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Monday, November 24, 2008

Davis City Council's Annual Goals

The Davis City Council began discussion on their annual goals this past Tuesday. At some point when the discussion moves further along, we can talk those goals. In the meantime, it seems that an interesting discussion may be what people in the community want to see done in the next year.

The better discussion here would be sticking to realistic goals, for example, building Covell Village in the next year is not really practical, however, approving a given housing development might be.

Since it is my blog, I will go first and name five goals I have.

I have numbered these goals for the sake of expediency. As I typed out five, I realized I could easily have written ten. But let us start with five basic goals.

1. Grocery store in West Lake Shopping Center

I will be West Davis Centric for right now. This is really my top goal for the upcoming year. I have lived next to West Lake Shopping Center now for over eight years, unbelievably. Since May of 2006 there has not been a grocery store. Amazingly places like Lamp Post Pizza, the little Mexican place, the Chinese place, and others have not gone out of business, even as West Yost Associates has also moved.

Criticism has to be lobbed at the owner, at least in the past, who first allowed the condition of the location to deteriorate, filled in the cargo bay at the rear of the grocery store, and it is unclear how hard he searched for a grocery store of the approximate size of 15,000 to 26,000 square feet.

A good specialty grocery store could work very well in this location. It turns out there are good amount of smaller chains that specifically design small and middle size grocery stores. We just have to find one to make it work.

There are people right now hard at work trying to find the right store to come into this location. This needs to be a top priority.

2. Road safety at 2nd D / and Pole Line

I put these together. One of the most dangerous locations in Davis is the left turn onto Pole Line in South Davis as you pull out of the Shopping Center. It is like navigating a mine field. First you have a steady stream of downhill traffic from the overpass who are generally driving like it is a thorough fare. Then you need to move quickly onto a suicide lane in the center and merge into heavy traffic. It is easy to miss some in either direction. It is an intersection that either needs a traffic light or needs to be a right turn only. The left turn set up as it is, is a recipe for deadly accidents, and deadly accidents have occurred there.

The intersection at fourth and D is a disaster waiting to happen. The good news is that D street just doesn't have the high volume of traffic. However, there are a few problems with the intersection if you are driving south on D away from Fifth Street. First, it is a two-way stop, meaning you have to stop at Fourth Street, but the traffic on Fourth Street doesn't stop. Some cars do not realize that. Second, because it is a two-way stop, the fact that the view of oncoming westbound traffic is obstructed by parked cars makes it perilous.

Accidents have almost occurred there for two reasons. Either the cars on D do not realize that it is a two-way stop. Or if they do, they can't see the cars coming and almost get hit as they drift out into traffic.

The sad thing is that the solution is simple. Put in a four-way stop. Or more being innovative, put in a round-about. Either way, a simple solution would save a giant pain if you find yourself on D Street heading towards downtown. And during Farmer's Market times, it is not an area that cars do not drive on.

3. Road diet on Fifth street

There are all sorts of problems with Fifth Street between B and L. First, traffic moves way too fast between those areas. Second, you have bikes that do not have a bike lane. Third, you have no turn lanes for people moving off Fifth. Fourth, you have no suicide lanes for cars moving on fifth. The result is that Fifth Street is an accident waiting to happen, and it often happens.

I drive on this stretch all the time, the biggest danger is the car turning onto Fifth Street because they have to wait for the traffic to die down and then they often try to squeeze into a very narrow space. Sometimes they misjudge that space, sometimes they don't see an oncoming car.

Contributing to that problem is of course the speed of traffic moving through there, which is why one proposal is a road diet, that would slow down traffic by narrowing the street to two lanes rather than four. This would cause congestion, which would lead people to avoid the area somewhat, but it would slow down traffic. They could then make turn lanes and suicide lanes to avoid the other problems of turns. It would also free up space for dedicated bike lanes.

This has been a subject of ongoing discussion. The DDBA and the Chamber of Commerce are concerned about the impact of changes to Fifth Street on business going to downtown. Nevertheless, this is an issue that needs to be resolved in a way that addresses safety concerns, bicycle transportation needs, pedestrian cross-concerns while at the same time not harming the downtown. A tough issue, but one that needs to be addressed.

4. Transparency in City Government

Those regulars to the Vanguard understand how heavily our focus looks at open government and transparency. This was an issue that Councilmember Lamar Heystek raised as well and of course we have some ideas.

Last year we raised the issue of the storage of public records. The concern was that the city only stores for instance the recordings of meetings for a few months, passes it on to the library who stores them for two years, but after two years those records are destroyed. So the only record we have of council meetings past two years are the minutes which are by design slim on detail. Thus past conversations and debates are largely lost. The issue was brought up at a joint HMRC-Council meeting this year and the council agreed this was an important issue and they wanted to look into way to store records of this nature.

That is really the beginning of the issue of open government. I would like to see the city pass some sort of sunshine ordinance which recognizes, as other cities do, that governing acts like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act are minimum standards for open government, rather than the limit for open government.

In my dealings with the city, they have been pretty open to public records requests and willing to work with me for the most part. Unfortunately, the California Public Records Act is one of the weakest open government record acts in the country. That is also a legislative goal as well to strengthen it, but much can be done on this even at a local level.

5. City Council to find working system for council comments

When Mayor Asmundson took over, there was a big concern about her limiting the public comments portion of the agenda. I still think this is somewhat problematic on tough issues, but she does appear somewhat flexible when large crowds come up. To me, you have to stay late to allow members of the public to speak. It does not happen all the time, but when it does, it should be accommodated.

In the meantime, the problem has arisen at the last two meetings when the Mayor has cut off Councilmember Sue Greenwald. Again, I do not agree with limiting time for a councilmember to speak. However, if that is going to occur it needs to occur in a systematic manner. To me, it appears that the Mayor cuts off Councilmember Greenwald quicker than she does other people.

If that is how she wants to run meetings, my recommendation is to announce in advance of an item that each councilmember has a certain amount of time to ask questions and then enforce it across the board. That probably is not the best system to use, but it would avoid some of the current flare ups.

Alright those are five of my council goals for 2009. There are clearly some key ones I missed like vacancies in downtown business, parking in the downtown, transportation, energy efficiency, re-examining the water issue, and much more. I could easily have done ten. I am curious as to what other people want to see.

---David M. Greenwald reporting