By Don Sevrens
Ever wonder why there seems to be a stop sign every two blocks whether needed or not?
The San Diego City Council has a curious policy that allows uninformed community planning groups to overrule the city’s traffic experts and, with the concurrence of one district council member, order stop signs installed.
There are no standards for collecting signatures or even telling the neighborhood what is going on. Just get a couple friends together, ask some community planner to schedule a vote and – presto! – you have new stop signs up.
Unnecessary stop signs actually cause motorists to speed up, counter-intuitive as it may seem. Imagine being horribly late to work for a meeting with the boss, a medical appointment or picking up a child at daycare. What do you do when you encounter a series of stop signs? You go faster between signs and roll through the ones you can.
The issue has come into public view because vigilantes erected stop signs in Point Loma at Silvergate/Jennings and Jennings/Albion. Vigilante sympathizers at the city covered up it then duped the community planning group into voting to legitimize one of the rogue signs.
Neighbors angry about the illegal behavior and the official city cover-up – 135 of them who have signed petitions asking that the signage be put back the way it was – cannot get the time of day from the Peninsula Community Planning Group or Council Member Kevin Faulconer.
Now the Planning Board and Faulconer are violating state law, the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act.
The issue will come to a head about 7 p.m. Thursday June 20 at the Point Loma Branch Library, 3701 Voltaire St. Here’s a chronology of what has happened so far:
July 2012 — Unknown vigilantes erect two stop signs at T-intersections very close together in Point Loma. The city quickly yanks one down but curiously allows the other to stand – in an apparent violation of state law.
Jan. 17, 2013 – Vigilante sympathizers ask the Peninsula Community Planning Board to overrule city traffic experts to legitimize the rogue stop sign that has been yanked down. A member of the Planning Board and an aide to Council Member Kevin Faulconer know about the vigilante history at the two intersections but do not share that knowledge with the board. The board votes to legitimize the stop sign, meaning the T-intersection will have two stop signs, a non-standard configuration that is considered extremely dangerous. Overruling the traffic experts requires both a vote by a planning group and the endorsement of the City Council member for the district.
Jan. 25, 2013 – Told by Traffic that it will not endanger the public – it’s either one stop sign or three – the Kevin Faulconer aide drafts a memo to the mayor falsely stating what the planning board voted on.
March 28, 2013 – When the false memorandum is discovered through a citizen’s Public Records Act request, Kevin Faulconer retracts his memo of Jan. 25. He asks the mayor to keep the second (rogue) stop sign at the intersection but take down the third sign he had just requested the city put up. Traffic refuses, on the grounds the public would be at grave risk (with two stop signs at a three-way intersection, motorists get confused and assume everyone has to stop). Soon there will be five stop signs standing in less than 200 feet.
March 2013 – Neighbors find out about the vigilante behavior and city cover-up. They quickly collect 135 signatures of residents asking that the signage be put back the way it was. (But the Planning Board never allows them to present the petitions.)
Circa April 1 – The Kevin Faulconer aide involved in the bungling suddenly becomes a former Kevin Faulconer aide.
May 15, 2013 – Kevin Faulconer’s office participates in a secret meeting held to cut a backroom deal. Present are new Kevin Faulconer aide John Ly, Planning Board member Peter Nystrom and Chief City Traffic Engineer Gary Pence. That meeting itself is believed to be a violation of the Brown Act.
May 16, 2013 – The Planning Board’s posted agenda calls for a non-action, 20-minute presentation by Peter Nystrom on one of the two intersections. Nystrom tells the meeting he has had a secret meeting with the city engineer who has endorsed a specific signage change. There is nothing on paper, no way to verify, and Pence is not present. Nystrom says he is changing the discussion item to an action item.
The board is warned that it is violating the state Brown Act, requiring that action items must be posted 72 hours in advance of public meetings. Nystrom says he does not care. The board holds a lengthy discussion without a second, in violation of Robert’s Rules of Order and its own by-laws. Eventually the 13-position board obtains a second and votes 4-3 to legitimize two rogue stop signs and tear down three city-erected stop signs.
May 17, 2013 – Council member Kevin Faulconer quickly endorses a vote conducted in violation of state law.
May 21, 2013 – Attorney (and former journalist ) James C. Alvord of Fallbrook, representing Don Sevrens and other Point Loma residents, informs the San Diego City Attorney’ s Office that in his legal opinion the Brown Act has been violated, the board vote is null and void, and the city has no legal basis to proceed. Alvord also wrote the mayor: “If Council Member Faulconer has recommended to your office that the sign changes be adopted, you need to know that these changes were made in violation of state law…”
May, 2013 – The City Attorney’s Office assigns mayoral representative Tony Kempton to investigate.
June 11, 2013 – Deputy City Attorney Keely Halsey states she relayed to the planning board leadership the investigation results and gave them legal advice. She will not disclose her specific advice but in an email to complaintant Sevrens states “Community planning groups must act in compliance with the state’s open meetings law, the Brown Act. Our advice was provided with that in mind.”
A rehearing on the matter is ordered for the board’s next meeting the third Thursday in June.
June, 2013 – Nystrom tells neighborhood residents he will block a new vote and force the city to proceed against the (presumed) advice of the City Attorney’s Office that the May vote is a violation of state law and thus null and void.
June, 2013 — Kevin Faulconer, who has endorsed the Planning Board’s violation of state law, refuses to meet with 135 constitutents who have asked him in writing to have the signage put back the way it was.
Thursday June 20, approximately 7 p.m. – A rehearing on the vigilante stop signs is to be conducted at the Point Loma Branch Library. Representatives of several broadcast and print outlets are likely to attend.