NIMBY elite demands Merced City Council stop plans for bridge on Parsons Ave.
The Right Sort of People live along Parsons Ave. and the mayor knows it. -- eds.
The Merced City Council held a kangaroo court hearing in front of a lynch mob on September 15, starring Mayor Stan Thurston as the mob's lead attorney. In an unprecedented 15-minute display of litigation in a legislative body,
Mayor Stan Thurston gave the opening statement for the plaintiffs, The Right Sort of People Who Live Along Parsons Ave. The Right Sort are the mayor's clients against The Wrong Sort of People, including but not limited to: City staff; Council members that disagree with the mayor and his clients; Everyone who has supported and/or voted for the Parsons Ave. Project for the last 55 years; and The citizens of East Palo Alto.
The undeclared real parties of interest among the plaintiffs were the residents of the Mondo subdivision, the Rightest of the Right Sort. The real party of interest among respondents was City Manager John Bramble, who has had the temerity to continue to follow long-established policies regarding the development of Parsons Ave. into a full-scale, north-south arterial corridor to serve the half of the Merced population who live east of G. Street.
The official purpose for this kangaroo court was for the council to vote on one of three sets of priorities to guide staff in application for state and federal road funds. The mayor and his clients wanted no money spent on the development of the Parsons Ave. project. Other councilmen had different ideas.
Mayor Thurston argued that: In 1959, the policy was to develop Parsons Ave. into a north-south corridor for future development in the southeastern part of Merced; At that time Parsons was considered to be the eastern edge of town; In 1968, the fashionable policy was that major thoroughfares should not go through neighborhoods. Parsons was described then as a major peripheral thoroughfare. By 1982, a number of driveways gave onto Parsons Ave. and the policy was that it should not be a major arterial; Yet, the 2015 city General Plan found no alternative to making Parsons Ave. a major arterial.
"I will offer a strong alternative," vowed Mayor Thurston, before presenting a slide show of the avenue. After viewing a number of vaguely focused slides, with a sneer, the Mayor took a poke at a white paper (included below) written by the city staff and noted that a 1993 environmental impact report for the Parsons Ave. project could find no alternative. But, he said, a bridge across Bear Creek and a crossing at the BNSF Railroad tracks would cost $50-60 million, and "where would we get the money?"
Thurston and opponents of the project continued this little sophistry about where the money would come from throughout the evening, leading any innocents there might have been in the audience to the opinion that it would be coming directly out of taxpayers' childrens' college funds. But the decision to be made that evening was about establishing priorities for applying for state and federal road grants. Local money would go for studies and consultants to create projects ready for government grants, but not road construction itself. There wasn't even any mention of loans all evening.
Thurston argued that the better alternative would be to spend the money on the Campus Parkway and that people can easily pass north and south by using Yosemite Ave., McKey Road, Highway 140 and the Bradley Overpass. Therefore, his alternative plan would be to study this route rather than spend any more money preparing for the Parsons Ave. project.
The mayor also came prepared with a political theory to justify his support of the Right Sort of his political supporters. It was that each neighborhood has a separate, distinct character. All they lacked were formal boundaries. "It is important to preserve this character and the safety of the neighborhood," he said.
Thus concluded the Mayor's opening statement on behalf of plaintiffs.
In fact, if one bothers to drive the discontinuous length of Parsons Ave., aside from its great width, what stands out clearly is the variety of perhaps a half dozen neighborhoods through which it passes. As far as "boundaries" are concerned, the only one that has ever mattered is very evident in the varying income levels of the different neighborhoods along the avenue.
John Bramble, Merced city manager, acted as advocate for respondent city staff, which has been carrying on the 55-year project of making Parsons Ave. an arterial corridor. He presented three options from which the council could choose in order to give staff direction for future transportation planning: Option 1 would make the Campus Parkway the top priority for all road-fund applications because the City's first priority it to develop employment along that road. Option 2 would be to focus grant proposals on funds for transportation development, a review of the arterial system, an EIR and more integration of police and fire installations into the city road system. Option 3 would be to treat the Campus Parkway, Parsons Ave. and Highway 59 (between Olive Ave. and 16th St.) as equal priorities for transportation grant applications.
