Despite objections from several ranchette owners, the Ceres City Council approved spending $3.4 million to widen sections of Morgan Road and install sidewalks as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program.
The council voted 3-1 to award the bid to United Pavement Maintenance.
The project will include pedestrian facility and street improvements, including pedestrian refuge islands, crosswalk improvements, curb ramp improvements, sidewalk installation and infill, street lighting, pavement overlay and striping on Morgan Road from Whitmore Avenue to Service Road.
The work is partially being funded by an Active Transportation Plan – Safe Route to Schools Grant (SRTS) given to the city in June 2017.
As the city was out surveying the project, the owners of ranchettes at 3307, 3413, 3507, and 3537 Morgan Road became upset about plans to widen the road and take 30 feet of their frontage. Those properties were determined by the city to be encroaching into the public right of way based on recorded maps and deeds. The owners proposed some design alternatives which were ultimately rejected by city engineers. The city, however, has agreed to relocate or fencing where possible and to extend sewer and water laterals to each ranchette property.
Ray Smith, who raised objections in November to the project, showed up again on Monday to ask the council to delay a decision in order to “work with the ranchette owners and get an outcome that will be satisfactory for both.” He accused the city of rushing through the project under the threat that the city would lose the funds if they weren’t spent by the end of June.
Smith was also unhappy with the city’s lack of clarity as to when the project would start, only being told this summer. He said he wants the new fences constructed before the old ones are removed.
After Councilman Mike Kline wondered what kind of alternatives could be worked out, Acting Public Works Director Sam Royal defended the city’s position that Morgan Road needs to be built to the full right-of-way and the design has been approved by the state to meet the Safe Routes to School grant requirements.
“At this point we can’t go back to the design stage,” Royal told Kline, “we have some funds that we need to secure and move on otherwise we’re going to lose them … and we’re talking about $674,000.”
He said the city will work with the ranchette owners to provide them additional access and accommodate their needs during construction.
Ceres resident John Warren suggested that city staff waited too long to be presented the project.
“I don’t care if the city loses $650,000 – maybe it’s not right to do what’s going to be done with that money,” said Warren.
Vice Mayor Bret Silveira defended the project, saying it’s been years in the making and was only on the agenda to award the contract.
“You insinuate that it’s a late, last-minute decision – it really isn’t,” Silveira told Warren. “This was just the final time that we’re go ahead and start the project and spend the money on it. This has been years and years and years in the making.”
Smith replied that he didn’t hear about it until last fall.
Councilman James Casey cast the lone vote on the project, questioning whether the ranchette owners were notified at the outset of planning.