When a city council orders a stop sign normally there is nothing controversial about such an action designed to make traffic safer. But creating a three-way stop on Fowler Road at Lunar Drive not only has generated controversy but now has attracted a lawsuit as well.
That's because the new stop signs are near the residence of Sherri Jacobson and Rick Rushton, leaders of the group calling themselves "Citizens for Ceres" which is suing the city to halt the Walmart Supercenter project.
In April the Ceres City Council voted 4-1 to install the stop signs in response to years of pleas from residents of Fowler Road to do something to slow traffic on the busy street. Jacobson and her attorney, Brett Jolley, protested the action. In April Jacobson agreed that speeding is a problem on Fowler Road east of Mitchell Road, but said a stop sign "is likely to increase speeding" to make up for the lost time of slowing for a stop sign.
The council determined at a Feb. 25 Study Session that the city had few options available to slow down traffic on the street, 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.
Not all on the city thought the stop signs were warranted, including Mayor Chris Vierra and City Engineer Toby Wells. In March, Wells recommended against installing stop signs on Fowler Road. According to a staff report, "a sufficient number of warrant conditions have not been met to justify installation of the stop signs on Fowler Road."
Jolley said 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.
Jolley insisted that the city needed to do an environmental impact study before the stop signs could be approved to which Vierra, an engineer by trade, balked. Jolley said the stop signs "will have noise, traffic, and safety impacts which have not yet been evaluated or mitigated by the city as required by state law."
City Attorney Mike Lyions rejected Jolley's assertion that environmental studies were needed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the same tool he is using to challenge the Walmart project. Lyions also stated his opinion that the city would prevail if challenged on the issue of the stop signs.
Since the stop signs were installed, city staff and Jolley met to mete out a solution. Jolley said his clients volunteered to help pay for the installation of driver feedback signs instead of the stop signs. The city did not respond.
Jolley filed suit on August 23, in Stanislaus County Superior Court challenging Ceres' approval of the installation of the stops. The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the stop signs, and remove them.
Jacobson said suing the city was not "an easy decision because many members would prefer our group and the city use its time, energy, and resources toward real community awareness and safety on Fowler. Unfortunately, the City Council chose to withdraw from negotiations and to end the tolling agreement."
She said "For many, the new three-way stop isn't working to control speeders, and has become a nuisance and a real safety problem."
"Why Ceres leaders continue to favor a decision of using stop signs for controlling the speeding problems along Fowler is beyond me," said Citizens' member Rick Rushton. "No police department in this county has the resources it needs to patrol every neighborhood for speeders. But that's no reason to install unwarranted stop signs or allow a bad decision to give our children a false sense of safety. The only purpose these signs serve is to hang illegal garage sale signs on."
When voting for the stop signs Ceres Vice Mayor Ken Lane said he wanted to see how well they work after a year's time. 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 felt 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 about fast vehicles and launched an enforcement campaign. Police issued 52 traffic citations during a 40-day period, with all cited drivers traveling at least 10 mph faster than the 25mph speed limit, said Wells.