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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Supervisors Back Scaled-Down Road Projects

Somis: Board acquiesces to residents' concerns that improvements along California 118 will lead to unbridled growth.

April 28, 1999|PAMELA J. JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hoping to preserve the tranquillity of rural Somis, Ventura County supervisors bowed to public pressure Tuesday and voted to support two greatly scaled-down road improvement projects along a stretch of California 118 in the Las Posas Valley.

The unanimous vote capped a 4 1/2-hour public hearing in which most residents urged supervisors to fight the Caltrans road projects.

Somis residents fear that the projects, scheduled to begin in fall 2001, would be just the beginning of a larger plan to widen a 16-mile stretch of the highway.

"I think the existing recommendations . . . will allow Caltrans enough loopholes and wiggle room to drive a truck through, literally," said Patricia Feiner Arkin, one of nearly 100 residents who attended the board meeting. "In fact, four lanes' worth of trucks."

Dave Ruth waved a sign in front of the supervisors displaying the names of more than 800 people who had signed a protest petition.

"These people were not under pressure to sign it," Ruth told supervisors. "They're only interested in having an environment without unbridled growth."

Officials from Mesa Union School District told supervisors they recently passed a resolution against the road project that would be built near Mesa School.

In the end, supervisors struck a compromise. They voted to support the two state projects, but only if Caltrans agreed to:

* Preserve the rural nature of the Las Posas Valley by not considering widening California 118 to four lanes, at least until 2010.

* Not build on the wetlands at Mesa School as part of any future road improvement projects.

* Reduce the scope of the road improvements planned at California 34 and Donlon Road in Somis.

* Study the possibility of building a road to reroute California 34 around Somis and consider installing a traffic circle at the Somis intersection.

* Conduct an analysis of the environmental consequences of the projects, or publicly explain why such a study is not necessary.

Many residents said they could live with the compromise plan.

"On the whole, we're very gratified," said Barbara Kerkhoff, who spearheaded the petition drive against the projects. "They were responsive--all of the board members--and we're very grateful."

Supervisors also agreed to ask Caltrans to meet with county planners and the Ventura County Transportation Commission to discuss how future road projects in Somis would be affected by the SOAR growth-control measure recently approved by voters.

"We have lots of stakeholders here, not just Caltrans," said Supervisor John Flynn, who pushed for the amendments along with Supervisor Frank Schillo. "We have the community also. Farmers, residents, the Mesa Union School District. If we are going to go with the Caltrans plan as it is, we would be ignoring the community. We just can't do that."

The decision is significant to Caltrans officials, who sometimes postpone or back out of projects that receive strong government and community opposition.

"This action sends a clear message to Caltrans that they need to reconsider the magnitude of the projects," Flynn said after the vote.

One of the road projects would widen and straighten the notorious Mesa School S-curve, located midway between Somis and Saticoy, where there have been 51 accidents and five fatalities since 1991. One death occurred in 1994, and four a year later. That project is expected to cost $6.7 million.

A scaled-down version of this plan would realign and widen about one mile of roadway near Mesa School, keeping a single lane in each direction. A traffic light would also be installed. Improvements involve no loss of farmland, but would take about 2 acres of school property and eliminate an acre of wetlands.

The other project would widen the intersection of California 34 and Donlon Road. The widening would ease congestion at the busy two-lane intersection.

County staff has supported a Caltrans plan to consider installing a traffic circle at the intersection to enhance vehicle flow.

These improvements are expected to cost about $4.5 million. Of that sum, the county would contribute up to $900,000.

"This morning it took me 32 minutes to get through that intersection," Supervisor Judy Mikels, the architect behind the projects, said before casting her vote for the smaller projects. "We have an issue, let's deal with it."

Mikels also dismissed some residents who downplayed the danger at the S-curve near Mesa School.

"If you can fix it, why not?" Mikels said. "Isn't a life worth it?"

Schillo questioned the wisdom of improving the Somis intersection at this time. He noted that the Ventura County Council of Government has predicted a county population growth of 63,000 by 2020.

Other agencies have predicted a much higher number, he said. As a result, county planners expect that by 2020, California 118 will have to be widened to four lanes.

"If it's going to eventually be built to four lanes, then it will turn into a bottleneck," Schillo said. "That's not good planning."

The larger, $11.8-million widening project would not be allowed under the county's current General Plan. When the plan expires in 2010, supervisors may amend it to allow for a four-lane highway.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Kathy Long asked county staff to begin reviewing the General Plan, which has not been updated in 11 years.

"We need to do an honest review of four-laning [California 118]," Long said. "We may have to do it in 2020."

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