Council’s Traffic-Flow Priorities: at Problem Intersection, Near Schools

The City Council finally voted to retain — for now — its earmark from Metro to fund and coordinate a project to alter traffic flow where Atlantic Boulevard intersects with Huntington Drive and becomes Los Robles Avenue, hopefully devising the plan in a way that gives relief to residents along the San Marino portion of the roadway.
Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne will now begin implementing public input and his own expertise to develop a more concrete proposal for the intersection — which also includes Garfield Avenue — and plans to first showcase it to the Public Safety Commission in August. Following the council’s direction on July 10 — guidance that was affirmed at last Friday’s meeting — Throne will do the same for a proposal to modify Huntington lanes near school sites, to address a tendency for vehicles to pile up at those locations when school starts and ends every day.
The Atlantic issue remained undecided at the July 10 meeting because the council, which was missing one member, deadlocked on every vote concerning the intersection. Councilmen Steve Talt and Ken Ude voted in favor of retaining the earmark every time, while Mayor Steven Huang and Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey opposed. Curiously, the council voted unanimously on Friday to retain it.
“As I made clear the last time, Atlantic Boulevard is a concern,” Talt said Friday. “We do not control the whole thing. I think Atlantic is a good opportunity for us to continue to protect our traffic flow through San Marino to the best extent possible.”
Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski, who missed the July 10 meeting because of an out-of-town commitment she made last year, said she shared Talt’s concern that ceding control of the Atlantic-Huntington project could be problematic for San Marino. The city owns only 20% of the intersection, and either South Pasadena or Alhambra would pick up the project if the earmark was kicked back to Metro, the countywide transportation authority.
“If we don’t accept certain pools of money, others will and then we become the recipient, and we know very well where we stand on the Atlantic intersection with regards to that,” Jakubowski said. “Remember, if we take this money, we do not have to spend it immediately. We have four years [to start] and think if we get some good heads together and really drill down into that, I think we might have some proposals. Don’t know what they’ll look like, but since the community gave so much input, I would like to see what we can give back.”
In November, Metro assigned earmarks to several San Gabriel Valley cities that expressed interest in taking on projects envisioned by Metro as alternatives to the 710 Freeway tunnel connector, as required by an environmental impact report. After the Metro board formally shuttered the tunnel project, it decided to dole out the $780 million generated by Measure R sales taxes to the cities that would have been affected by the tunnel to improve local traffic flow or capacity.
Although cities were free to simply pick up and move forward with the projects as designed, Throne and other city officials have spent the year soliciting input from residents about modifying the projects to fit San Marino’s quiet, residential nature.
The Atlantic-Huntington project and the project centered on the school sites were the only ones deemed palatable for these refinements, per the City Council votes; traffic signal synchronization on Huntington and San Gabriel Boulevard were thrown out on July 10, as were a series of ideas to improve safety on Sierra Madre Boulevard and to lengthen turn lanes on other Huntington intersections. The projects are widely seen as being aimed more at increasing volume than at improving safety.
“Reducing congestion around the schools is both a traffic congestion issue and a safety issue,” Talt said Friday. “When I look at that, it’s not just a safety issue, but I’m willing to make that compromise when it comes to the safety of our students at our schools.”
Some residents also expressed a willingness to consider any ideas that might prevent motorists traveling north on Atlantic from being forced onto Los Robles after crossing Garfield, as they are under the current configuration.
“It is a defensive move that can protect Los Robles from additional north-south traffic coming up from Alhambra,” Stephanie Johnson, a Los Robles resident, said. “I think that’s a worthwhile project we can do, and I think all the people who live on Los Robles would appreciate all the help we can get to protect the residential character of the street. It isn’t a corridor, even if the regional area would like to consider it so.”
Tensions flared Friday near the meeting’s conclusion, in large part because of the city staff’s request that the council essentially revote on its July 10 decisions so that the legal record more precisely reflect the panel’s intent. The July 10 votes were done piecemeal and impromptu, resulting in confusion among staff and audience members on what some decisions were. More important, the vote to retain the Atlantic-Huntington project Friday would have appeared to contradict a July 10 vote in the event someone later reviewed the record without context.
When the council voted July 10 to retain the school-centric projects, the motion to reject all funds not associated with the schools was made in the context of rejecting all of the initial Metro considerations under that particular earmark; however, because that wasn’t specifically said at the time, that vote could later be interpreted as nullifying the entire swath of earmark.
“Before that, there was already that motion to reject all funds other than what was proposed around the schools,” City Attorney Stephanie Cao explained. “What we’re trying to do today is clarify that that’s not the reasonable interpretation of what the council wanted at the time. I get that. You get that. The public that was there that night also gets that, but somebody in the future who may pick up the minutes may not get that. So that’s why today, we’re just trying to provide clarity on exactly what it is that the council decided at that time.”
City Manager Marcella Marlowe emphasized that she was not asking for the council to reconsider its votes, but rather to affirm its prior decisions in a more formalized manner.
“I’m not trying to get you change your minds,” Marlowe said. “I’m just trying to codify what you’ve already decided.”
Shepherd Romey bristled at this, suggesting that the July 10 decisions were clear enough and that Marlowe’s confusion arose from missing around half of that meeting.
“This is what it’s been,” the vice mayor said. “It’s been a constant drip, drip, drip, [as if to ask] ‘Are we going to be worn down?’ We have said, we’ve heard from the public, we are trying to be transparent. That room was packed on July 10. They heard us loud and clear. I get it. You were there for part of the time.
“I don’t want to go through and effectively — because this is exactly what we’re doing here — ignore what the residents said and what they heard and what we decided on July 10,” she continued. “That’s what we’re doing and this is going on and on and on today and it is unfair. I really believe it is, because we have very few residents here today. And so to keep coming back to your proposed language, that is different than what we said that night, and you keep saying every time we pass something else, now we got a problem with what we said that night. No! We said what we said that night and three of us agreed, so I don’t need to go back and do this. I don’t understand and it’s not fair.”
Cao, at any rate, insisted that clarity was needed for the record; Jakubowski, Talt and Ude agreed; Huang and Shepherd Romey did not.
“We’re at the same place,” Talt said following the vote. “Now the record is clearer.”

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