Traffic causing safety concerns at Ocean Beach Elementary School: OB Planners seek crossing guards, signals, signs

The growing need for safer sidewalks and street crossings to Ocean Beach Elementary School was brought before the Ocean Beach Planning Board (OBPB) meeting at the Rec Center, April 3, along with a request to support regulations against unaccompanied adults in designated children's play areas, and concerns over the new City ordinance allowing vehicle habitation.

Children's safety concerns

One of the evening's hot topics was brought to the board's attention by resident Mandy Havlik, who was recently voted onto the Peninsula Community Planning Board (see related story, "New Peninsula Planning Board in place").

Havlik attended last month's OBPB meeting to introduce concerns over traffic violations and safety around OB Elementary, where her children have attended school for the past three years.

Havlik came prepared with a proposal to push the City into funding a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the 2019 budget, so there would be a single point of contact between Peninsula-area schools and the City, and requested board support.

She stated that due to increasing traffic congestion, there has been an influx of safety incidents witnessed — and on several occasions recorded — by the volunteer crossing guards at OB Elementary.

Such incidents include: vehicles running red lights, vehicles failing to yield to pedestrians, and vehicles speeding. Havlik pointed out that traffic laws are being disregarded on a daily basis, consistently putting children and pedestrians at risk, particularly along the school's parameter intersections at Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Newport Avenue, Santa Monica Avenue and Ebers Street.

In addition to funding a Safe Routes Coordinator, Havlik's sought to have OBPB draft a letter of support to the City Council and to District 2 Council member Jennifer Campbell to:

1) Provide additional traffic safety mitigations, such as pedestrian-led priority signals and track lighting along the crosswalk connecting the two OB Elementary School campuses (Note: as Point Loma -OB Monthly goes to press, we've learned that the crosswalk funding will be available in six months);

2) Provide the Peninsula schools with City-funded and trained crossing guards (Note: Principal Drapeau points out that the school district does not have an official cross-guard training program);

3) Increase police patrols on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard; and

4) Provide painted crosswalks that will stay maintained for longer than 10 months.

Havlik clarified that she doesn't know how the training for crossing guards would be funded, but she will be "continuing to ask." Though focused primarily on OB Elementary, Havlik said she would eventually reach out to the local cluster of schools to hear their traffic safety situations, as well as to work with parents.

She added that, having already reached out to the San Diego Police Department and OB Elementary School principal Marco Drapeau on numerous occasions, she is aware of the road blocks she will be facing on the quest for increased traffic safety.

"I hear the same thing from police: 'We don't have the funding, we don't have the man power,' " she related to the board, and her reported response from OB Elementary: "Due to liability, the school is not going to pay for any traffic safety signage or handheld signs or anything to promote visibility."

She said OB Elementary's last contribution came in 2015, when the school gave $326.95 to buy signs, which have since disappeared. After hosting protest rallies in November and December of 2017, Havlik received a donation from a sign shop in Oceanside that provided stand-up signage boards and neon vests. Ironically, the signs have been damaged by commuters and are no longer used.

OBPB treasurer Craig Klein, an attorney, explained to those gathered that the liability comes from undertaking the responsibility of helping someone.

If help is given "improperly," or someone gets hurt whom you assumed responsibility for, you can be held liable because you chose to undertake that duty.

"Most of these government (agencies) will say, 'Well then fine, we'll just do nothing, because now we can't be held liable for messing up and trying to make things safe,' " Klein said.

OB Elementary crosswalk volunteers Wayne Simard and Jack Shaw have volunteered daily for the past seven years to help students cross to school safely, using handheld signs to increase visibility.

However, Havlik told the board that on Jan. 31, Simard and Shaw were approached by Western Division Police Officers who informed them that they were not allowed to use the handheld signs due to liability.

As the board decided to draft a letter of support, Klein offered a non-sugar-coated suggestion.

"Part of the problem with such things, when you're dealing with bureaucratic organizations, is everybody uses such polite, euphemistic language and maybe there needs to be in the letter: 'Hey! How are you going to feel if you say no to this and a kid gets run over and killed?' "

A motion was made to approve a letter with strong language be sent to City Council members, the Mayor's Office, OB Elementary School principal Drapeau, San Diego Unified Schools Superintendent Cindy Marten, all Point Loma Cluster Association principals and Police Chief David Nisleit.

The motion passed unanimously.

Vehicle Habitation and Dreams for Change

CEO of Dreams for Change, Teresa Smith, came before the board to present information about the safe parking lots for people living in their vehicles overnight, operated by Dreams for Change. The organization was founded in May 2009 with the goal of assisting families and individuals affected by the recession, and it continues to aid those financially struggling.

Smith reported that approximately 50 to 55 percent of those who stay in safe parking lots are working and 30 to 35 percent are age 55 or older and not heading back into the work force. Smith said contrary to the belief that most of those living in their cars are transients, less than 10 percent are not from San Diego.

The board made a motion, which passed unanimously, to send a letter to the City Council Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods committee regarding the vehicle habitation ordinance that will be discussed Wednesday, April 17, that would: reiterate their support of the safe parking lots, urge the City to get a count of homeless individuals living in their cars, draft a companion ordinance to keep RVs separate (with access to transit), look at other cities' pilot programs, and support Dreams for Change financially; dreamsforchange.org

Designated Children's Play Areas Ordinance

San Diegan Sandy Gade Algra addressed OBPB regarding her proposal for an ordinance that would make it illegal for an adult unaccompanied by a child to be on a playground.

She recounted her son's potentially fatal experience of being pricked with a hypodermic needle at a Liberty Station playground (See related story, "New Peninsula Planning Board in place").

However, Algra received more opposition from the OBPB than she did from the Peninsula Community Planning Board two weeks prior, particularly in regard to the part of the ordinance that would keep teens (ages 13 to 18) from being on a playground.

Klein expressed his support for the principal of the ordinance, but argued there were too many "technical issues" in the details: "What this really is, is an anti-social, undesirable ordinance clothed in the language of a children's playground equipment rubric, and that creates an incredibly challenging legal path to have to circumnavigate."

Algra responded by pointing out there are similar passive-use parks with signs forbidding athletes from putting on cleats or playing sports — suggesting that designated-use areas do not criminalize individuals, but are for specific purposes.

She went on to say she's "not married to this ordinance," and is willing to make necessary changes, particularly in responses to the community's concern with the age limits for those allowed on playgrounds.

OBPB chair Andrea Schlageter pointed out: "I love your enthusiasm, but I think your time should be better served fighting for something that won't run into legal issues … you should center it around our lack of treatment for homeless drug addicts."

She added that the ordinance should focus on a legal issue that will get support to ensure what happened to Algra's son doesn't happen again.

The board decided against any action for the time being.

In other OBPB news ...

• The board reviewed an application for a Process 2 Coastal Development Permit to demolish the existing structures and construct two, new, two-story residences at 4645 Coronado Ave. The applicants satisfied all City requirements and needed only OBPB's approval before they could get their permit. OBPB voted to support the application, 12 in favor, 1 against and 1 abstaining.

• Newly elected board members George McCalla (District 5) and Anthony Ciulla (District 4) were officially appointed. The board also voted to have Schlageter remain as chair, Klein as treasurer, and Tracey Dezenzo as secretary.

—The Ocean Beach Planning Board next meets 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1 at Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave. oceanbeachplanning.org

Copyright © 2019, © 2019, The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. All rights reserved.
57°