Sonora City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to spend at least $40,000 to $60,000 more in grant money from the state for further engineering designs on a nearly $2 million project to construct bus stops on each side of Stockton Road near Green Street.
Councilwoman Colette Such and Mayor Pro Tem Matt Hawkins, who also serves on the council, voted against moving forward with the project. Several people spoke at the public meeting in opposition as well, including the owners of Emberz restaurant at 177 S. Washington St.
“I’m the first person to like something pretty and shiny,” said Cindy Zelinsky, who co-owns Emberz with her husband, Steve. “This isn’t that.”
The Zelinskys were particularly concerned about the proposal to construct a bulb-out directly in front of their business, which they recently expanded, with a roughly 3-foot-tall sign welcoming people to historic downtown Sonora..
They were also concerned about a roughly 18-inch-tall concrete “seating wall” that would be part of a bulb-out because they believed it would attract homeless people to sit around in front of their business.
Cindy Zelinsky said they were never approached by any of the council members or city staff about the plans that directly affect her business.
“I was surprised by that,” she said.
City Administrator Tim Miller said that a city employee hand-delivered a notice to Emberz last week about the project and meeting on Tuesday, but Cindy Zelinsky later contended that she never received that notice.
Cindy Zelinsky said the only notice she received arrived in her mail, which she opened Tuesday morning just hours before the meeting was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m.
The council ultimately agreed to nix the bulb-out with the welcome sign before voting to move it forward, but Zelinsky and others said they still were opposed to the overall plan.
Jerry Fuccillo, the longtime contract engineer for the city, said he was also opposed to aspects of the plan that would narrow the westbound side of Stockton Road near the stoplight for South Washington Street to one lane where there’s currently two.
Fuccillo also said the plan would result in the loss of about six parking spaces along Stockton Road and criticized the city for releasing the plans to the public on Friday, which he didn’t feel was enough time to adequately review.
“Take a little more time, get a technical analysis, and don’t be afraid to reject this plan,” he said.
Others who spoke against the plans or had issues with aspects of it were: Sharon Marovich, an advocate for historic preservation; Barbara Dresslar, a city resident; Elena Linehan, who managed the city’s Main Street program in the 1980s; and Jim Davis, who’s owned Stan and Jim’s Body Shop on Stockton Road for 40 years.
Miller noted that city staff met with the owners of the Sonora Inn, Rodeway Inn, Bank of America, and Trado Restaurant Corp., all of which are directly within the area of the project, and all approved of the designs that were presented Tuesday.
Doug Kennedy, a partner in Trado Restaurant Corp., told The Union Democrat last week that he approved of the plans after initially being opposed to the original designs that would have placed a bus stop directly in front of his building at 55 W. Stockton St.
Kennedy, however, said he didn’t believe the project would be an economic boon for the city as some on the council have said.
The idea behind the project is to create bus stops that could accommodate all types of buses, including Tuolumne County Transit, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System, and chartered tours.
Mayor Jim Garaventa, who also serves on the council, said the current main bus stop in downtown Sonora along Jackson Street at Courthouse Square is “woefully inadequate and functionally obsolete.”
Garaventa also said he was against the welcome sign, but otherwise supported the project because he couldn’t think of a better location for bus stops in the downtown area.
“I believe that we need a better bus stop than what’s existing now, and I believe that was the crux (of the project),” he said.
Hawkins said he couldn’t support the project because of the plan for establishing a crosswalk from the north to south sides of Stockton Road and across both sides of Green Street, which he believed would essentially create a new intersection.
Such said she didn’t support the project because she didn’t like the location or the designs.
“I don’t fault the engineers ... but if I saw something like this comting into a town, I would question the people in charge,” she said.
Garaventa then asked Such if she had a better idea, to which she responded that she didn’t believe it was appropriate to say she needed to have an alternative in mind because she didn’t support the proposed plans.
Such and Hawkins also voted against putting the bus stops on Stockton Road when the rest of the council approved it at a public meeting in August.
The council discussed the project on Tuesday for nearly two hours before Councilwoman Connie Williams made a motion to let the project move forward without the proposed welcome sign.
Williams has served as chairwoman of the Vision Sonora Committee since the council adopted the “Vision Sonora Plan” in 2013.
The project was first proposed as part of the plan, as well as several other transportation-related projects that are currently in development and have drawn similar criticism.
“From an economic development perspective, one thing we want is for people to come to the historic downtown area and spend their dollars,” Williams said Tuesday.
Councilman Mark Plummer said he was torn over the project, but ultimately backed the motion by Williams and voted in favor of it.
Williams said “and this is not the final plan” when voting in favor of allowing the designs to move forward, which drew laughter from Such and groans from some of the people in attendance.
Rachelle Kellogg, community development director for the city, clarified just prior to the vote that about $150,000 had already been spent on the project so far. The council awarded a contract of up to $270,000 in June to the national engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to work on the designs.
All of the funding comes from a mix of different state transportation programs.
The consultants estimated it would cost an additional $40,000 to $60,000 for them to complete the 65-percent completed designs, which the council will review next before deciding whether to allow the project to move forward to the final designs.
Kellogg estimated it would cost at least another $80,000 to reach the final designs.
Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, said it’s possible the state could require the city pay back the money if it decides to back out for a reason other than a state or federal regulation precluding it from moving forward.
Grossi said backing out of the project after spending the money could also make the TCTC more reluctant to approve funding for future projects proposed by the city.
“That money could have gone to projects elsewhere in the county, so it’s a shame that would be wasted,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
The bus stops are estimated to provide about 8,000 trips per year and maximum daily ridership of about 56 people.
Grossi also said the current stop at Courthouse Square does not meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means the city could face possible lawsuit if someone who was disabled got hurt there.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.