The Sonora City Council on Monday endorsed preliminary designs for the Red Church Pedestrian and Circulation Improvement Project, with some minor changes.

As opposed to decorative materials for the crosswalks, such as cobblestone, the council opted to go with the typical white lines painted on the asphalt by Caltrans.

Several stakeholders have raised concerns about the project since the original conceptual plan was released for public discussion in October 2017.

There seemed to be more support on Monday after the designs were significantly simplified by Willdan Engineering, which received a $105,000 contract from the council in October last year.

“We’ve met with the public, done a lot of public outreach, and considered those issues and concerns as part of the designs we have for you tonight,” said Rachelle Kellogg, community development director for the city.

Stephanie Suess thanked city staff and consultants for listening to the concerns of her and her husband, Ray, who own a building on North Washington Street that would have been directly impacted by the earlier plans.

Suess, who has worked in planning and development for more than 30 years, raised concerns about the city’s notification process for people who would be affected by such projects.

She said they haven’t received notices about the milestones in the project’s development and were told that they weren’t required.

“Had we been notified of this back in September (of 2017), we could have a saved a lot of steps before we got to this point,” she said.

There were still some concerns about the proposed designs raised at the meeting by City Engineer Jerry Fuccillo and Sharon Marovich, of the Tuolumne Heritage Committee.

Fuccillo believed the council should nix a landscaped bulb-out proposed to be located in front of the building that formerly housed Dorothea’s Christmas store on North Washington Street.

The bulb-out was reduced in size from the initial designs released in December to provide more space for larger vehicles, such as school buses, to turn right from Snell Street onto Washington Street.

One of the reasons that Fuccillo thought the area should be deleted from the final designs, as well as the decorative crosswalk surfaces, was because the city will have to enter an agreement with Caltrans to maintain anything that’s added.

While the council agreed to get rid of the decorative crosswalks, it chose to leave in the bulb-out until after Caltrans reviews the plans.

Peter Rei, principal project manager for Willdan Engineering, said the designs could be revised again to remove the bulb-out if the the council decides to delete it at a later date.

Rei also serves as an appointed member of the Tuolumne County Planning Commission, which doesn’t have authority over public works projects within the city limits.

Three out of four council members also agreed to leave in proposed bulb-outs on each side of the crosswalk from the Sonora Fire Museum and Senior Lounge to the parking structure next to City Hall.

Councilwoman Colette Such agreed with Fuccillo that the bulb-outs should be deleted. Councilman Matt Hawkins was absent.

“I think we should take into consideration the recommendation to make this project as simple as possible,” Such said.

Rei said the bulb-outs are meant to narrow the street, particularly for northbound traffic on Washington Street, which he said tends to speed up after the crosswalk.

“I’ve observed when I’m out there that there’s often quite an acceleration at that point,” he said. “That requires vehicles going southbound to gauge that, and it seems that they might be paying more attention to the cars than pedestrians.”

Rachelle Kellogg, community development director for the city, noted earlier in the meeting that the goal of the project has been “to improve vehicular circulation, pedestrian safety and intersection function.”

Kellogg relayed statistics provided by Sonora Fire Chief Aimee New that stated more than a third of the 21 accidents along Washington Street between Stockton Road and Elkin Street happened at the intersection.

Most of those accidents involved pedestrians within the crosswalk on Elkin Street, which is the only one in the area proposed to not have a flashing beacon that could be activated by pedestrians.

Rei explained that there is a stop sign on Elkin Street, unlike the others, and Caltrans generally doesn’t install beacons at crosswalks with stop signs.

More revised designs on the project will be presented to the council at future meetings before the final ones are submitted to Caltrans.

The city must submit the final designs to Caltrans by the end of April in order to receive the rest of a $722,000 grant for the project. If the city doesn’t submit the designs, it could be on the hook for the money that was already spent.

In all, the council spent more than an hour discussing the various aspects of the project and listening to comments from the public.

It took about 10 minutes for the council to approve a mitigated negative declaration for the long-discussed potential closure of East Linoberg Street to create a pedestrian area between Washington and Stewart streets.

The mitigated negative declaration is required before such a closure could move forward.

Fuccillo was the only person who spoke on the proposal. He said that Tuolumne Utilities District contacted him with concerns about a sewer line that runs under the part of Linoberg Street that’s proposed for closure.

Mayor Jim Garaventa noted such concerns would have to be separately raised and discussed at a future meeting when the council decides whether to close the street.

Both the Linoberg Street closure and Red Church intersection changes were projects included in the Vision Sonora Plan that was adopted by the council in 2013.

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