After Complaints, City Looks At Traffic Issues Around Garden Grove High School

Garden Grove city officials are reviewing traffic issues near Garden Grove High School at the center of its busy downtown, after complaints from parents and students over the past few months about inattentive drivers and pedestrians making it unsafe for students before and after school.

The school sits at the intersection of Stanford and Euclid, across from the Civic Center and at the heart of the city’s downtown.

Although recent efforts to revitalize the downtown has sparked conversations about filling empty storefronts and encouraging more walking and biking in the area, those goals have yet to be implemented.

At a meeting in February, nearly a dozen student leaders told the council that students are frequently tardy in the morning because of traffic issues and congestion from an accident near the school.

Councilman Phat Bui, whose son attends Garden Grove High, recounted an incident where he nearly hit a student with his car while searching for his son.

“There are so many students trying to rush through the street, and if we didn’t pay attention, we could run over them,” Bui said. “One of my friend’s sons, he usually rides a bike to school and one day, he was hit by a car when he crossed Euclid.”

According to Public Safety Administrator David Barlag, there have only been 13 reports of traffic or pedestrian related events on Stanford Avenue in the past five years, numbers that officials say don’t on their face indicate a traffic problem compared to other parts of the city.

Addressing safety issues at Garden Grove High School are among the additional duties assigned to Barlag by Interim City Manager Allan Roeder. Barlag, the city’s former fire chief, assumed his new title late last year but only began reporting to city hall regularly in February.

Barlag said the city has met with the district three times and the city’s traffic engineering division has repainted striping on Stanford Ave. and is reviewing potential signage, crosswalks and traffic signals around the school.

The city last met with district officials and parents at a meeting on March 24th.

Although parents have been pressuring the city for immediate improvements, Barlag said it would take traffic engineers some time to determine a solution that works with the entire area.

“While it seems easy for a lay person to say, ‘just put a stop sign there,’ you can’t just put a sign in, that creates additional problems on some other part of the street,” said Barlag.

According to Garden Grove Unified School District spokesperson Amy Stevens, responsibility for safety around the street and training and funding crossing guards lies with the city. Administrators and staff currently volunteer to direct traffic around the school, Stevens said.

According to Barlag, although the city has funded crossing guard programs in the past, “but because of budget and liability [issues], paying for those things are no longer an option,” he said.

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    When someone with the title of Public Safety Administrator says, “but because of budget and liability [issues], paying for those things [crossing guards] are no longer an option,” the public should be outraged.

    Budget and liability concerns from Public Safety Administrator, Mr. Barlag, are unfounded: those risks are distributed across an enormous government agency insurance pool managed by the Joint Powers Insurance Authority so each individual community absorbs only a fraction of its actual liability damages. Moreover, cities across OC are content paying those damages and the attorneys who negotiate them in order to preserve that holy grail of OC transportation funding, Measure M.

    There is no incentive to make infrastructure changes so people can more safely travel without a car (& thereby reduce vehicular traffic and congestion). Measure M encourages decisionmakers like Mr. Barlag to behave irresponsibly because it has no provision for infrastructure improvements that are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists in school zones or elsewhere. Here’s why:

    The value of Measure M funding is far greater than a city’s legal and financial risks. Every city in OC craves Measure M dollars and they sacrifice everything, including public safety and the lives of children in school zones, to maintain that eligibility so they can decrease their transportation allocations from the municipal general fund.

    If a city refuses to comply with Measure M (via the OC Master Plan of Arterial Highways) requirements that motor vehicle delay be capped by a city’s level of service policies, then that city is threatened with the loss of Measure M money, even though its taxpayers are required to continue to contribute to Measure M coffers. Consequently, roadway safety decisions are not made by individual cities, but by the agency charged with allocating Measure M funding, OCTA.

    Unless and until the OCTA Measure M Taxpayer Oversight Committee, Board of Directors, and the OC Board of Supervisors finds the courage to amend Measure M and put it before the voters for approval, then excuses like those expressed by Mr. Barlag will persist. Measure M is up for statutorily mandated 10-year review in 2016.

    It’s up to the voters to demand changes and support elected officials courageous enough to publicly support them . . . or our children’s lives will forever be threatened.