San Benito High School received the blessing of the county Board of Supervisors Jan. 20 to consider a temporary closure during school hours of the area where Nash Road runs through campus, and create an elevated roadway as a relief valve that doubles as a pedestrian sidewalk. However, that three-jurisdiction plan hit a road bump later that evening when the Hollister City Council, which has jurisdiction of Nash from its centerline northward, voted 3-2 against a resolution that would have authorized Mayor Ignacio Velazquez to sign the agreement.
Councilmembers Victor Gomez, Raymond Friend, and Mickie Solorio-Luna voted against the plan, while Velazquez and Karson Klauer supported it.
Completion of the project by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year this fall seemed like a "stretch," Public Works Director Joe Horwedel said at the supervisors' meeting Tuessday morning. "The goal is to essentially create a pedestrian sidewalk that would move through Nash Road that cars would move into," explained Horwedel. "Drivers would recognize that they're moving into somewhere that is not a normal roadway. You still could move through it, but it might be raised up…like an extended speed hump."
"The goal really is to make this a pedestrian space for the students," he said.
That speed hump idea hit a speed bump with the council, which heard from a number of residents who live near the high school. Most of them said they were concerned that any traffic diversion plan would decrease safety in the neighborhoods that surround the school. No one from the San Benito High School District spoke at the council meeting.
Diane Castaneda, a 33-year resident of Suiter Street, said that while she was "not here to bash" students and that SBHS is "a great school," she said neighbors are victims of illegal activities by high school students "who have no consideration for us homeowners." She liked the idea of speed bumps rather than a closure from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during school days, as the city indicated was the plan.
Kelly Sepulveda, who has lived on the corner of D and Powell streets for 25 years, said that while she is "all for high school safety … you can't take one problem and make a problem for someone else. (A closure of Nash Road during school hours) is going to be a a total nightmare." She suggested putting a caged overpass above Nash Road, but officials said that disability access requirements would make that idea unlikely to become a reality.
Councilman Gomez said that the stop signs along Nash at Monterey and West streets "are kind of ridiculous" since they work during school hours but serve little purpose when school is not in session. "My concern is that we're closing during school hours but leaving those stop signs up during non-school hours." He added that the stop-and-go of cars because of the stop signs add "car fumes" to the neighborhood and add noise pollution from squeaky brakes and the acceleration and deceleration of vehicle. Prior to voting against the plan, he said it would be "great" to close the road during school and that he would amend the proposed agreement to remove stop signs as soon as improvement to the road were made. He ended up not making such an amendment, as City Manager William Avera said it was his understanding that plans were in place to remove the stop signs at Monterey and West if Nash were closed 12 hours of each school day.
Some councilmembers said they believed the county was interested in the agreement primarily because the plan would include the high school district offering a portion of the southern edge of campus to the county for a proposed regional public park as well as a permanent right-of-way easement for an access road. A report to the council said SBHS is willing to do the property transfer at no charge on the condition that student safety concerns on Nash be resolved. The county's largest school has 2,828 students.
Councilman Raymond Friend called the Nash Road closure "a bad idea. The city has 70 percent of the voters (in the county) and the city in this proposal is the only one who's having a disruption in their life, disruption in their neighborhood. The city does not benefit from this at all. Our neighborhoods are the ones that are gonna take the traffic impact for this. I don't think we should do this just so the county gets a park."
Avera pointed out that "you have two competing interests who are absolutely correct" in the school and its neighbors. "There's not a good answer for this; there's just not."
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said that the high school prefers a permanent closure of Nash and that "we said no. That's where the negotiations started happening. We're going to findn out what the traffic survey shows us before moving forward from where we are right now. We're looking for something that works for the high school. This is the start of this process." He then encouraged residents to take their concerns to the high school board of trustees before motioning to approve the plan. The motion failed when only Klauer added his vote of approval to it.