Prominent community members show up to support city’s opposition
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
Interim City Manager Allen Parker announced at the Nov. 14 Hemet City Council meeting that the council was opposing the Caltrans safety median project in its entirety. Emergency vehicles were noted as the main concern regarding the safety median.
“I don’t know how much more clear we can be but as a council of five – we oppose the project,” Mayor Linda Krupa told the audience in the chamber that night.
The agenda item pulled in a crowd that night, as Physicians for Healthy Hospitals (PHH) Chief Hospital Executive Officer Dan McLaughlin, along with PHH board president Sreenivasa Nakka, M.D., both spoke in opposition of the median.
“Our emergency department sees approximately 60,000 patients per year. Twenty-seven percent of them come by ambulance and many of them come down the highway 74 corridor,” stated McLaughlin. “This median strip will provide a hindrance to timely response. Of the 27 percent of 60,000 patients, that’s 16,000 a year, and if just 1 percent of those patients are hindered traveling down the highway 74 corridor, 160 patients a year would be negatively impacted. For this reason among others, the hospital opposes [this median].”
Newly appointed Hemet Unified School District Trustee Robert Davis, Jr. also spoke in opposition, as did Hemet/San Jacinto Action Group President Dr. Ed Formica, who stated it was great to hear things were in the works and if the city has a plan they should share it because they will get the [community and business] support.
Former Mayor Lori Van Arsdale received the loudest applause after her comment, “I encourage you to not just say no – but hell no!”
Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce President Andy Anderson commented that the median would negatively impact the business community and that the board sent a letter to Caltrans. The chamber has hosted several town hall meetings related to the project.
The city also spoke with a representative from Assemblyman Chad Mayes’ (R-42) office prior to the Nov. 14 council meeting, expressing displeasure with Caltrans’ insistence in moving the project forward. The representative asked the city to supply certain information regarding the project, and a meeting between Mayes and Gov. Jerry Brown was requested by Mayes’ office.
Krupa announced during the meeting that Mayes’ office was successful in securing a meeting with Gov. Brown. At press time, Parker did not have an update on the meeting between Mayes and Brown.
According to the city, Caltrans will not meet with the city council face-to-face.
During the meeting held at the Hemet Public Library, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful suggested to Caltrans that they begin their work at the I-215 and move east to see if that accomplishes the accident-reduction goal because that area is more of a transportation corridor than an economic one.
Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown told the Council that the SR-74/Florida Avenue corridor is the lifeline and gateway to the hospital and seconds do count. Both Fire Chief Brown and Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown agree with the City Council and strongly oppose the project.
The hurdle is that the information is based on a traffic study completed in 2011 when the department was understaffed. HPD, via a contract with California Highway Patrol (CHP), were able to curtail a number of accidents in an enforcement program.
Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown said that the department now has two traffic enforcement officers for patrol.
Krupa commented that she did a ride-along with the Hemet Fire Department the Saturday prior to the council meeting and on a call, traffic was so congested there was nowhere to drive except the median.
The Valley Chronicle previously reported that the city was excluded from a Caltrans meeting regarding the median on Oct. 26 at the Hemet Public Library until Parker contacted Caltrans and pushed for an invite. The Valley Chronicle asked Caltrans in an email and phone call why the city would have to reach out to Caltrans in order to attend the public meeting.
David Knudsen, manager of government and legislative affairs and Joy M. Schneider, public information officer and district public records coordinator, emailed a response.
“Since 2013, Caltrans has diligently provided the city of Hemet with project information in order to develop an active partnership in the delivery of the SR-74 Raised Curb Median Safety Project,” said the email. “Caltrans was invited to a meeting on Oct. 25, 2017 at the Hemet Library by state senators Jeff Stone and Mike Morrell to discuss project information with business leaders and the city of Hemet. Caltrans was invited to provide a presentation showing the traffic data that warranted the project.”
The city of Hemet hopes to stop the proposed safety median and is waiting to hear the result of the meeting between Mayes and Gov. Brown to determine which steps, if any, can be taken.