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Motoring parents reap what they sow in school zone jams
In a right turn lane for staff members, parents will often park at a red curb to let their Cesar Chavez Junior High School students off, then often make an unsafe U-turn in the middle of Whitmore Avenue. The practice is one of the aggravating factors for those who abide by the rules of the road near all Ceres schools.

It's perhaps the most aggravating weekday ritual in Ceres: Traffic jams and unsafe driving practices around campuses as parents drop off and pick up their children at any of the schools.

It's gotten so bad at Cesar Chavez Junior High School that parent Don Cool recently took a complaint to the Ceres City Council.

"It's a fight every day," said Cool, who drives his 14-year-old eighth-grade daughter to the junior high. "In fact I told my daughter I won't pick her up at 2:10; I told her to wait 10 minutes so I can make sure all the crap has cleared."

The problem is intense at Chavez, where conditions do not allow parents to park a distance away for drop-offs to avoid entering the student drop-off area on the same dead-end stub of Eastgate Boulevard that serves La Rosa Elementary School. Because the road is painted with a "No Parking" red curb, parents may not legally park at the curb -- but do anyway. The cumulative actions clog the street with cars as they cycle through the area to drop their child off.

"The design is horrible," said Cool. "The design is terrible. These parking lots are just not designed big enough for all the cars that need to park. It all surrounds around common courtesy. Don't take five minutes to get your kid out of the car."

Some parents dodge the Eastgate Boulevard bottleneck by dropping students off on the junior high's Whitmore Avenue frontage, which is also against the law and unsafe. The entire stretch of the curb is painted red.
"They'll park by the fire hydrant and flip a U-turn to go back west on Whitmore," commented Cool. "It's like a derby at the fair."

Ceres Police officials met with Ceres Unified School District officials on March 12 and according to Police Chief Art deWerk "CUSD staff did not have any ideas on how to address the problem that would relieve some of the issues faced by motorists."

DeWerk said police will do what they can to enforce the law but noted "this is a short-term fix to a larger issue."

"It's certainly a problem that I can ask for stepped-up law enforcement," said Ceres Unified School District Supt. Scott Siegel. "We can't issue citations."
Most of the campuses have similar problems, said Deputy Chief of Police Mike Borges, especially Mae Hensley Junior High School and Central Valley High School where red curb and double-parking are commonly seen violations.

"I'm pleasantly happy we don't have accidents," said Borges.

On a rotation basis, Borges said Ceres Police's small traffic enforcement unit is concentrating on patrols around schools' starting and release times and patrol officers are directed to swing by schools at peak traffic hours. Borges said even the Vehicle Abatement Unit is enforcing laws in school vicinities.

Borges said the vast majority of students walk to school but he can understand why parents prefer to drive their pre-schoolers, kindergartners, and first- and second-graders.

He suggests that parents help alleviate the problem as follows:

• Don't double park anywhere;

• Don't park in a red zone ever;

• Park a block or so away and walk your child to the classroom.

• Drive smarter and more courteously;

• Leave earlier if possible or delay pick-up.

Siegel said the traffic congestion at Chavez and La Rosa can be reduced if a sidewalk is built on the south side of Whitmore Avenue between Moore Road and Eastgate Boulevard. The properties there are in county jurisdiction, however city officials are seeing what they can do to get a sidewalk built to get more kids to walk to those two campuses.

Many of the new schools built by CUSD recently are located outside the city limits, but Ceres Police still respond to issues. Those schools include Berryhill, La Rosa, Cesar Chavez, CVHS and Hidahl and soon to include Hanline and Patricia Beaver elementary schools.

"The further we make these schools out from the housing you're going to have these kinds of problems," fears Cool.
Siegel said schools cannot possibly be planned to eliminate vehicular traffic congestion at drop-off and pick-up times.

"We're talking about getting 600 to 700 kids to a campus in a tight window. With that very tight time frame you're going to have traffic ingestion before and after school. All we can do is ask parents to be patient and drive carefully. But it is simply not possible to size it to where there are no problems. It would require ludicrous more acreage... to accommodate hundreds of vehicles at the same time."

CUSD has been able to modify the drop-off areas of older campuses built in day when fewer students attended and fewer parents drove. One of those modifications occurred at Don Pedro Elementary School which was constructed in 1949 and relied solely on street parking.