Following Bramble's brief presentation, the other councilmen had their first round of questions, pecking around the edges, trying to find room for compromise before a crowd hostile to any compromises. However Councilman Mike Murphy, resident of one of the Parsons neighborhoods, faced the crowd of his neighbors and the mayor head on, asking if the city focuses totally on the Campus Parkway, does that violate the new General Plan?
Acting City Attorney Christina Talley suggested various ways of putting the Parsons Ave. project on hold for a few years without having to change the General Plan. Parsons should be "reprioritized" rather than ignoring the General Plan, was Talley's advice.
City Manager Bramble said that the Campus Parkway was more appropriate for federal funds than Parsons, but that Parsons would qualify for state funding.
Murphy stated that there would have to be an amendment to the General Plan rather than continuing to ignore the Parsons project. He then raised the issue of the mayor having directed staff to buy land for rights of way for Parsons Ave.
Mayor Thurston replied by asking the assistant city attorney if the council could set "milestones," by which the Campus Parkway could be finished first and the Highway 59 project second, which "would probably table Parsons for another 55 years," he said.
Attorney Talley replied to the question in a manner unintelligible to the layperson.
Bramble suggested possibly consulting with developers on the topic. Thurston replied that he hoped it would "not be that unspeakable person from the BIA in Stockton."
Although the mayor's prejudices appear often to be simply gratuitous and without any rhyme or reason, this personal insult to an official of the building industry association may indicate that Merced leaders don't expect the building boom to return until after the "unspeakable person's" tenure.
Thurston mused out loud that the Atwater Merced Expressway may make Highway 59 funding easier and that even though the Parsons Ave. bridge has a mitigated negative declaration and has therefore cleared the environmental hurdle, he assured us that no developer would ever base plans on the extension of the Parsons Ave. project from Highway 140 to Yosemite Ave. or even Bellevue Road.
"There is no confidence in it," he asserted.
A moment later in an argument with Councilman Pedrozo about the availability of transportation grants, he asserted that the city has to apply for transportation grants, the government does not seek out recipients. "Why would we apply for the bridge when we have a safety issue on 59?" he asked, impatiently.
That night the mayor would support almost any use of transportation grants, even to fix up the Highway 59 bridge and road between Olive and 16th Street, Just as long as it isn't Parsons-related. As was mentioned later, Highway 59 is CalTrans jurisdiction, not the city's.
Thurston enjoyed bullying Pedrozo, who appeared to have trouble with elder male belligerence (perhaps like his father's, county Supervisor John Pedrozo), but he managed to get his points out after several false start sputterings of mere words and disjointed phrases. Eventually, subjects, verbs and objects found each other in the same sentences.
Pedrozo suggested that the Rancho San Miguel market, at the south end of the Parsons project "was probably promised" that the project would be completed. Bramble agreed, saying that although he was not here at the time, the Parsons project was on the books and he was sure they were aware of it. Every retailer will look at transportation patterns, he said.
Thurston disputed that, concluding with, "Take Parsons out of the General Plan!"
The crowd applauded their champion.
"Nobody asked the staff to do that negative declaration," Thurston declared.
Pedrozo countered that previous councils had asked for the negative declaration.
Thurston agreed with Pedrozo's facts but not their meaning -- that the present council should honor policies of previous councils.
"I want to stop that!" the mayor said. "Nobody asked the staff to do the negative declaration, and I don't have any faith that won't happen again," he said.
Pedrozo asked why the council needed to set priorities when the project fit present circumstances.
Thurston, with a Dantonesque gesture to the applauding audience, said, "Talk to them!"
The crowd muttered meaningfully. The politicians shrank.
Pedrozo replied that there had also been a huge "contingent" against the Wal-Mart distribution center project.
Thurston, with imperious irritation: "It's not the same!"
We suppose that what he meant was that Right Sort of People do not take clandestine union and supermarket funds to hire professional organizers to stir up political opposition to gigantic corporations -- including a CEQA lawsuit. No siree Bob! The mayor was elected by the Right Sort to stop that kind of thing before it ever got started.
