Questions remain for Florida Avenue raised median project

CoH may be required to pay for landscaping upkeep

Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez/The Valley Chronicle
Hemet City Council members Russ Brown, Karlee Meyer and Bonnie Wright (left to right) listen as Acting City Engineer Nino Abad gives an overview of the Caltrans median project on Sept. 26.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

Caltrans’ plans to mitigate cross median collisions by installing raised medians along an 8-mile section of Florida Avenue may prove costly to the city if council decides to move forward with a landscape agreement proposed by Caltrans. Initially, Caltrans was not going to landscape the medians at all.
Caltrans said it will cover the cost to initially landscape the median. However, Caltrans wants the city to sign an agreement stating that the city will pay to maintain the landscaped portions. If the city does not sign the agreement, then Caltrans will install the medians without any landscaping.
The challenge to this agreement is that a section of the median is in Riverside County territory, not Hemet city limits, which means discussions with the county need to take place. One recommendation by staff is to open the conversation with the county to see if they would agree to maintain the landscaping within their boundaries. Another possibility discussed is whether the county would reimburse the city for maintaining the landscaping.
“We do not know what the costs are going to be and that is unsettling to me,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Wright.
Councilwoman Karlee Meyer was not happy with the terms Caltrans put forward, and stated she felt that Caltrans was exerting undue pressure tantamount to blackmail to sign the agreement.
“Are they blackmailing us or are they discriminating against us?” asked Meyer. “Because on their website right here, Caltrans has a landscape architectural program and [they] rant and rave about aesthetics and mitigation and roadside management, water, natural resources and conservation — all of this stuff. I think maybe Mike [Perciful] and I need to have a meeting with them next time. They need to be talked to still. That’s what I think.”
The median project is a safety project, according to Caltrans. During the discussion, council brought up the past enforcement partnership with California Highway Patrol (CHP), which, according to everyone involved, was a rousing success. The city had previously contracted with CHP to do a high profile enforcement action, according to Police Chief Dave Brown at the council meeting. He also mentioned that during this enforcement action, injury accidents were reduced by 42 percent.
“Enforcement works,” said Brown. “We know that.”
Deputy Director of Public Works Kristen Jensen was tasked with contacting Caltrans to find out the deadline to sign the agreement. She is also charged with determining an estimated cost for the city to maintain the landscaped portion of the medians. This cost would need to be discussed and possibly included in the FY 18/19 budget as the project is expected to begin in spring 2018 and have an estimated 18- to 24-month construction period.
The council ultimately decided to continue the item because there are too many unknowns, particularly when it comes to the city’s cost to maintain the landscaped sections.

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