New stop signs are going up this week at Fowler Road and Lunar Drive despite the threat of legal action lodged by the group devoted to the defeat of the Walmart Supercenter project.
After years of hearing pleas by residents of Fowler Road to do something to slow traffic on the busy street, members of the Ceres City Council on Monday voted 4-1 to approve a three-way stop. However, they got an earful from Sherri Jacobson, the founder of the group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres, and their attorney Brett Jolley.
Some members of the group -- Jacobson included -- reside on the street and dislike the idea of the proposal.
"I don't see how a stop sign is going to slow down people on Fowler Road," said "Citizens" member Geri Ottersbach, who is also Jacobson's mother. "On Fowler you can go at a pretty high speed from Mitchell to Lunar. It's a long, straight road."
While Jacobson agreed that speeding is a problem on Fowler Road east of Mitchell Road, she said a stop sign "is likely to increase speeding." She suggested driver feedback signs that show driver speed relative to the posted speed.
"Speeders, confronted with an unwarranted stop sign will simply increase speed to make up for the lost time," stated Jacobson.
Herb Henry, who is a Ceres pastor, defended son-in-law Derek Cowell's push for traffic controls. Henry said the Cowells will be giving birth soon and are concerned for his safety when he is spending time at grandparents' home on Fowler Road. Pastor Henry also noted that when he came to Ceres in 1986 he first bristled when the city installed a four-way stop at Nadine and Richland avenues near his church, Richland Faith Assembly of God. "It wasn't really handy for me but I respected the issue of safety and I've been very thankful for the installation of that four-way over these past 20 something years," said Henry. "It has kept Richland from becoming a raceway. I think the same principle is in respect to this issue."
On Monday Jolley delivered a six-page letter challenging the council on the legal merits of the stop signs for Fowler Road.
The council determined at a Feb. 25 Study Session that the city has few options available 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.
Derek Cowell petitioned the city to place speed bumps on the street in 2009 at Lunar and Fowler but a study concluded that the stop was not warranted. City Engineer Toby Wells also said the stretch of Fowler Road fails to meet three of nine criteria's for the justification of speed bumps.
Jolley acknowledged that his clients want safety 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, agreeing with Jolley that the stops are not warranted. Vierra is a civil engineer by career.
"I believe we need to do something safety wise but you're asking me to ... make a decision on something that the state and federal government says is not a safe condition," said Vierra. "We need to find a solution. I'm just not sure it's a stop sign."
City Attorney Mike Lyions rejected Jolley's assertion that a stop sign would trigger environmental studied under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the same tool he used to challenge the Walmart project. Lyions also stated his opinion that the city would prevail if challenged on the issue of the stop signs.
Vice Mayor Ken Lane suggested seeing how well the stop signs work after a year. He also suggests adding driver feedback signs. "There's still other things we need to do," said Lane.
Councilman Mike Kline said the stop signs will help reduce speeding, which has come from some of the residents in the area.
Councilman Bret Durossette said he feels the stop sign will add a measure of safety to the route. He said while warrants cannot be met by state standards, it's closer to meeting them than before.
City officials met with the neighborhood on Dec. 20 and heard of concerns and launched an enforcement campaign. Police issued 52 traffic citations during a 40-day period, with all drivers being cited for traveling at least 10 mph faster than the 25mph speed limit, said Wells.
"There's no silver bullet here," said Wells. "We have a behavioral issue and it's Ceres, it's not Fowler Road, it's not Stanislaus County, it's not California, it's not the nation. This is a worldwide issue."
Others who spoke in favor of the stop signs included former Ceres School Board member Ben Harden who appeared upset that Jacobson did not seem concerned about children.