Councilman Noah Lor interrupted the argument between the mayor and the councilman to ask if they could let the citizens speak now. This began the witness-testimony phase of the Parsons Ave. Project Kangaroo Court.
Peter Padilla, a frequent representative for the Right Sort on the Parsons Ave. project, delivered his well coached message: The city's number one priority ought to be jobs and the Parsons Ave. neighborhood is all residential (therefore, there will be no jobs created, forgetting the two commercial ends of the arterial). The staff keeps moving this project along and you must direct staff to stop. "You are in charge," he told the council; School children are in potential danger from more traffic and trucks; It's necessary to save neighborhoods. "Merced is a city to live in!" he said.
The next speaker was John Hoffman, for 31 years a city planner in Merced. He opened by throwing away his prepared remarks "after listening to the mayor and the people in the audience, it's something like a lynch mob..."
He said that Padilla was right on a number of points, particularly that there is very little traffic on Parsons Ave. (therefore, according to Padilla and several others, there is no need for the project). Hoffman, who lives on 26th Street, explained that the traffic from the Parsons area instead comes down 26th, Alexander, Olive, Yosemite avenues and Yosemite Parkway. But the people from Alexander Ave. and the other streets don't recognize that their traffic problems are a result of traffic displacement -- traffic that should be going down a completed Parsons Ave. project, a continuous arterial from north to south with a bridge across the creek. He said he had attended over 500 city council and planning commission meetings in his years as a planner and he heard many, many mentions of Parson Ave., "and almost always the lynch mob was there." This is largely because state law requires that neighbors within 300 feet of a project must be notified of the meetings when the issue comes up, unlike residents elsewhere experiencing traffic displacement from Parsons. Since these people haven't come to the meetings all these years, and haven't provided any balance to the complaints of Parsons neighbors, there has been no balance in the dialogue.
Hoffman said he was "appalled" at the council's comments. He thought they were "inappropriate ." He added that in 40 years of attending council meetings, he had never seen an atmosphere and attitude as bad as it was that night.
Steve Leonard began by quoting former Mayor Richard Berlusconi: "The Parsons Ave. project is dead!"
The crowd applauded.
Leonard said: There were 130 driveways on Parsons Ave. and 400 homes; CalTrans won't build a ramp off Highway 99 for Parsons because it would be too close to other off-ramps, Either an underpass or overpass for the BNSF tracks "is required."
Given that only one of the four north-south corridor streets has an underpass, we doubted that assertion without more evidence. The Campus Parkway is the best alternative to Parsons Ave. to service development east of McKey Rd., especially due to planned construction of the University Community new town east of Lake Ave; When he wants to go downtown, he heads out of town to the east to Arboleta Rd. and Highway 140, he said. It's quicker than heading by a more direct route "because of all the traffic lights." He said he believes that the environmental impact report for the Parsons Ave. project must be rewritten.
John Derby, publisher of the Merced County Times, claimed that he had covered a thousand city council meetings and barely remembered Parsons ever being talked about. Derby lives along Parsons Ave.
He expressed his respect for all the councilmen and invited them to the 50th anniversary celebration of his newspaper.
Having established his authority to speak about Parsons Ave. by his lack of memory of the issue in his professional life, he proceeded to ask questions that had already been asked and answered, concluding that the money proposed for eminent domain land purchases for Parsons Ave. rights of way should be spent on the Mission Interchange instead, because that's where the jobs are.
We ask the reader to indulge us in a short comment on the ritualistic, completely hypocritical blather from the mouths of Merced leaders about jobs. The official Merced unemployment rate, which is now running less than half of the real rate, according to John Williams highly informative "Shadow Government Statistics" website, has not dropped into single digits since 2008, in the last frenetic year of the construction boom. During that season, Merced County farmers complained bitterly about the high wages (around $10/hour) builders were offering farmworkers to put down their hoes and pick up hammers. The present rate, close to the low for the year, is 12.6 percent. Merced likes a high unemployment rate because it keeps wages down. Nothing is more basic to the economic policy of the area except the lying about it.
Mark Gills, the next speaker, grew up in Modesto, but said he preferred Merced because "it has more character." Not completely the Right Sort, Gills openly expressed concern for his property values if the Parsons Ave. project went through.
