Coronado residents were alerted in the September 25 Eagle & Journal that a group of residents, headed up by Ruth Ann Fisher, Michael Fisher, and Kathleen McDonald, intended to put a Safe Streets Measure on the ballot in November.

The full page, “Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition” urged voters to support the Safe Streets Measure, and included the full text of the measure. The general intent of the measure appears to be to prevent and limit right and left hand turns on State Highway 75 (Third Street/Pomona) coming off the bridge onto the island. More specifically, it reads, “Currently, left hand turns from Third Street/Pomona Avenue onto A, B and C Avenues are restricted only during the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. … There are no right hand turn restrictions from Third Street/Pomona Avenue onto Glorietta Boulevard and Glorietta Place at this time.” The initiative seeks to prevent all left hand turns from “Third Street/Pomona onto A, B, and C Avenues twenty-four hours a day [and] prevent all right hand turns from Third Street/Pomona Avenue onto Gloreitta [sic] Boulevard and Glorietta Place between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.”

Residents will likely realize that this is not a new issue. In fact, the measure seeks to overturn Proposition M (passed in 2004) which called for the removal of semi-diverters from Third Street at Avenues A, B, and C. The semi-diverters had originally been installed as a six-month experiment to prevent left hand turns from Third onto A, B, and C in 2002. They were only removed, however, in December 2004 after a citizens’ initiative put the issue on the November ballot. At the time, a primary argument in favor of their removal was that they had simply diverted traffic to D and E, thereby increasing traffic on those streets and pushing cars further into the town, thereby decreasing safety by requiring cars to cross more intersections. The vote in 2004 on Prop M was 68% in favor of removing the semi-diverters.

The topic came up in City Council discussions once again in 2016 when Council discussed the dangers of the state highways running through town. At that time, City Manager King and City Attorney Canlas presented the requirements to “install left-turn prohibitions from Westbound SR 75 (Third Street) onto A, B, and C Avenues.” It considered three options: signage to prevent left turns at any time; signage to prevent left turns during specific times; and installation of permanent barriers to prevent left turns.

The conversations in Council continued over several meetings and included a good deal of public comment. Those in favor spoke largely in terms of safety – in particular with regard to the danger of cars taking left turns onto Fourth Street and then crossing many lanes of traffic so as to continue southbound on the island. Those opposed emphasized several points: first, that the decision had already been taken to the voters in 2004 and the removal of barriers passed unanimously; second, that blocking A, B, and C would only divert traffic onto other streets – particularly D and E where there is much more student pedestrian traffic; and finally, such a diversion would create backup (perhaps nearly back to the bridge) on Third.

The Council initially voted to proceed to study the topic – even coming up with ballot language so that the decision could ultimately be put back to the voters (they had hoped to do this in November 2016, but were already too late). However, after an initial environmental study, King came back to Council with the news that the initial assessment indicated that a more focused environmental study would be required. In fact, the consultants who did the initial assessment wrote in their report: “Traffic diversion associated with the left turn prohibitions and the cul-de-sac are expected to increase vehicle delays on Third Street, Orange Avenue, and north-south residential streets on the west side of Orange Avenue. They would also significantly increase the delay for the westbound movements on Third Street and would exacerbate operations at the Orange Avenue intersections.” Essentially, the data presented showed that traffic would simply be transferred from A, B, and C to D and E. This, in addition to what appeared to be a fairly prohibitive cost of several hundred thousand dollars for a focused environmental review ultimately led then-Mayor Tanaka to direct staff to no longer pursue the study.

So, what has changed? According to those who are behind the effort, little has changed in terms of the lack of safety. Kathy McDonald, who owns a home at Fourth and A, says that she has had accidents on her front lawn. Ruth Ann Fisher, however, says that one thing that has changed is “how the traffic is moving. People are in more of a hurry and there is more cutting down the side streets. Maybe some of it is Uber and Lyft drivers… there is more tourism .”

Fisher says, she “went to the mayor and went to the city and I asked what it would take to get signs put up … [and was told] that I would need to get Proposition M overturned” by a vote of the citizens.

Of course, there is another way – a Council sponsored initiative as was contemplated in 2016. But, according to the Council minutes at the time: “Council sponsored ballot initiatives are “projects” under CEQA. The level of environmental review identified for this project is the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).”

So, a major difference with the Safe Streets effort is that no prior study is required before the question is put to the voters. And, no study will be required if it passes. Instead, it will be implemented and the outcome will be left to be seen.

For now, City Clerk Jennifer Ekblad says that Fisher and the others have until Feb. 25 to come up with the necessary number of signatures of registered voters on a petition to put the question to the voters. As of end of January, McDonald indicated that they had not yet secured the necessary signatures, but Fisher said they would get them. Fisher later indicated, “We may need to rewrite the initiative due to a technical issue.” But she has not yet provided an update.

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