Liz Swain 5:30 p.m., Sept. 22
Bypassing the bylaws? Local planning group accused of plowing through process to keep illegal stop signs
Peninsula planning group accused of violating the Brown Act in their quest to keep two illegally placed stop signs in Point Loma
'Stop in the name of the bylaws,' is the message from dozens of Point Loma residents in Point Loma to the Peninsula Community Planning Group.
The residents are accusing the planning group of violating the Brown Act, the Robert's Rules of Order and its own bylaws in their pursuit to keep two-stop signs erected under the cover of night by vigilante residents without City permission. The issue has resulted in errant memos getting sent out by Kevin Faulconer's Office as well as what residents say, is a refusal on the councilmember's part to meet with them to right the wrong.
To understand the issue, we need to back-up, to late June 2012. Shortly after road crews had finished repaving two intersections, one at the junction of Silver Gate Ave and Jennings Street and the other a block away at Jennings and Albion, a small group of renegade residents removed two yield signs, one at each intersection, and placed stop signs. Weeks later crews returned to mark and paint the streets. They marked the streets according to the signage, effectively changing the intersections for good, as reported by the UT San Diego in a May 2013 article.
Enter the City's traffic department.
In a July 20, 2012 email, Senior Transportation Engineer Joseph Jimenez discussed the issue with head traffic hancho Gary Pence. "Since it appears that the residents are in favor of the stop signs, we are currently in the process of evaluating both locations for a standard all-way stop. We will inform everyone with the results when complete and move on from there."
The traffic study, however, failed to meet City requirements to warrant the installation of stop signs. Out of a possible 20 points, the intersections scored an 11.
Failing to get the sufficient number of points, the Peninsula Planning Board decided to take the wheel. With their approval, and the support of Councilmember Faulconer, the group could keep the signs and bypass the City's Traffic Department entirely.
On their January 17 agenda, under "new/old business," the planners included "Silvergate/Jennings-presenation by Simon Borger," a resident who lives at the corner of the intersection.
In what was the first possible Brown-Act violation to take place, the planning group voted on a non-actionable item and approved the signs.
More than a week later, Faulconer entered the fray. On January 25, Faulconer sent Mayor Bob Filner a memo in support of "four-way stop signs at Silvergate Avenue and Jennings." The memo failed to mention the possible Brown-Act infraction and mislabeled the intersection as a four-way instead of a three-way, T-intersection.
A few months later, Faulconer's Office was alerted to the mistake. Former Faulconer aide, Michael Patton, requested the removal of one of the stop signs.
By May, a number of residents had become aware of the issue. Some canvassed the area. In just two-days time they managed to collect 135 signatures in favor of returning the two intersections back to the way it was.
That month Peninsula Planning Group once again heard the item. Again, the issue was not placed as an actionable item on the agenda but instead was placed under new/old business. Twenty minutes was allotted to chair of the traffic subcommittee Peter Nystrom for a presentation on the merits of the stop signs.
Shortly after the meeting was called into session, Nystrom made a motion to make it an actionable item, another potential violation of the Brown Act.
"That's when the melee started," says Don Sevrens, a Point Loma resident. Sevrens, now retired, was a longtime journalist for the San Diego Union Tribune. "Having covered countless public meetings, I called a point of order. It was an obvious violation. But despite my objections and the objections from others, the planning group moved forward."
Sevrens says he and his like-minded neighbors urged the the planning group to at least give them time to address to the matter and state their case.
"They gave us a total of three-minutes," adds Sevrens.
In response, Sevrens and his group retained a lawyer. On May 21, Attorney James Alvord sent a letter to Mayor Bob Filner and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
"It is the position of Mr. Sevrens, and my own legal opinion, that a clear violation of the Brown Act has occurred and that the actions of the Peninsula Community Planning Board on May 16 must be viewed as null and void," reads Alvord's letter.
"If Councilmember 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, and that Mr. Sevrens and his neighbors intend to pursue that position as far as needed to insure their rights are respected and their neighborhood is protected."
Now, nearly one year after the rogue signs appeared, the item will be heard by the planning group on June 20. Unfortunately for the opposition, not much as has changed and they continue to get blindsided by planning group members.
On the June 20 agenda, posted on group's website, the item is finally listed as an action item. Forty-five minutes has been set aside for a presentation from traffic engineer Pence. No time has been given to Sevrens and the dozens in opposition to the signs.
Despite the claims and accusations of Brown Act violations, Faulconer's Office says it will make sure the right path is taken.
"We are looking forward to direction from the elected representatives of the Point Loma community so Councilmember Faulconer can enact their recommendation at City Hall," is the statement from a spokesperson for Faulconer.
"As this issue has been vetted in the public over the past several months, Councilmember Faulconer’s office has met and spoken with supporters and opponents of the stop signs and has a clear understanding of their positions on the matter. A City planner will be present at the Peninsula Community Planning Board meeting to ensure the group’s bylaws are followed. Councilmember Faulconer expects a transparent and ethical hearing that allows opportunities for members of the public to comment."
An earlier version of this story misstated that the residents requested a meeting with Councilmember Faulconer. That was not the case. Faulconer's aide contacted the resident and offered to meet. I apologize for the error.
Image by Kenn Anderson