Susan Walsh, sister of the city's gift to the county Board of Supervisors, Hub Walsh, and a League of Women Voters leader who forbade any controversial questions to candidates at League candidate nights during her tenure, took off those kid gloves and bullied the council. She said she was a resident of Mondo Drive -- Rightest of the Right Sort -- the most posh section of the Parsons Ave. area. She began by denying she'd ever been a part of any lynch mob. She asserted: People who oppose the Parsons Ave. project are standing up for political values; The city will never make a deal with the BNSF Railroad;The Bellevue Road corridor is up in the air; Parsons Ave. won't reach Highway 140.
We suppose if you organize and lead a political lynch mob, you aren't "a part" of it according to leadership theories circulating among the Right Sort in Merced. The only political value evident from Walsh's sector of the public is Pure NIMBYist elitism. Bellevue Road is the middle link in the proposed beltway loop that has been the darling of Merced County Association of Governments, which decides county transportation priorities, for at least a decade. As for her prophesies about the railroad and the highway, we'd need to see some official documents or at least a crystal ball or Ouija board before we believed these assertions, which she delivered like blows from a blunt instrument to the fragile minds of the elected councilmen.
She then matronized the council, expressing her pleasure that they had "stepped up for public service," but warned them that she and her neighbors elected people "to remove this priority."
"You have a choice," she threatened. "I want you to know the city schools are against this, hundreds of parents are against this ..."
As an earlier council meeting on Parsons showed, Walsh's statement about the city schools' position is not true.
Walsh concluded by scolding the council: "It bothers me that you are even considering this!"
Kenra Begonia, a former Merced City planning commissioner who lives four doors off Parsons Ave., was next to speak and brought a quite different message to the council:The development in the northern part of Merced caused the need for another cross-town corridor -- Parsons Ave. It is needed by current and potential property owners as a minor arterial. G Street is already congested, Parsons is the only viable cross-town corridor; The Campus Parkway was not planned as a cross-town corridor and McKey Road has other barriers; If Parsons Ave. is not extended, there will be issues about fire-response time because there are stations at both ends of the project. "The city staff and elected officials must think of the common good, not just one neighborhood," she concluded.
Don Begonia mentioned that he travels to Stanford University from Dumbarton Bridge on the four-lane University Ave. in East Palo Alto, noting that there are cars backing out of driveways, children crossing at lights to go to school, and more homes per mile than in Merced on University Ave. He added that in his 40 years of business in Merced, the lack of a cross-town corridor in the northeast made going there a navigational problem.
Sharon Zirconi, a resident of another Parsons Ave. neighborhood, said she took a series of photos of Parsons every hour of the day on a Friday and they showed very little traffic. Therefore, she said, "we don't need a bridge." She was critical of people "projecting way into the future," instead of concentrating on Now.
(Dude, isn't that called planning?)
She asserted that most people living in the north don't need to travel across the town because UC Merced, Merced College and two high schools are all in the north.
After making further comments running over the time limit, she giggled at the councilmen and relinquished the podium to a fellow who described himself as an escapee from Los Angeles many years ago. His advice to the council was that, although remembering the past is good, nostalgia about the past is not good, and that the council should not make the decision on Parsons Ave. based on "50-year-old data."
Former Mayor Bill Spriggs said: He bought his property, which backs onto Parsons Ave., in 1984, "knowing the bridge would be coming in"; The city has "incrementally" moved the project forward to move it higher in the "stack" (the state's transportation-project priority list) to make it ready for a grant; If the council tells staff to stop, it will stop, but some future council will have to start the process all over again; Most of the money for the G. Street underpass came from the state and federal government. Local government must prepare the project with steps like getting the mitigated negative declaration for the bridge before applying for the funds to build it.
A retired teacher who testified she lived on McKey Road said that making it a four-lane road would be "unconscionable," because it would remove driveways entirely.
Rosemary Duran, superintendent of the Merced City School District, noted that there were two schools on Parsons Ave. and that there was a potential child-safety issue connected to the project. She did not say that the school district officially opposed the project.
