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City wrangling with attorney over Fowler stop signs
Alternatives to stops explored
stop sign
A controversial set of stop signs on Fowler Road at Lunar Drive is the target of attorney Brett Jolley, who is also fighting the Walmart Supercenterproject. His client does not like the stops. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

The recent decision of the Ceres City Council to install a stop sign on Fowler Road east of Mitchell Road has pitted the city against an attorney hired by a few residents on the stretch of road.

City officials are negotiating with Brett Jolley, the attorney known for fighting the Walmart Supercenter and Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project, who is threatening a lawsuit over the stop sign. Jolley wants the city to remove the stop sign and explore other methods to control a problem of speeders on the street east of Sam Vaughn Elementary School.

"His position was we did not properly go through CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) before installing stop signs," said city attorney Mike Lyions.

"The city is of the opinion that a stop sign does not fall under CEQA."

The council approved a "tolling agreement" which limits any legal challenge to the stop sign before July 12. No more than two three-week extensions may be granted, which means Jolley has by Aug. 23 to file a lawsuit or drop the matter.

The city sat down with Jolley on June 14 to explore alternatives other than the stop sign and plans to repeat the process on July 11.

"We did not have too much progress toward resolving the matter," said Lyions. "We are open to exploring thoughts but no one has come up with anything. We're considering their possible suggestions."

The council is talking to Jolley, said Lyions, to avert time in court because "even if we are correct, there is a certain expense in legal expenses to defend our position."

Lyions said the council has been engaged in a "wait and see proposition" to see if the stop signs at Lunar Drive proves effective in reducing speed. Jolley told the council in April that he suspects motorists will speed up to make up for the time spent slowing down for the new stop sign. The council has not determined how long it will wait to evaluate the effectiveness of the signs.

The council determined at a Feb. 25 Study Session that there are limited options to slow down traffic on the road, which carries 5,000 trips per day, many of which are transporting children to and from Sam Vaughn Elementary School and Mae Hensley Junior High School. The street segment, which runs from Rite Aid on Mitchell Road to Marie Neil Park on Boothe Road, is a primary collector street slicing through a residential area. The street serves as a main route to link Mitchell Road with Eastgate, a major east side housing development.

Jolley acknowledged that his clients desire a safe street but stated road conditions do "not meet the threshold to require a stop sign." He cited studies saying stop signs are unwarranted at control speeds 150 feet from an intersection. He said motorists tend to disregard unwarranted stop signs and thus give crossing pedestrians a false sense of security.

Mayor Chris Vierra was the lone vote on the stop signs in April, agreeing with Jolley that the stops are not warranted. Vierra is a civil engineer by career.

Jolley represents a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres, which has waged a fight against the Walmart project. Two of its principal members, Sherri Jacobson and Rick Rushton, live on Fowler Road near the new stop signs.

Lyions said that Jolley and his group are pressing for a trial in Fresno challenging the validity of the city's ability to approve the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center under CEQA. He said the group's delays and series of appeals could result in the delay of a court decision by at least two years or longer.