Public Works Dept. Acknowledges Oversight of PWC Recommendations

The most recent City Council meeting was dominated by discussion of the second phase of a Measure R-funded Monterey Road reconfiguration project that will cover the road from Meridian Avenue to Via del Rey. There were 45 minutes of back and forth between the Council, Public Works Director Paul Toor, Planning and Safety Department Director David Watkins and numerous concerned residents, including some who felt the input of 2012 and 2015 volunteer committees that advised against a road diet on Monterey Road was ignored by City staff. A road diet is a transportation planning strategy that seeks to improve traffic by reducing the number of lanes.

Following a public comment along the same lines by a milder Kim Hughes, an angry Ron Rosen expressed his frustration at what he called a “pattern of ignoring the Public Works Commission that has gone on since 2015.”

Referring to a City report distributed to the Council last Wednesday before the bi-weekly meeting, Rosen said, “The report and the information it includes should not be received and filed because it contains flawed logic and glaring omissions. The memo from staff that begins the report is misleading. Under analysis, the memo says that the Freeway and Transportation Committee, the Public Works Commission and the ad hoc committee reached consensus on various proposals, including  the creation of four-foot wide sidewalks and a bicycle lane. There is no such consensus. On February 11, 2015, the Public Works Commission voted unanimously to reject a road diet. Why are they giving you false and obsolete information?”

Toor addressed these complaints at the end of the hearing, readily acknowledging an oversight on the City’s part, and even thanking residents who contacted his department to inform it of its failure to consider the findings of the PWC. “I want to thank residents who brought this to my department’s attention. The staff report (which Rosen referenced) is missing something, it is not up to mark,” said Toor. “The recommendations of the PWC, what it recommended, is very valid…A new deputy director in 2015 prepared the report. I did not realize that he was not familiar with the recommendations of the PWC, and when I found out, I immediately recognized my oversight.”

Toor presented an amended report to the Council prior to the meeting that included what he described as “basically the minutes of the Public Works Commission meeting,” at which its recommendations were shared.

Rosen was distrustful of a 2013 report by a City-hired consulting company that that ruled against the findings of the PWC.

“City staff wants you to accept the 2013 report and yet fails to include that the report was unanimously rejected,” Rosen told the Council.

In an effort to assuage PWC concerns, Toor went so far as to say, “I believe the level of discomfort on the part of PWC is due to the fact that they think we are making the report a part of the record. I want to table it.”

City Attorney Teresa Highfield explained that, by rule of tabling the Monterey Road diet issue, the City will take no action on it until the Council brings it back to the table.

Councilwoman Dr. Marina Khubesrian was decidedly in favor of using the consulting services of Nelson/Nygaard to receive additional input on how to address the problems with Monterey Road. The company is currently extensively assessing Fremont Avenue and Fair Oaks Avenue.

Mayor Michael Cacciotti took action after the public hearings, saying, “I would like to ask that we direct staff to come back to a future meeting with a recommendation of how to look at options other than the two that were discussed at that meeting.

“Maybe there is a way,” Cacciotti continued, “to keep the four lanes and incorporate sharrows or some other option. There may be a third or fourth option instead of just saying road diet or no road diet.”

Interim city manager Elaine Aguilar confirmed Khubesrian’s motion for City staff to speak with Nelson/Nygaard about evaluating Monterey Road before the City proceeds with any action.

Toor announced during the introduction of the action item that the City would be moving ahead with phase two of the Monterey Road project, keen to emphasize that this phase would look much more like a resurfacing than a reconfiguration. After Councilwoman Diana Mahmud asked Toor to clarify the nature of the project, he explained, “We are talking about repaving the street as it is. We’re not adding anything or deleting anything; we are just repainting the crosswalks and repaving the street.”

The improvements, which Toor said are purposed first and foremost to increase the safety of bikers, pedestrians and drivers, also attempt to address ADA issues wherever practical.

Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Richard Schneider inquired as to the extent of the City’s ADA compliance. “I would say that we are in 99 percent compliance with ADA with the exception of a couple of bottlenecks that we will keep working on,” answered Toor.

The Monterey Road construction project moves along as the El Centro road improvements come to a close with the final stage set to get underway sometime in November.