Opponents battle over Prado Road extension
August 25, 2010
By LETICIA RODRIGUEZ
The fight over the proposed extension of Prado Road that would connect South Higuera Street to Broad Street on the south end of San Luis Obispo, which will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, is heating up.
The proposal, Measure H on the San Luis Obispo city ballot, would halt the extension project to connect Prado Road with south Broad Street. A rejection by the voters will allow the project to go forward.
The measure was approved for the Nov. 2 ballot after the City Council unanimously decided to put the initiative created by Mila Vujovich-LaBarre, Bill Wilson and Mike Sullivan on the ballot in a City Council meeting on July 20. Their other option was to agree to halt the Prado Road extension.
Council member Allen Settle said the City Council unanimously decided to oppose the initiative because passing it would throw out the city’s plans that have been in the works for decades. Settle also said approving the initiative creates a dead-end road that would only increase traffic and gridlock on Broad Street and Tank Farm Road.
“It’s moving backwards and it’s also a bit late,” Settle said. “If Measure H should actually pass there will be nothing but a dead end road that would force all the traffic on a two lane road, Tank Farm, and would generate gridlock on Broad and Tank Farm.”
The gridlock on Broad Street and Tank Farm Road isn’t the only thing City Council members took into consideration. Settle said over the last several years he has received numerous phone calls from concerned citizens, angry that they have to travel around town to get to the other side.
“People have said, ‘You know this has go, to be better than this,’ and now we have an opportunity to do it and you have to get all of these different permissions and permits, both federal and local,” Settle said. “Also the environmental impacts reports are very expensive and take time to get that all done, certified and signed off. If a person is going to have an objection to a project, they really need to be more timely rather than waiting until it’s essentially all done.”
The extension, which has been a part of the city’s general plan since 1962, would extend Prado Road through land currently owned by the Garcia family. It would run on the north side of the Damon-Garcia Sports Fields, ending at Broad where Derrel’s Mini Storage, Inc., is located.
Wilson and Vujovich-LaBarre said they are fighting the road’s construction because it was not on the agenda item in fall 1999, nor was the final purchase agreement (where the city states there will be a road from the purchased property), made public. As a result, they said, the public was not officially informed that the city planned to use a portion of the 23.5 acres for a road.
“Although it might have been discussed away from the City Council area, what people saw on the agenda item was 23.5 acres for recreation and I want to get that land back for recreation because I really feel that that has really been a huge travesty,” Vujovich-LaBarre said.
Vujovich-LaBarre and Wilson said when the city purchased the 23.5 acres for $2 million in 1999 from the Damon and Garcia families, the land was purchased with the understanding that it would be used purely for recreational purposes.
Roy and Dolly Garcia, however, argue that was never the case.
But in final purchase agreement documents from 1999 , it was stated that in addition to being used for athletic fields, the property would also be used for purposes “including, but not limited to roadways, detention basins and other municipal uses and public facilities.” In the purchase documents, the city and the Damon and Garcia families agreed that the two families would have an easement so that the families will have access “from their Prado Road home to their Broad Street home … until such time as Prado Road is fully improved and open to public use.”
Currently, the only way for the Garcias to get off their property is to cut through private property or by driving on the paved pedestrian walkway that borders the sports fields to get to Broad Street.
Roy Garcia said he doesn’t understand why Vujovich-LaBarre and Wilson are fighting the extension when it will have no impact on the sports fields.
“What’s she saving (the fields) from?” he wondered. “It’s there, it’s safe.”
The road extension would also go hand-in-hand with approximately 800 housing units that have been in the works for more than 20 years. Victor Montgomery, principal of RRM Design Group in San Luis Obispo, said he is upset about the initiative because it provides no solution to what Vujovich-LaBarre and Wilson see as a problem.
Instead, Montgomery said the opponents of the extension just end the road at a dead end, giving the pubic only half the equation. Montgomery said that as an employer, delaying the extension means delaying work.
“When times were good, housing was too expensive and there wasn’t enough of it,” Montgomery said. “Housing is still expensive in San Luis Obispo and there’s not enough of it and now we’re going to take a potential 800 units that could develop and say, ‘No we’re going to delay it another five to 10 years while we try to figure out what to do with Prado Road.
“That’s my biggest heartburn with this initiative — they identify what they say is a problem but provide no solution.”
Opponents of the road extension argue that building a four-lane road so close to the sports fields is dangerous and a health hazard to the smaller children who play on the field closest to where the road is proposed.
“It’s a four lane highway coming into a major intersection,” Wilson said. “They’re going to be backing up and then you look at the pollutants that are going to be coming from those cars and the wind blows down on our kids so our smallest children are going to be affected the most. I feel this puts a great spotlight on what our city values most. Do we value roads or do we value our children? What type of future do we want to have for our future generations?”
But according to Aeron Arlin Genet, manager of the planning and the outreach division for San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District, many of the health concerns depend on the most common type of car that would be using the road and the expected daily traffic flow. She said the district has not seen any plans yet for Prado Road, but that some key issues will need to be addressed.
“The volume of traffic, the composure of the vehicle that will be using it,” Arlin Genet said. “Diesel versus gasoline, the distance from the park and where the children will be playing. At a first evaluation, just thinking about Prado Road versus (U.S.) Highway 101, Highway 101 has segments of the road that exceed the 50,000 vehicles per day threshold. I would really like to know from the city one way or another how it compares to the 50,000 traveled per day.”
As it stands, the air pollution control district has not seen plans for Prado Road so Arlin Genet said she could not say for sure if there are health hazards as a result of car emissions from the road being next to the sports fields.
However, in the Air Resource Board’s guidebook, “Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective” the ARB reported a study done by the “American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine” in 2001 that “asthma symptoms increased with proximity to roadways and the risk was greatest within 300 feet.”
Arlin Genet said that in comparison to other more populated cities in the state, San Luis Obispo County has a significantly lower air toxic cancer risk. Montgomery maintains that the Prado Road extension running on the north side of the Damon-Garcia Sports Fields is no different than streets that run alongside other parks in town.
“Has anybody died from air pollution at Meadow Park that we know of?” Montgomery said. “I don’t think they have any evidence to support that argument, I don’t think they have any backing from the Air Pollution Control District to support that argument.
“They’re just guessing and supposing and making it up as you go. If they had somebody from the Air Pollution Control District saying this is a serious significant concern, I might be listening.”
In city documents, the city said the extension would be approximately 70 feet from the bottom sports field, just six feet closer than Broad is to the fields. Furthermore, the city report stated that the road would be elevated similar to the fields at Laguna Middle School, which are bordered by Los Osos Valley Road.
Also of concern for the extension opponents is a planned pedestrian underpass that would connect the south street hills open space with the sports fields. In an e-mail, Deputy Directory of Public Works Tim Bochum said the planned pedestrian underpass will be a minimum 8.5 feet high but that the city would like to “achieve as much as 12 feet depending upon the bridge type (depth of structure) that can be used for the road that goes over the pedestrian crossing.”
In the end, Wilson said a major reason why he is fighting the road is because he wants to preserve the beauty of San Luis Obispo.
“What do we value as a society?” Wilson said. “Do we value truck routes or do we value our children? We want to protect and preserve our parks and our space for future generations.”
Roy Garcia sees the situation differently.
“We figured we’re doing those people a great favor out here by having a ball park,” Roy Garcia said. “We did everything we thought was right and good for the people and the children, and why they’re saying it’s wrong, is beyond me.”