Terrace stoplight: Recipe for traffic disaster
Coastsiders may have seen people out in front of Long’s or Safeway gathering signatures for a petition opposing a stoplight at Terrace. Hundreds have signed up, because a Terrace stoplight makes no sense. As the Coastal Commission wrote, "it would interrupt the flow of through traffic on Highway 1. The distance between the current signalized North Main Street/Highway 1 intersection and Terrace is approximately 1,000 feet. Spacing signalized intersections on Highway 1 this close could increase congestion on the highway because of insufficient ‘stacking’ space."
The interesting question is how such a bad idea ever grew legs. For the answer, we need to briefly touch upon the history of the Ailanto/Pacific Ridge project. In 2001, the Coastal Commission approved a 126-house subdivision with some special conditions, like a lot retirement program and only temporary use of Terrace as access for 40 homes. The developer didn’t accept these conditions, so he sued. By the end of 2002, the Commission was getting nervous and offered to cave in on the lot retirement and Terrace access issues. HMB Council members were irate. Mike Ferreira stated (Review, 11/20/02): "This is a complete surrender, and it is so gratuitous to the developer that it sickens me. That flies right in the face of traffic analysis for the area. Highway 1 is already at an unsafe level of usage. This will be a huge mess." Toni Taylor added: "I can’t even imagine how we’re going to police that intersection [Terrace]. That would be a disaster for the area."
Ironically, a week after the Commission offered to capitulate on the main points, it won a complete victory on those same points in court. Ailanto then appealed, having learned that the Commission didn’t believe in its own case. In 2004, the Commission and City signed a three-way settlement agreement that further capitulates to the developer, especially on the use of Terrace as sole permanent access.
The Commission’s 2001 approval of the project required: "Permanent access to the site shall be provided by the construction of either Bayview Drive or Foothill Boulevard. Until such time that a permanent access road is constructed, Terrace Avenue may be used for construction and to serve the first 40 homes that are constructed. Following the construction of a permanent access road, all residential traffic shall be routed to the permanent access road."
The settlement agreement erases those conditions, including all references to Foothill and Bayview, in return for a smaller number of houses (40 without, 63 with a stoplight) that can use Terrace as sole permanent access. Although the lot size is similar, in the agreement the houses can be almost twice the average size previously approved (4,600 vs. 2,600 sq. ft, with 3-car instead of 2-car garages). There are no subdivisions in HMB, even Ocean Colony, with average house sizes that large. Most important, the site plan has been rearranged such that if the houses are built, the possibility of Foothill, as a way around the 92/Main/1 checkpoint, is erased forever.
There’s a big catch to the settlement agreement. If the City and Commission don’t agree to a stoplight at Terrace, the agreement is nullified (p.12) and the parties resume litigating. To prejudice the Terrace stoplight’s approval, the agreement (p. 9) actually requires the City and Commission’s planning staffs to recommend approval of the stoplight, even though both staffs have rightly recommended against it. This unprincipled requirement, that professional staff argue a position they clearly disagree with, should red-flag the agreement in the public’s eyes. The whole reason to have planning staff is to benefit from their unfettered, expert opinion. Contractually compelling them to parrot a position is reprehensible.
Even the City Council is muzzled by the agreement from opposing it. Page 16 prohibits the City from taking any action that could delay or defeat the exercise of Ailanto’s rights under the agreement, which of course public Council criticism would be most effective in doing.
The lot retirement program is no more principled than the rest of the agreement. Ailanto is required to pay $45,000 per lot to the City, so that it can purchase and retire another buildable lot of similar size as a zero-sum traffic mitigation. Problem is $45,000 only buys you a car, not a buildable lot in HMB, which can easily cost 10 times that amount. As traffic mitigation, the agreement’s lot retirement program is a sham.
The citizens of HMB appear to have one surefire way to stop this train: a November ballot measure that prohibits a Terrace stoplight, thus dissolving the settlement agreement and reinstating Foothill and/or Bayview as Ailanto’s permanent access. Midcoasters can consider an advisory measure with a similar message, since they’re equally affected by the traffic.