From here on, the public comments became repetitive, however former Councilman Mike Mason (1983-89), brought a very experienced perspective to the podium, saying: The job of the council is to provide infrastructure for the city's future; Where the money will come from is never known in advance of the planning; R, M, and G streets are far more congested than they were in 1989, which is why previous councils planned the Parsons Ave. project; The Campus Parkway is not in city limits, the city isn't going to pay for it and it may be several decades before it is built; R Street passes two schools and he is not aware of complaints; and speaking directly to Publisher John Derby, saying that although some people are directly impacted by any project, the council's purpose is to act on behalf of the entire community. He contradicted Derby's lack of recollection by saying that he and his colleagues considered issues surrounding the Parsons Ave. project many times during his tenure and that he knew that councils since 1959 had been considering it; Speaking directly to the council, he said: "You should stand with those councils."
Thus ended the public comments of the Parsons Ave. Project Kangaroo Court.
Mayor Thurston, the Right Sort's advocate, began his rebuttal of respondents' witnesses testimony: The speeding problem on Parsons Ave. could be solved by removing it from the arterial designation, allowing neighbors, at their own expense, to have speed bumps installed, like the neighbors on Rambler Rd. (a 2-mile, east-west, urban street inhabited by another gorup of the Right Sort, with a right angle bend in it, which was never a candidate for arterial status);Congestion on McKey Road will be alleviated when his proposal to synchronize G Street lights is enacted; Mitigation for the Moraga subdivision was "fantasy;" Previous councils should have taken the Parsons Ave. project out of the General Plan and we are going to because of the "jobs!"that the Campus Parkway and the Highway 59 projects will produce; "East Palo Alto is practically a ghetto ... people there hardly get up in the morning.." (One can only imagine the mayor's opinion of the residents of South Merced.)
Councilman Tony Dossetti, after giving the crowd his voting history on this project, said he had more questions now than he'd ever had and that he thought the council needed an expert consultant to do a study. It's important to note that Dossetti is the husband of an member of the Merced County Association of Government's board. MCAG decides local transportation funding priorities.
Thurston asked if the study could include feasibility and funding of the project.
City Manager Bramble said "yes," if those questions were put in the specs for bids on the study.
Thurston also wanted it specified what priority the council had put on the project, and Bramble replied that if the purpose of the study is to eliminate the project, such a study could also be arranged.
Dossetti then formulated his concept for the study: should the project be eliminated or kept, and where does the city go if it is eliminated?
Councilman Murphy said he was born and raised in the Parsons Ave. area, went to school these, lives there now and his children go to school there. His points were: The city needs to figure out the traffic at Chenoweth School, but shifting it to McKey Road is not equitable; Although the Campus Parkway is a "big part of our future," Parsons Ave. is on the agreed upon 1-mile grid and is 94 feet wide; Highway 59 is a state highway and is not in our jurisdiction even though the bridge is dangerous (mentioned one of his children on a school bus that got run off the road there); Decision has to be an even and fair distribution of traffic; Homeowners have been on notice about this for 50 years but there is no full project and it will take $3,000-5,000 just for the study; He recommends that the Parsons Ave. project remain in the mix of priorities but be placed at the bottom.
For Councilman Kevin Blake, the mayor's wish appears to be his command on this issue.
Councilman Pedrozo, mayor pro tem, stumbled a bit with both the mayor and the crowd breathing fire down his neck, but after wandering syntactical sputtering, rallied to announce he was in favor of the third option, looking at all three projects equally.
Councilman Lor apologized to the crowd but said that for the benefit of Merced he was in favor of keeping the Parsons Ave. project on the books. He said he realized decisions the council makes affect some lifestyles. He took responsibility for the staff's work on the project. "In the past, we directed them to do it...all previous councils had great vision for Merced."
"Only a few politicians do not want state and federal funds," he said. "I do want."
Mayor Thurston sniped: "You're putting words into the mouths of people who spoke in closed session ,,, actually what you said."
Dossetti was confused about what option his idea would fit under. Bramble said it would be the second, but staff could modify it. Essentially, he said, they would pull together a consultants' study on the project and ask where the traffic should be moved without the project.
