About 40 people, mostly La Mesa residents, were in attendance Tuesday night at the first of two “Town Hall Meetings,” allowing residents to speak face-to-face with members of the City Council and city staff.
The meeting, at Lemon Avenue Elementary School, lasted about two hours, and about 10 residents asked questions and raised concerns to the assembled members of the panel.
Public Works staffer Greg Humora carried most of the load in terms of answering questions at the forum, as a large majority of the issues had to do with traffic and safety issues, specifically the existence or non-existence of traffic lights, cross walks, and sidewalks in certain parts of the city.
Jerry Burkhart asked questions as to the safety of one of La Mesa’s most unusual and busiest intersections at Baltimore Drive and University Avenue. “There are a lot of confused drivers in La Mesa when they approach that intersection,” said Burkhart. “Are we just waiting for accidents to happen?”
Humora acknowledged it as a challenging intersection.
“There are about 40,000 cars that pass through each day, and not one of them is going straight,” he said. “But there have been zero accidents there.” He said that there are some striping that can be added to certain turn lanes and perhaps additional signage to “give the driver as much information as possible,” when they approach the intersection.
There were several other speakers who addressed safety concerns on specific streets and in specific neighborhoods. Many said the need for crosswalks and sidewalks on Bancroft Avenue near Eucalyptus Park (owned by the county) is apparent. Additionally, the need for sidewalks on Glen Avenue and Lemon Avenue near the school was an issue raised by some residents.
Humora mentioned a comprehensive study that was conducted about five years ago in the city, which looked at every street and determined where sidewalks should go. He also said that there are not enough resources dedicated to capital improvements for sidewalks in the city’s budget every year, so that many of the sidewalks are built through grant money, such as the Safe Routes to School programs, which the city has been getting since 2002.
“Bancroft and Glen are two streets that have been identified as needing sidewalks,” he said. “Most are in the neighborhoods where schools are. When we prioritize where sidewalks are going to go, schools come first. Those are high pedestrian generators.”
He said that the design is 95 percent complete on grant to build sidewalks in neighborhoods around Lemon Avenue Elementary, adding that the city got final approval from Caltrans recently.
“My hope is that in about 18 months, we will have sidewalks on Glen so people can walk with their kids to school.”
Other issues raised at the town hall meeting included ideas on what to do with Collier Park. Juan Besarel said that the entire upper level is completely undeveloped, and has become a campground for groups of younger homeless people. He proposed an interesting solution.
“I proposed a dog park for that area,” he said. “I can’t give you costs and figures, but I really don’t see too much of an investment going into a dog park and I see the outcome of that just being great. Ninety percent of my neighbors walk their dogs, multiple times a day.”
Assistant City Manager Yvonne Garrett said that the city has actually been working on a master plan for Collier Park for several years.
“It’s a very difficult piece of property. There’s the park itself which has some drainage issues and those two undeveloped parcels behind and to the left,” said Garrett. “We are looking at trying to create more active use in the park. One of the challenges we have is resources to do construction and upgrades.
“We have also been trying to find more activity in the park,” she added. “We recently started Pickleball, an older adult sport that uses tennis courts. But I would encourage you to continue to alert the police department when you do see some undesirables there.”
Another issue, brought to the attention of the council by Albert Cassia, is that of there being no lights underneath the 125 overpass at Panorama Drive.
“It’s completely dark, the opportunity for crime to happen there,” said Cassia. “There’s quite a bit of graffiti and illegal dumping.”
Humora said that one of his first assignments when he began working with the city was to contact Caltrans and find out why there was no lighting under the bridge.
“In typical Caltrans-speak they’ve responded and said it doesn’t meet the minimum criteria for lights’,” said Humora. “That being said, they are not going to put lights under the bridge. That doesn’t there can’t be lights under the bridge, but Caltrans won’t do it. If the city so desires, maybe we can find the resources somewhere to do it.”
The highlight of the night came when the conversation turned to the trolley system. Resident Jim Schmitz complained that the trolley arms often come down when the trolley isn’t even close, creating delays and tying up traffic.
Councilmember Ernie Ewin began to address the issue and asked generally, “Did anyone know that it is a $400 fine if you are caught sitting on the tracks.
At that point, councilmember Ruth Sterling, who said little to nothing else at the meeting, dropped a comedy bomb, interrupting with “You’re not going to be around to pay it!”
Police Chief Ed Aceves addressed one resident’s concern with people panhandling on center medians in the city.
“My first recommendation is not to give them money,” said Aceves. “The reason they are there is that a lot of them can make upwards of $100 a day, tax free. But, it is not a violation of the law in our city on most center medians to collect money.”
Aceves said that he will soon be meeting with State Senator Joel Anderson to see if a current state law prohibiting panhandling near an onramp or offramp of a freeway can be adapted.
“We are proposing to make this apply to signalized intersections. Basically, we want to take the state law and just add a subsection to it,” he said. “Once it happens, we have some enforcement teeth to make it go away. This issue isn’t about panhandling or homelessness, but about vehicular and pedestrian safety.”
If you were unable to attend on Tuesday, the next town hall meeting will be tonight at La Mesa Middle School, 4200 Parks Avenue, at 6:30 p.m.