Council Dismisses Most of Metro’s Ideas on Traffic Flow

The San Marino City Council voted piecemeal recently to toss out proposals to synchronize traffic signals and most of the county transportation authority’s other suggestions involving Huntington Drive intersections, but chose to move forward with refining options that would target school sites.
The council remains gridlocked on how to handle the Atlantic Boulevard-Huntington intersection, and failed to consider proposals regarding Sierra Madre Boulevard altogether. Both topics will be taken up at the Friday morning meeting on July 26.
Councilman Steve Talt initiated most of the decisions Wednesday, July 10, finding success on most of them, though not on the Atlantic-Huntington issue. Talt, who served as mayor last year and may seek re-election to the council this year, showed exasperation by meeting’s end as he lobbied for the city to hang on to the possibility of commanding a project for the problematic intersection, of which San Marino owns only 20%. (Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne called it a “useless 20%.”)
“We can’t control the intersection under any situation except that one,” Talt said, touching on the woes faced by Los Robles Avenue residents thanks to the junction’s odd six-way configuration. “Here’s our opportunity. People have been yelling about it for years. Let’s do something about it.”
The Atlantic-Huntington question effectively went unresolved, as Talt and Councilman Ken Ude on two occasions voted in favor of retaining a funding earmark for now but Mayor Steven Huang and Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey voted each time to kill it; Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski, the potential tiebreaker, was out of town. Shepherd Romey, in contrast to Talt, saw the entire pool of projects as a non-starter because the proposals mostly began as alternatives to L.A. Metro’s 710 Freeway tunnel project, which the transportation authority has abandoned.
Metro offered $780 million in tax revenue that was generated for tunnel construction to area cities to fund projects designed to lessen congestion or improve capacity on their roadways, and earmarked $32 million of it for San Marino in November. The Metro board had planned on officially approving (or disapproving) city-modified plans this month, but delays have pushed that meeting to September.
The agenda for the July 10 meeting, which followed seven official or community-held meetings soliciting input and outcry, tasked the City Council with telling Parks and Public Works to either refine those projects to better fit city needs or dump them altogether. (City staff had recommended refining all of the proposals.)
Ude favored continuing to refine all of them, even if just for the sake of due diligence.
“I think there are some really good ideas out there,” he said. “We should go [with refinement], come up with the projects that are prudent to us and see which ones we can con Metro into paying for.
“I think if we go on emotions and assumptions, it’s not the right step,” Ude added. “I think we’d be doing the citizens a disservice if we don’t get the facts and present them.”
Shepherd Romey, though supportive in general of improving San Marino roadways with safety in mind, said she thought the well was poisoned for these projects because of their nature.
“To me, it comes down to very fundamental things,” the vice mayor said. “Our goals as a city are never going to be in line with the goals of Metro 710. They are different. Fundamentally, they want to move traffic because they didn’t build the tunnel.
“We don’t need more cars here,” Shepherd Romey added.
The one affirmation Shepherd Romey gave last week was to continue refining projects centered on the four schools along Huntington Drive that become congestion hotspots during pickup and drop-off times, thanks largely to parents taking up some portion of the thoroughfare’s farthest-right lane to pull over.
On Atlantic-Huntington, Shepherd Romey was unwilling even to try hammering out a solution because she found it unlikely Metro would green-light any solution that “would benefit San Marino” because of the agency’s supposed goals. Talt argued it was worth trying to work out a way to reduce flow onto Garfield Avenue and, in particular, Los Robles Avenue and attempt to keep that traffic on Huntington to Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena, providing very nearly a straight shot to the interchange of the 210 and 134 freeways.
If San Marino kicks the reconfiguration of that intersection back to Metro, either South Pasadena or Alhambra — which control more of the intersection — is expected to take a crack at it instead.
“We do not control Atlantic,” Talt emphasized. “The entire plan behind the Atlantic intersection was so that San Marino can come up with a plan, because that intersection belongs [mostly] to Alhambra and to South Pasadena. The plan was ‘let us take care of it.’ If we give [the project] back to them, who knows what they’ll do? This is a means by which to protect ourselves. That’s the one area that we should tie up and move forward to protect our borders.”
Traffic signal synchronization was thrown out altogether, with Talt calling for its removal in an effort to avoid widening the possibility that Huntington Drive might become a “transit corridor.” Citing efforts by state Sen. Scott Weiner, a San Francisco Democrat, to enact bills that effectively remove zoning restrictions around transit zones, Talt said he wanted to protect the city’s local control.
Additionally, Talt said, Metro hadn’t even considered such a project on Huntington Drive and this was the only one being considered that did not have an environmental impact report prepared yet.
In contrast to Ude, Huang voted against taking the next step with any project, including the school-specific ones. While the rest of the City Council asked specific questions about the function of traffic signal synchronization, the mayor — who also is mulling re-election this year — simply inquired generally about signals. From one question, he learned the city was spending around $50,000 of its own money annually to replace controllers for two signalized intersections. From another, Throne hesitated before matter-of-factly answering “Unfortunately, no.”
“Can synchronization prevent drag racing?” Huang had asked, referring to the incident six days earlier in which a pedestrian on Huntington Drive was hit and killed as two teenagers allegedly were racing.
Meanwhile, the filing period for this year’s election opened Monday.

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