creepy, but mostly the only problem has been some tagging.”

Councilmembers Sheila Blake, and Mary Ann Reiss addressed their comments to the overall safety and general hygiene of the walkway.

In addition to maintenance improvements, perhaps 911-callboxes for safety, and trash can installations, Winklepleck suggested, “Hey lets have some fun with it,” indicating that local artists might be hired to paint the concrete walls and prevent further “tagging” by promoting community spirit and ownership.

The study, and recommendations stemming from community input were adopted unanimously.

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