VENTURA — Saying they want the facts first, then opinions, five City Council members voted to spend $30,000 to study whether to reopen the streets behind Ventura High School to school-day traffic.
The reopening of Poli Street will not be considered.
Councilman Jim Monahan was not at the meeting, and Councilman Steve Bennett abstained because he lives within 2,500 feet of the hillside streets.
For the last four years, Poli Street--which bisects the Ventura High School campus--and two narrow hillside streets behind the school have been closed on school days between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Poli was closed because of safety concerns, and Sunset Drive and Palomar Avenue were barricaded because cross-town drivers began using them as detours.
The city decided to revisit the highly charged issue of the hillside street closures after a recent stream of letters from irritated and inconvenienced residents who said they wanted the streets reopened.
Many of those residents turned out Monday night to urge the city to reopen the streets, but they questioned why the city has to spend so much money on another study.
"I don't really see that we need to get someone from the outside," said John Cowart, who lives on Sunset Drive. "We've lived with this and racked our minds to find a solution. . . . Let's have hillside residents work with the city transportation engineer. I'd like to see that money spent more wisely."
But Nazir Lalani, the city's traffic engineer, said he has no free time to work on the issue, except in the middle of the night.
The $30,000 study to examine the effectiveness of the street closures will consist of five steps, said Steve Chase, assistant to the city manager.
First, an outside consultant will look at traffic circulation, volume and speed on the hillsides. Then the consultant will decide whether other forms of traffic controls--such as speed humps, complete removal of the chain barricades or shortened hours of closure--warrant consideration.
If there is a viable alternative, an environmental review would then be conducted. This step would be required by law, Chase added.
Finally, the results of these surveys and a "menu" of possible traffic control alternatives would be used as the basis for a survey of hillside residents. Those results and a recommendation would then be brought back to the City Council for consideration.
Councilman Gary Tuttle asked if the order of the proposed study could be reversed, with a resident survey conducted first, to see how residents feel, before the traffic survey.
But Chase recommended getting the facts first.
"We looked at it from a nuts-and-bolts perspective," he said.
The streets were first barricaded after the community rose up in outrage over the slaying of Ventura High School student Jesse Strobel. He was walking home from work at his father's pizza parlor on Seaward Avenue about 10 p.m. Jan. 29, 1993, when he was fatally stabbed on Catalina Street, which borders the high school.
Convinced that his slaying was gang-related--and in an effort to stem such violence--the City Council closed the portion of Poli Street that cuts through the campus.
But many of the commuters who use Poli as an east-west thoroughfare began to zoom along the narrow streets above Ventura High.
Traffic speed and volume increased, distressing residents of what had previously been a quiet neighborhood with little traffic.
In response, the city closed Palomar Avenue and Sunset Drive by stringing up chain barricades and hanging signs.
Over time, the city has made improvements to Main Street, which parallels Poli on one side of the high school, to ease traffic flow.
With those improvements, some residents believed that the back-street shortcuts were no longer necessary and took the issue to the ballot in November 1994. But Measure E was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin.
John Strobel, Jesse's grandfather, said Monday that he could understand why hillside residents want their streets open.
"I am just so concerned about the school and the students," he said. "I'm not opposed to opening the streets on the hillside. Just not Poli."
FO (B1) VENTURA: TRAFFIC STUDY: City traffic engineer Nazir Lalani, above, doesn't have time to study reopening two streets, so an outside consultant will do it--for $30,000. B4