Does the city really want Florida Avenue?
Editor’s Note: The following opinion was sent to the publisher of The Valley Chronicle as an e-letter by Hemet businessman and community leader Howard Rosenthal. It is published here with his permission. The Chronicle sought responses from city officials, which are published below.
Howard Rosenthal writes:
Just for the record, on the Caltrans story, I went to Sacramento on my dime with four Hemet City Council members and the Hemet Fire Chief for a meeting that I helped arrange in the Governor’s conference room. This also happened because assemblyman Chad Mayes had influence in the Governor’s office and facilitated the meeting.
At that meeting, Caltrans agreed to the six months to one year standstill to give Hemet time to work with the state on relinquishing the highway to Hemet. I was asked, back at the Hyatt hotel after the meeting, by then Mayor Mike Perciful, if I would serve on the ad-hoc committee. I said yes. Two more times since then I had asked the mayor about it after the council officially created a committee without adding me. Perciful told me I was on the committee, but that was not the case. I was never put on the council committee as the business community representative.
The council appointed a committee that involved Linda Krupa. Without the rest of the council knowing – or myself as the business community representative – the City Manager along with former Mayor Perciful and Mayor Pro Tem Karlee Meyer went off to Caltrans to begin the negotiation, contrary to what we, and the majority of the council, had agreed to in Sacramento.
As a result, Caltrans decided they were wasting their time with the city and went ahead with the project.
What we needed to do as a city after the Sacramento meeting in the Governor’s conference room, was to get a consultant to do an inventory of every crack and defect in every sidewalk for seven miles on either side of the street. This would include any other deferred maintenance on the road. This would allow us to develop a proposal and know what the current deferred maintenance was in order to begin to negotiate a price tag for the road.
Unfortunately, we had a city manager who didn’t think getting the road was something the City of Hemet could afford. So he quietly went off with Perciful and Meyer and (they) did their own thing!
They are now the reason why we are getting a median divider. Chad Mayes did everything he could to help us, not only in the Sacramento meeting, but also in the following months.
Unfortunately, we were played by those that screwed the deal up. While the City of Hemet may be trying to work on it now, I hold…City Manager Allen Parker and Councilmembers Mike Perciful and Karlee Meyer completely responsible for what went down with our negotiation with the state.
Councilwoman Linda Krupa, Mayor Pro Tem Russ Brown, Fire Chief Scott Brown, and Chad Mayes all can attest to what I’ve said above. I am furious with what has happened because the median is going to put our public safety officers in a more dangerous position. It was made clear in Sacramento that the fire and police department use the middle lane on a daily basis to get around traffic because our side streets are full of dips, and residential areas are just a few blocks off of our main commercial street of Florida Avenue.
During peak traffic times, like from 4 – 7 p.m. on a Friday, imagine trying to go eastbound (on) Florida. What’s going to happen when the fire engines try to cross over both lanes on either side of the street? They will be caught (by) a median divider. We also made the case to Sacramento that Hemet had a setback in the early 2000s. (We had) eight dedicated traffic cops (that)… had (dropped) to zero, and we’re now starting the program up again thanks to funding from Measure U. Give us a couple years to prove we can make the streets safer.
A median divider is not going to stop homeless people and drug-addicts from crossing the street in the dark and getting hit, but it will surely impact police and fire vehicles during peak hours of traffic.
We also raised an issue with the state about how, for example, an 18-wheeler coming in from I-215 to make a delivery to a restaurant or business typically uses the middle lane to deliver into these mid-block areas. The truck won’t be able to make a U-turn. We were told if they’re going to deliver on the south side of the street, they should come in from the 215 by leaving from Valle Vista out of the expressway (from) Perris. Vice versa if the delivery happens to be on the north side of the street. This is a total (mess) that can’t be stopped, thanks to Parker, Perciful and Meyer!
We all want a safer (Florida Avenue) and by cooperating with Hemet Police traffic control and the CHP, it would be accomplished. The median just isn’t going to do it, so in my mind, this is not about safety. I believe the seven mile-long median will be causing untold U-turns everyday. People will begin taking the side streets more often, which were not designed to handle that kind of traffic. There was no traffic engineering or environmental impact (study) done by the state to seek alternative solutions to safety.
I hope and pray I am wrong, but it is my belief that the median will be incredibly detrimental to the City of Hemet for decades to come.
