It was an evening of strong passion sprinkled with some frustration May 14 at the San Marino Center as residents gathered with city officials to voice their thoughts on city traffic projects that could be possible with the $32 million from Measure R transportation funds allocated for the city from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The funds are meant to address traffic impact stemming from Metro’s decision to not construct the 710 freeway tunnel project. The tunnel project aimed to link the 710 and 210 freeways.
Previously presented projects considered in San Marino are Huntington Drive intersection work ($12 million), Huntington Drive signal synchronization ($7 million), work in front of school sites on Huntington Drive ($6 million), work along Sierra Madre Boulevard ($4 million) and San Gabriel Boulevard signal synchronization ($3 million).
In the city-led meeting, City Council Member Steve Talt, Director of Parks and Public Works Michael Throne and City Manager Dr. Marcella Marlowe asked for ideas from residents on what they’d like to see for traffic-centric projects in the city, stressing that the meeting was for ideas and wasn’t a final opportunity for input.
“We want you to think of ways and ideas that we could use the money in a way we want to without respect to some general concept out there that Huntington Drive is to become a freeway,” said Talt.
Throne took notes on ideas presented by residents on a large pad of paper at the front of the room. He shared that his role was to accept everyone’s ideas so that preliminary sketches of those plans could be made and then presented in the future as more developed possibilities for Metro funding.
“It’s very difficult right now for there to be lots and lots of words but no pictures,” said Throne.
According to a handout at the meeting provided by the Parks and Public Works Department, there is “no immediate urgency” for the City Council to decide on the projects and Metro won’t be ready to approve city-developed projects until late summer 2019, at the earliest.
Several residents expressed a sense of confusion about the goal of the meeting, one hour time limit and concern on the ability for future input, which resulted in many questions and suggestions being freely voiced from the gathered group. Marlowe stepped in to clarify that the meeting was put together “at the last moment” as a result of the April 29 community-led meeting.
“We anticipate many more community engagement sessions,” said Marlowe. “We’d like to give you something to look at because right now what you’re looking at is essentially placeholder projects from before that we have every intention of amending. We’d like to give you some of the real projects that we think might work here and really get your thoughts on that.”
Marlowe elaborated that the city wasn’t at the stage to “take, accept or reject part or in total any of the money” from Metro and the opportunity would come for residents to suggest their desires to the City Council, who hold the final vote on the funding.
“What we’re trying to do right now is see if there are projects that you would be interested in that would make your lives better, and if the answer is no—no problem, we don’t need to accept the money,” explained Marlowe.
Residents brought up concerns that Metro would not fund safety-oriented projects that many felt were pressingly important to the city, particularly around schools on Huntington Drive. Talt referenced an email he received from Metro which stated that safety was now a valid consideration within the projects. He apologized for the change and encouraged residents to share ideas on both congestion reduction and safety.
“What a lot of us were operating on, me too, was it’s these five projects, or two of the five projects, or nothing [and] you won’t get a dime,” said Talt. “We’ve now discovered that’s not correct. As long as whatever we come up with is consistent with reducing congestion and safety…we can have other people’s money pay for projects that we want, and that’s what we’re looking at right now.”
Ideas presented by residents included changing the intersection at Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard to a previous configuration, either fully and partially synchronizing lights along Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard, adding speed bumps along Los Robles Avenue, adding a toll fee on Huntington Drive and adding a dedicated lane in front of schools for safety.
Resident Eugene Sun, former mayor and city council member, said he was in favor of traffic light synchronization so that the city would be able to control the speed limit along Huntington Drive.
“With synchronization, we’re going to avoid a traffic backup,” said Sun. “If we have a standstill [and] traffic backup, traffic will go to the side streets along the residential area.”
Resident Joe Petrillo, a retired deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, urged the city to come together to list five to 10 priorities that they’d ideally like to see, and then see how those would align with the Metro project scope possibilities.
“The traffic is coming, understand that,” said Petrillo. “You can’t stop it. You don’t have the power. Steve [Talt] doesn’t even have the power to stop the traffic. What we have the power to do is efficiently move the traffic through our city at a reasonable safe speed…like many of the cities in Orange County are doing, San Bernardino County are doing. That’s what we need to do.”
Resident Marilyn Peck of Huntington Drive said that all roads seem to be leading to her street and expressed a strong sentiment for the city to consider the residents’ needs first and foremost.
“I want to remind you when you do your planning, remember we have businesses, schools, everything along Huntington Drive. It slices through our community. Before you make it a highway or enlarge it in any way, remember we’re not listening to Metro—you have to listen to us,” said Peck, followed by a round of applause from fellow residents.
Resident Eileen Hale, a 10-year former member of the city’s traffic commission, shared her own experience with traffic within the city and said “traffic is like water” which would flow to the areas of least resistance. She said with the city’s population holding fairly stable over the last 60 years, San Marino has a commuter problem and not a traffic program.
“We don’t have more people. Everybody else has more people,” said Hale. “So I don’t understand why we have to take the burden of South Pas passing the 710 to put it onto Huntington.”
Hale urged the city to take a defensive role in traffic management and look at ways to improve safety while not increasing speed or volume.
“There are things we can do that are not very expensive like signage during commuting hours, no left when the traffic goes this way, no right when the traffic goes that way, to keep it off of the side streets but don’t encourage it,” said Hale.
Resident Lee Benuska shared that as a licensed civil engineer in California for 50 years, he could see a possibility of adding a lane at schools for safety while reminding the city of a difference in goals between Metro and the community.
“Basically Metro’s goals are different than our goals,” said Benuska. “I’ve heard safety, safety, safety, rather than their goal, which is throughput.”