Construction crews began working on Belvin Street earlier this week. Daily Record photo by Gerald Castillo
Sidewalk program sparks debate
The City of San Marcos is working on making its sidewalk program more transparent, but not to the satisfaction of one Belvin Street resident with complaints about a sidewalk being put in on her block.
At its meeting last week, the San Marcos City Council gave direction to City Manager Bert Lumbreras to let the council’s multimodal committee look at the city’s sidewalk program. At issue are the ways in which members of the public are notified about projects and what Mayor Jane Hughson referred to as a “return on investment” — whether sidewalks are being put where they will get the most use.
Lumbreras said the sidewalk program was adopted years ago with the intention of repairing and improving existing sidewalks and filling in areas where there are no sidewalks. Recently, he said, the city has expanded the notification area for sidewalk projects, started notifying residents 60 days in advance instead of 30, holding public meetings on the sidewalk program twice a year instead of once, and notifying the Neighborhood Commission of sidewalk projects 60 days ahead of time.
However, Hughson’s question about sidewalk use throughout the city, along with drainage needs and difficulty factors of putting in sidewalks in some areas, went unanswered.
“I’m still trying to figure out why we’ve got so many sidewalks going in when the 300 block of Hutchison Street — I think it’s the 300 block, across from Sanctuary Lofts — it’s a path. If I’m walking from a couple of places that I walk from sometimes, it’s still a dirt path there,” she noted.
Assistant Director of Public Services Sabas Avila said it is hard to count the number of people walking along the street without an improvement. However, safety is key to increasing pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
“If you have a busy road and cars are flying at 50 miles an hour and the sidewalk is right next to the curb, that’s not going to increase safety, and you’re probably not going to see an increase in pedestrian traffic,” he said, but in areas where traffic is slower, “It’ll be a safe place for children to walk, it’ll be a safe place for children to ride their bikes.”
Avila said that people canvassed in the neighborhood have said they are looking forward to having a sidewalk. However, Lisa Marie Coppoletta later challenged that. Coppoletta, whose block on Belvin Street is getting a sidewalk, has done research for months and said many of her neighbors have been calling the city about the project.
“All these things you’re saying are not necessarily accurate,” she said.
Council member Ed Mihalkanin said, “It doesn’t take that much time to ask the people on a block, ‘Do you want a sidewalk?’”
Council member Mark Rockeymoore asked Tom Taggart, public services executive director, whether people had said they want a sidewalk on their block.
“What is the result?” he asked. “How many people want the sidewalk, and how many people do not?”
“We didn’t specifically ask the question, ‘Are you in favor,’” Taggart responded.
“Why not?” Rockeymoore asked.
“We were there to listen basically and inform them of what we were planning to do and listen to their feedback and take it,” Taggart said. “We didn’t want to be seen as trying to solicit an answer.”
Taggart said one person was opposed to the project; no one else indicated opposition, he said, though some expressed concerns about flooding.
Hughson asked Lumbreras if he was seeking a recommendation that items such as the sidewalk program go to the council’s multimodal committee for work.
“There seems to be a lot of perspectives around what our sidewalk program should look like,” Lumbreras said, adding that if the city were to conduct an examination of the sidewalk program policies, “I would suggest that would be a place to start it.”
Mihalkanin, Hughson and Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Prewitt are on the multimodal committee.
After the council’s discussion, Coppoletta spoke and asked the council to approve a stop order on the Belvin Street project, so that she could have the same considerations the rest of the community could receive after the city looks at the sidewalk program.
“I want a safe community,” she said. “I want people to be safe. But as far as foot traffic, there is zilch on my block.”
She also noted the particular circumstances of her house, which is an old structure designed to have air flow from the outside.
“This begins in less than a week. … All those particulates will be blasted into my house,” she said.
She also noted that her side of Belvin Street is dark.
“Those people are going to be right up by my front door with no lights,” she said.
The sidewalk project on Belvin Street began on Monday. Coppoletta is documenting the process and has said that trees have already suffered damage.