Howard Rosenthal Hemet
Response from City Councilmember Michael Perciful
Thank you for sending this letter to me and giving me the opportunity to respond. Howard states in his letter that he attended a meeting in Sacramento which is a fact. He also states that there were four council members in attendance. Because this meeting was not an agendized meeting and open to the public, no decisions of city business could be made at that time as that would have been a violation of the Brown Act.
Just to be clear, the Caltrans raised-curb median has been in the process and planning for the second time since the 2012 or 2013 time frame, and the city leadership at the time dropped the ball on working with Caltrans.
In my time as Mayor, and as part of the discussion with Assemblyman Mayes, Caltrans and the Governor’s staff, CalTrans was going to give the City of Hemet 6 months to come up with alternative safety measures in lieu of the raised median. The City did in fact present to Caltrans, in less than the 6 month time, a plan that did address the safety concerns of Caltrans.
Everything we presented to Caltrans fell on deaf ears. After all the meetings we had with Caltrans, they never met in good faith. In my opinion, this letter from Howard is his way of trying to cover himself, as he represents many property owners up and down Florida Avenue where this median will have long-lasting, negative financial impacts.
I am to this day OPPOSED to this Caltrans project and will continue to oppose it because I know that when Caltrans does it, they with leave town and we all will have to deal with the negative ramifications.
Michael Perciful Hemet City Council
Hemet City Manager
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mr. Rosenthal’s letter. Rather than take his comments personally, I have attached two (letters) that summarize our continuing efforts to oppose the median by insisting that Caltrans negotiate with the City to relinquish Highway 74 (Florida Avenue) to the city. Section 374 of the California Streets & Highways Code empowers the City of Hemet specifically to legally so negotiate. The attachments are:
• A letter dated December 19, 2018 from me on behalf of the City Council to both the California State Transportation Commission and the California Transportation Commission. Both Commissions have oversight authority over the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The Council authorized me to do so at a public meeting of the City Council on December 11, 2018 at the request of then Mayor Perciful. The letter was constructed with the assistance of Jason Gonsalves, a Sacramento lobbyist whom I have retained to work with me on this matter. A careful reading of this letter will acquaint the reader with the City’s history with Caltrans on the proposed median and its opposition to the median with points that are very similar to those of Mr. Rosenthal’s.
• A chain of emails between Chris Triana, the Chief Engineer for the California Transportation Commission, and me, which is pursuant to my letter described above. He has stated that he is drafting a letter to state their position. I have responded by stating he is an engineer, but this is a legal matter imbedded in state law.
Allen Parker Hemet City Manager
Letters from Allen Parker to State Officials
From: Allen Parker Monday, January 28, 2019 9:20 AM
Sent: To: Traina, Christopher@CATC
Subject: RE: Median – Hemet, CA
Chris: I see you are an engineer. This is a legal issue imbedded in state law. We have the right to negotiate with CalTrans to acquire the highway. Allen
From: Traina, Christopher@CATC [mailto:Christopher. Traina@cato.ca.gov] Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2019 8:11 PM To: Allen Parker Subject: RE: Median – Hemet, CA
Thank you for your email. I have read the letter you refer to in this email, and myself and Teri Anderson, our Assistant Chief Engineer, met with Caltrans staff in District 8 in late December to discuss your concerns regarding the project with them. That meeting occurred prior to my phone calls to your office, and I was hoping to discuss our evaluation with you prior to sending you any correspondence regarding this issue. I will draft a letter that outlines our position on the issue as soon as possible.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Chris Traina Chief Engineer California Transportation Commission (916) 412-8139
From: Allen Parker [mailto:AParker@cityofhemet.org]
Sent: Monday, January 21, 2019 9:30 AM
To: Traina, Christopher@CATC
Subject: Median – Hemet, CA
Chris: The answer to your question is “yes, we wish to have the opportunity to negotiate the transfer of the State Highway known as Florida Avenue to the City of Hemet.” Thus far, we have not been given that opportunity, which is allowed under State law wherein the City of Hemet is specifically cited to have that opportunity. See attached letter which goes into more detail.
