Clay Street realignment moves ahead

By From page A1 | October 25, 2013

A city project stopped in mid-stream by a citizen group through litigation is moving forward once more, but not without dissension. On a 3-2 vote, the Placerville City Council Oct. 22 approved an agreement with PMC to provide a new environmental impact report for the Clay Street at Main Street/Cedar Ravine Realignment and Clay Street Bridge Replacement Project.

The Clay Street at Main Street/Cedar Ravine Realignment and Clay Street Bridge Replacement Project was approved by Placerville City Council on Feb. 8, 2011. The project proposes to mitigate traffic congestion on Main Street by realigning Clay Street with Cedar Ravine, through part of the Ivy House parking lot, adding a roundabout where Main Street, Clay Street and Cedar Ravine come together to aid the flow of  traffic and replacing the narrow Clay Street bridge with a wider version that can withstand a  100-year flood. Improvements to Clay Street and the Clay Street Bridge was a condition of approval for the Cottonwood Development Project of the 1990s.

Friends of Historic Hangtown, opponents of the project, particularly of the roundabout, filed a court action to prevent the project from continuing, declaring the  project’s EIR to be inadequate. A Superior Court decision on Feb. 14, 2012. ruled in favor of the Friends and ordered the city to refrain from further approval of the project unless and until an adequate EIR was prepared in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The court decision directed specific potential impacts that were to be evaluated in any future EIR, including impacts of traffic, parking, urban decay, biological cultural resources, toxic, aesthetic, growth-inducing and inconsistency with area plans and policies.

At an April 30 Neighborhood Chat meeting, going ahead with the project was the topic. Four options were discussed: doing nothing at all about the growing congestion at the intersection, realignment with stop signs, realignment with a signalized intersection or realignment with a roundabout. At the May 14 City Council meeting, council directed staff to proceed with the design phase of the project with a new EIR to thoroughly analyze each of the four options after a motion to delete the roundabout option failed.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, the council reviewed a consulting services agreement with PMC to prepare a new EIR for the project, including an updated traffic study, a mitigation monitoring and reporting program, public review and multiple public outreach meetings during the EIR process. The proposed cost of the work entailed in the agreement is $155,994, which is to be paid for from $4.5 million in appropriated funding from the Highway Bridge Program,  Congestion Management Air Quality, the Regional Surface Transportation Program and Traffic Impact Mitigation Fund.

“We need more concrete data in order to make an informed decision… a decision that is based on what is right and best for the city,” said Mayor Wendy Thomas. “To do that, we need to look at all the options.”

In the proposed  agreement with PMC, three of the options were to be explored with the EIR, the fourth option of  doing nothing was not included. Sixteen members of the audience spoke about the proposed EIR, some protesting the expenditure and about half of the speakers asking to put the question on the ballot so that the public could vote. Two audience members who live near Clay Street advocated going ahead with the EIR process in order to garner facts on all of the options, while other speakers said doing the EIR was “putting the cart before the horse.”

According to the court mandate, an EIR must be done before the project can continue, said Community Development Director Pierre Rivas.

The City Council was divided in their opinions as well. Vice mayor Carl Hagen said he would be willing to look at all four options to determine what could be done to improve Clay Street for vehicular, pedestrian and cyclist traffic.”Currently that intersection is rated at a level ‘F.’ The EIR will address all the options,” said Hagen.

“I have a concern that the high-tech visualization is only for the roundabout (in the PMC agreement)…it feels like the roundabout option is being crammed down the public’s throat and I won’t be a part of it,” said Councilwoman Trisha Wilkins.

“I’m sick of being accused that I’m doing this to benefit some developer,” said Councilwoman Patty Borelli. “I know of no project going up anywhere around there and that corner is a mess. I want to see that corner improved and made safe. I don’t see what is wrong with making improvements and I don’t think it is a waste of money.

Councilwoman Carol Patton said she supported the roundabout when she was on the Planning Commission when the Cottonwood Project came about. “The insinuation that this project is being done to benefit a developer is an insult not only to this council but to the past council as well…This is a fair project that will benefit the community and I would like a respectful dialogue to discuss the options.”

Mayor Thomas said, “I respectfully challenge council member Wilkins’ opinion that the council has already decided on the roundabout option. That is absolutely false. We are mandated to improve the Clay Street Bridge and Clay Street. I favor the realignment, I favor improving the Farmer’s Market parking lot…I have no faith that we can have a productive dialog if the roundabout is on the table. I think it could be a beautiful part of the project, but I stand by my actions on May 14 and think we should take the roundabout option out.”

The resolution to approve the agreement with PMC was amended to include additional public input meetings during the design phase and EIR process. The 3-2 vote passed with Thomas and Wilkins voting no and Patton, Borelli and Hagen voting yes.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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