Pedrozo spoke strongly in favor of the third option rather than another study that "just kicks the can down the road, wastes time, and raises false hope."
Murphy reiterated his preference for the third option with Parsons Ave. as the lowest priority. Then he asked if Mayor Thurston would continue buying land for rights of way on Parsons. Murphy played with the wounded mayor for awhile about why he was buying, if he would continue, and how the city would get the best deal if all of the necessary property was bought. Thurston hissed, "That's not our business ..." and Lor made a motion for Option 3, keeping Parsons Ave. project in the General Plan. Pedrozo seconded it, however qualifying his second with the proviso that Parsons Ave. project would be the lowest priority.
The vote was tied 3-3: Lor, Pedrozo and Murphy for; Thurston, Blake, and Dossetti against.
Mayor Thurston invited Dossetti to make a motion. Dossetti appeared to have been caught totally flat-footed, didn't know what to say until finally it was arranged with Bramble to put Option 2 back on the power point so that he could read it word-for-word. The vote was tied: Thurston, Blake and Dossetti for; Lor, Pedrozo and Murphy against.
Thurston and Pedrozo did their abusive father-son act for awhile, bringing up no new ideas, then Lor asked if Thurston wanted to delete Parsons from the General Plan and Thurston made a motion to delete. That failed 4-2, Dossetti voting with the "Nays."
"No surprise," Thurston muttered, then asked the council if anyone would switch their vote in favor of Dossetti's motion for Option 2.
Dossetti asked if they could table the issue for the evening. Thurston said, "No. You want us to have all these people back again. Too much! ... If nobody can be flexible, then you can explain why government doesn't get anything done, especially since this project has been dead for 20 years...Is anybody going to change? ... Well, on to the next item, council members' comments."
The dissatisfied crowd left, talking loudly and without respect for the council's remaining business. Councilman Pedrozo's report on the League of California Cities' meeting was nearly drowned out by the din of the departing lynch mob. -- blj
SUBJECT: Parsons Avenue Transportation Planning Priority.
REPORT IN BRIEF
City Council discussion regarding the City's Transportation Plan and Priorities for North/South arterials and expressway projects.
Provide direction to the Administrative Staff on a policy option that will address the City's long-range transportation system needs.
1. Approve, an Option that will clarify the City Council's Policy on transportation priorities; or,
2. Approve, an Option other than presented by staff (identify specific findings and/or conditions amended to be addressed in the motion); or,
3. Deny; or,
4. Refer to City Manager for reconsideration of specific items (specific items to be addressed in the motion); or,
5. Continue to a future meeting (date and time to be specified in the motion).
Charter of the City of Merced, Section 200.
The City Council started a policy discussion on the City's General Plan and Transportation Element during the City Council Policy Setting Sessions in the spring of 2014. Part of the discussion included the role that Parsons Avenue has relative to the City's "comprehensive system of arterial streets". The City Council requested that staff prepare policy options for the City Council to consider related to Parsons Avenue and potential consequences based upon the option selected by the City Council.
History and Past Actions:
The City adopted a General Plan in 1959 that identified several streets as part of the north/south corridors in the Transportation Element that would be designed to handle growth in the community, especially as the City grew to the north of Highway 99. The Transportation Element in the 1959 General Plan was to space arterial streets on a one-mile grid which included R Street, M Street, G Street, Parsons Avenue for the north/south arterial. The Merced Vision 2030 Plan was adopted by the City Council in January 2012 which continues the plan of arterial spaced one-mile intervals (See Attachment A for more detail).
Description:The staff has reviewed both the City's General Plan Transportation Element and the City's adopted Public Facility Financing Plan document to determine what the City Council has as policy options to assess the role of Parsons Avenue in the City's General Plan and Public Facilities Financing Plan. It appears that there are three options the City Council could pursue:
1. Request that the City Manager budget funds in the Fiscal Year 2015-2016 Budget to conduct an analysis of the General Plan Transportation Element plus preparation of an Environmental Impact Report to determine if the General Plan "comprehensive system of arterial streets" policy is adequate for future traffic planning. Depending upon the outcome it could require a revision of the City's Public Facilities Financing Plan.
