Rochelle Dawes has been the principal at Walker Elementary for a year. She tells me by phone that she polled her teachers about the meeting that the environmental document claims took place at Walker six months before she arrived. None of the teachers remembered the meeting.
Excessive foot traffic near and through her school, says Dawes, is what makes an on-ramp nearby so dangerous. Students from Wangenheim Middle School, Mira Mesa High School, and Miramar College also walk along Hillery and cut through the Walker campus. “Plus,” says Dawes, “most of my students arrive on foot. Of those who are dropped off by car, their parents are always driving in the exit and out the entrance. The traffic problems are already a nightmare.” Dawes tells me that she stands out front of Walker in the mornings to direct traffic safely.
The environmental document admits that Hillery’s traffic problems are already severe but says they can be mitigated by various traffic-calming measures. Dawes isn’t impressed by such statements. She’d like more specific solutions. Gustavo Dallarda, when he and I spoke, cited speed bumps along the portion of Hillery Drive west of Black Mountain Road as an effective way to discourage drivers from using that section of the street. He envisages the vast majority of cars approaching the Hillery on-ramp from both directions on Black Mountain and turning onto it east toward the freeway and away from Walker Elementary.
Ted Brengel, who is the president of the Mira Mesa Community Planning Group, tells me that he favors the southern alternative. The on-ramp, though an extension of Hillery, would be over a quarter mile away from the school, on the other side of Black Mountain Road. But he bristled at a suggestion that his planning group take sides at its November 17 meeting, five days after the public hearing. The suggestion had come to him by email even before the hearing — from Jim Sullivan.
Sullivan opened the email by mentioning “some of the steps I’ve been involved with [regarding] my opposition to a northern direct-access ramp at Galvin Avenue.” He then urged Brengel to place an “action item” on the planning group’s agenda in favor of the southern alternative because otherwise “we will miss the December 8 deadline for public comment.”
“I feel your pain,” Brengel responded, “but I would like to ask you to change your approach.” He criticized Sullivan for only helping alert the Hage Elementary principal and parents to the danger of a ramp close to their school. “Perhaps you could do the same for Walker Elementary School and Wangenheim Middle School.”
Sullivan feels the criticism was unwarranted. Walker Elementary people should have known what they faced after the meeting at their school a year and a half earlier.
“Two representatives from Walker Elementary came to the public notification meeting, the principal and another lady. The second lady came up to me afterward and said, ‘Our kids are in danger too.’ She was pretty aggressive. So I pointed out to her the chance her school has to get traffic mitigation. That can’t happen at Hage on Galvin Avenue. ‘So if I were you,’ I said, ‘I’d get in there and lobby Caltrans very hard for good traffic mitigation and make them pay for it. If the on-ramp goes in down by your school, you could end up having better traffic control than you even have now.’ By the time we finished talking, the lady seemed fired up,” Sullivan tells me.
Why did Caltrans put the Galvin Avenue alternative in the draft environmental document? “Their officials will tell you they have to provide some alternative for the public to consider,” says Sullivan, “but I think it was a red herring. Gustavo Dallarda alerted me early because he knew I’d jump in there and mobilize people to come out to the public meeting. And it was very well attended. The Hillery Drive alternative was his choice all along.”