Allen Parker, City Manager 951-260-8149
Allen Parker Letter to Caltrans et al
Secretary California State Transportation Agency
915 Capitol Mall, Suite 350B
Sacramento, CA 95814
Susan Bransen, Executive Director California Transportation Commission
1120 N Street MS 52
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Construction of a raised median on Highway 74 through the City of Hemet
DATE: December 19, 2018
Dear Executive Secretary Annis and Director Bransen:
The purpose of this letter is to first acquaint you with the above-referenced project, and second to direct Caltrans to comply with Section 374 of the California Streets & Highway Code, which states: “…the Commission (California Transportation Commission) may relinquish to the City of Hemet the portion of Route 74 that is located within the city limits of the City of Hemet, upon terms and conditions the commission finds to be in the best interests of the state, if the department and the City of Hemet enter into an agreement providing for the relinquishment.”
At a meeting in the Governor’s office (he was not in attendance, but his representative was) in December a year ago arranged by Assemblyman Chad Mayes, former Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty stated that if the City could come up with acceptable alternatives to the median, the street could be relinquished to the City along with $11M allocated for the construction of the median.
We gladly complied and had a Traffic Safety Analysis completed, which then was forwarded to District 8 Director John Bulinski. Mr. Bulinski has since been transferred to another district, and Caltrans has failed to respond to the Analysis, which is attached.
Instead, Caltrans has continued to move forward on the project, which according to their time schedule forwarded to me by Catalino Pining, Deputy District 8 Director, which was advertised on September 24th and awarded on November 21st with construction slated to begin on February 1st.
The City was not made aware of this schedule, and if it was met, the project was awarded five (5) days before we met with Janice Benton, the new District 8 Director, and her staff. Joining us on Skype were Chief Deputy Director Chamberlain and his staff. Assemblyman Mayes was also in attendance. Deputy Director Chamberlain stated, in no uncertain terms, that they were staying the course as they are responding to a safety issue notwithstanding the fact that their data were dated, as our Analysis pointed out. No one from Caltrans offered to comply with Section 374 of the California Streets & Highway Code, cited above, nor with former Director Dougherty’s offer, now a year old.
• It has been the City’s belief that the median will be detrimental to the City in several ways:
• Caltrans’ data were dated. As our analysis pointed out, there are viable alternatives to the median to address the safety issues.
• The project was given a categorical environmental exemption. As a result, there was no environmental impact study done. Nor was there an up-to-date focused traffic analysis, particularly as to effects on parallel streets.
• Highway 74 is the City’s primary east/west emergency response street. The center of the street wherein the median is to be constructed is used daily by emergency response vehicles.
• There will be a loss of sales taxes as a result of the closure of many left turns, this in a city hampered by no freeways…thus, no big box opportunities…and no rail; thus, no logistic opportunities.
Accordingly, the City Council is on record as unanimously opposing the median and has directed me to forward this letter to the appropriate agencies that can direct Caltrans to comply with state law and grant us the opportunity to negotiate a relinquishment agreement between Caltrans and the City of Hemet.
Thank you for your consideration.
For the City Council of the City of Hemet,
Allen J. Parker
c: Jason A. Gonsalves Joseph A. Gonsalves & Son Professional Legislative Representation 925 L Street, Suite 250 Sacramento, CA 95814
Councilperson Karlee Meyer weighs in
Although I was not included in the original communication to the rest of the council members, please print this article alongside of (Howard Rosenthal’s) letter, in case anyone forgot why the median has made such progress. I believe there are even quotes from sitting council members.
The article in the Riverside Press Enterprise dated June 22, 2016 may be found at the below online location.
(It includes the following: “Many in the crowd of more than 70 people at the Simpson Center were opposed to adding a raised, curbed median along Highway 74, which is Florida Avenue through the city. They stated concerns about traffic, the effect on business and aesthetics.
“But Haissam Yahya, a Caltrans engineer, said the effort is for safety, with the stretch of highway meeting state parameters that require the median.
“‘This is a safety project,” he said. “We have to move forward with it.”
“City officials were angry that Caltrans did not come to the city earlier in the planning process and they said they had to travel to Caltrans headquarters in San Bernardino to request the community workshop be held.
“‘They were not willing to come to the table without our assistance, and that’s wrong,” Mayor Bonnie Wright said.”)
I would also like to note that the meeting Mr. Rosenthal is referring to, is a non-agendized meeting, that was not posted publicly, but a majority of our city council attended to discuss city business. There is no way that any items could have been decided unless they violated the Brown Act.
Please note the attached agenda and city council meeting recording the Caltrans update from a meeting the ad hoc committee had in March may be viewed at the following online location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg1HkCq3x2k
Facts, not opinions, Mr. Rosenthal.
Hemet City Council