Conflicting operations brought to light in Los Altos

Mark and Pam Gooman
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mark and Pam Goodman, above with their dog, Max, live along Los Altos Avenue, near the site of the imminent installation of flashing stop signs. The Goodmans spearheaded a petition that drew more than 200 signatures from neighbors opposed to the project. Residents listed several concerns with the project, including their belief that flashing stop signs will not improve safety for children going to and from school.

Although holes have been dug, cement poured and bolts posted in preparation to erect four flashing stop signs at the intersection of Los Altos and West Portola avenues, Los Altos City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins promised neighborhood residents that construction would halt until their concerns are heard. City Manager Chris Jordan, however, vowed the project would proceed.

The Los Altos/West Portola facet of the Capital Improvement Program received the go-ahead last June during an evaluation of six Safe Routes to School projects, and the installation of the flashing stop signs – delayed by “weather and unforeseen conditions with utility conflicts” – will continue full speed ahead, Jordan wrote in an email to the Town Crier.

That’s troubling news for Mark Goodman, a neighborhood resident who circulated a petition objecting to the lights because he deems them distracting. After reaching out to Bruins with his concerns about lights that would flash day and night, Goodman received an email in response.

“Unless you hear from me otherwise, you don’t need to be concerned about flashing lights being installed …, ” she wrote. “I will touch base with staff after the holiday.”

Staff said residents living within 500 feet of the affected area have already had a chance to weigh in on the project. They were sent notification letters early last year, and schools nearby received emails about it, according to Jordan.

Problematic planning

City spokeswoman Erica Ray said Goodman and his neighbors received notification of the Feb. 12 meeting in one way or another, and not one of them attended. A lack of resident participation in the project planning phase can be problematic, she added.

“It is not until they see construction activity that they start asking questions or want to provide input,” Ray said of residents who do not get involved before the project bidding process. “By this time, project plans are already approved by council, funds are allocated and any changes to the project scope can result in scheduling delays and additional costs.”

Goodman, who said he has visited each residence within four blocks of his home on Los Altos Avenue to discuss the project, differs with city staff on the effectiveness of the notification.

“My friend Larry Gardner, who lives about a block and a half away, came to my door Dec. 18 and said, ‘Do you know what they’re going to do here?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess they’re going to put the stop signs back,’” Goodman said. “He said, ‘No, they’re putting up flashing signs.’ He had already talked to the transportation manager.”

A few days later, Goodman said he visited Los Altos transportation manager Aruna Bodduna and told her that the only notification neighbors got about the project was the public notice that ran in the Feb. 12, 2018, edition of the Town Crier – and it did not explicitly describe the signs. Goodman said Bodduna told him it sounded like a legal matter and sent him to the city attorney.

“That isn’t what we wanted,” Goodman said, referring to his wife, Pam, and the 210 others who signed his online petition. “We wanted to be heard. The city needs to listen to the citizens who live here.”

The Goodmans don’t like that the LED flashing stop signs will be on all the time. The city could change that – programming them to flash at only certain times and days of the week – but any alteration of the pattern must first be approved by the Complete Streets Commission, Jordan said.

Bruins advised Goodman to contact the commissioners and attend their next meeting, scheduled Jan. 23. Goodman said he would attend the meeting if the matter wasn’t resolved at the Jan. 8 city council meeting, held after the Town Crier’s press deadline.

Goodman said Bruins was the only council member to engage with him, likely cued by Goodman’s reminder to her that she stopped by his home and complimented his garden when she was running for re-election two years ago.

“I liked her so much, I put up signs in that yard,” Goodman said. “She promised she would take care of her citizens. … How hard is it to send us a letter or knock on our door?”

 When reached via email by the Town Crier last week, Bruins wrote, “I expect the commission to consider the options available, which will include the operational hours for the flashing function. I have confidence in our commissioners’ ability to weigh the options and act in the best interest of our residents, those who rely on a safe crossing and those who live in immediate proximity.”

Goodman said he would support the project if it were truly needed to improve safety for children attending school in the neighborhood. However, he noted that crossing guards are present at the intersection during school hours (a fact not mentioned in the city’s 2015 Pedestrian Master Plan), and that the 2011 Collector Traffic Calming Plan classified the intersection as the lowest priority level with zero collisions.

Goodman added that studies by agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Transportation show that flashing lights create no relative change or cause more crash-inducing hazards than before.

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