2. City Council could determine that given the importance of Campus Parkway as an expressway to the future development of the Highway 99 Interchange Retail Project and the viability of the University Industrial Park that staff should focus all resources and staffing to complete Campus Parkway from SH 140 to Childs Avenue for the next 2 to 3 years.
3. City Council direct staff to re-evaluate Parsons Avenue as part of the Transportation Element "comprehensive system of arterial streets". This
would be done through a General Plan amendment and Environmental Impact Review in 2 to 3 years once the Campus Parkway funding and planning is completed.
Options 1 and 3 have financial implications related to the completion of an Environmental Impact Report and amendment of the General Plan's Transportation Element.
The cost estimates could range from $300,000 to $500,000 for the amendment to the General Plan Transportation Element and Environmental Impact Report. If needed, the amendment to the Public Facilities Financing Plan might range between $50,000 to $75,000.
John M. Bramble, City Manager
John M. Bramble, City Manager
(2)White Paper on Parson Avenue Corridor Project
General Plan Amendment Process
If the City Council wishes to remove Parsons Avenue as a continuous north-south arterial, then the City’s General Plan Circulation Element would need to be amended. In order to amend the General Plan, the City would first need to evaluate the environmental impacts of that change based on the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Because the EIR and traffic analysis prepared for the adoption of the Merced Vision 2030 General Plan assumed that Parsons would be completed, the City would need to prepare a new environmental analysis to amend the General Plan. This analysis would need to evaluate the impacts on other area roadways that might result from completing Parsons. The estimated cost of a new traffic study along with a new EIR could range from $350,000 to $450,000 (including approximately $150,000 to $250,000 for the traffic study alone).
The public process would include, at the very least, public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council as required per State law. Given previous direction from the City Council, staff would recommend a more extensive public outreach process, in addition to the legally required public hearings. This should include mailing public notices to residents and businesses along the other roadways affected by the lack of a completed Parsons Avenue (such as G Street, McKee Road, Glen Ave, Bear Creek Drive, W. 26th Street, etc.) in addition to those residents and businesses along the Parsons Avenue Corridor itself. Given the potential removal of a major north-south arterial from the City’s overall circulation system, the input of the entire community would be appropriate.
Because the Parsons Corridor project is part of the City’s Public Facilities Financing Plan and Impact Fee Program, first adopted in 1998 and last updated in 2013, these plans would also need to be amended since funds are currently being collected to build the Parsons project. Other plans, such as water/sewer master plans, emergency response plans, fire station master plans, etc., may also need to be amended.
If Parsons Avenue is not to be completed, then an alternative circulation route or significant improvements to other roadways will need to be identified and designated in both the General Plan and the Public Facilities Financing Plan. The impacts of these changes will also need to be fully analyzed and mitigated if necessary.
As noted above, it will be necessary to evaluate the environmental and other impacts of the removal of Parsons Avenue from the overall circulation system before such an action could take place. Any identified impacts would be part of a mitigation plan. These impacts could include:
a) The impacts on other roadways and residences and businesses along those roadways of diverting the traffic that is designed to be on Parsons to those roadways;
b) The impacts on public safety (police, fire, and ambulance) response times with the possible elimination of an additional north-south route;
c) The impacts on local school district transportation systems for both buses and parents transporting their children to school as well as impacts on the public transportation system;
d) The impacts on the planned north-south bikeway being considered for Parsons Avenue according to the City’s recently-adopted Bicycle Transportation Plan;
e) The impacts on planned land uses along the Parsons Corridor which relied on a certain level of traffic improvements to support their projects;
f) The impacts on air quality and climate change due to increased idling, etc.; and,
g) Other issues as identified.
Although a more detailed analysis would be necessary as discussed above, previous information prepared for the Parsons Avenue Corridor Project offers some insight into what impacts may be identified. For instance, according to the Parson EIR prepared in 1993, “the No Project Alternative would have significant adverse impacts on the circulation system of Merced. These impacts included extreme traffic delays on G Street, McKee Road, Yosemite Avenue, Olive Avenue, Yosemite Park Way, Childs Avenue, and Glen Avenue.”
(3) Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration --Parsons Ave. Bridge Over Bear Creek Project