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Monterey County’s principal traffic agency is on the verge of trying to improve traffic conditions on Highway 68, also known as the Monterey-Salinas Highway, in a roundabout way. Literally.

Thursday night, three transportation officials made a presentation in support of replacing all the traffic lights on Highway 68 between Blanco Road in Salinas and the Monterey Airport with roundabouts, also known as traffic circles. The panelists were Debbie Hale, executive director of the Transportation Agency of Monterey; Grant Leonard, a TAMC planner and the point man on this project; and Rich Deal, traffic engineer for the city of Monterey. Mike DeLapa, executive director of LandWatch, was the moderator. They spoke to a lively group of about 75 residents who braved the humidity and Route 68 rush-hour traffic to attend the meeting at San Benancio Middle School.

While informational, this presentation was basically a hard sell of roundabouts, giving very short shrift to any other options. It may be that roundabouts are safer than traffic lights, as alleged. And it may be that roundabouts will improve the flow of traffic on Highway 68, although crawling along at 20 mph or less through the circles may be more of a slow drip than a flow. But for those of us who were previously force fed traffic lights all along this 15-mile “corridor” (the term used by the planner) because they would make the highway safer, allow a bit of skepticism about this “flavor of the month” safety improvement.

Whatever is decided, the money will come from voter-approved Measure X. Addressing existing congestion on 68 is the No. 1 priority for use of that money. The TAMC board is scheduled to vote on the roundabout plan this month, starting a process of construction design, right-of-way acquisition and environmental review that could take more than three years to complete before actual roadwork could begin.

Deal gave a lengthy description of the roundabout that is just being completed on Holman Highway (Highway 68 west), next to Highway 1 and the entrance to Pebble Beach. As a former designer of freeways, Deal said he much preferred designing a roadway that is environmentally friendly. He showed a diagram of the new roundabout, which includes a bike/pedestrian path over Highway 1, sparing bikers and walkers the nightmare of vying with cars and trucks in the roundabout. When asked why there was only one roundabout on this part of Highway 68, Deal said the money was limited. He said additional roundabouts are being proposed to replace the light at Community Hospital and the light where Highway 68 enters Pacific Grove.

Are there options other than roundabouts? Yes. Highway 68 can remain as is, an option that some in the audience favored. Or there could be a bypass at Corral de Tierra and San Benancio roads, which would allow traffic from these two busy side roads to enter and exit 68 without traffic lights stopping the flow of traffic.

This is an option suggested by Mike Weaver of the Highway 68 Coalition. It has been an option since the Las Palmas development was built. As part of the Highway 68 traffic mitigation for that project 19 years ago, money was given to the county to buy 11-plus acres next to the highway just north of the Corral de Tierra stoplight. This acreage makes the building of the bypass possible – no more land needs to be purchased. However, TAMC’s Leonard said the bypass alone would cost $25 million. In contrast, he put a $50 million pricetag on all the proposed Highway 68 roundabouts.

Another option is “adaptive signals,” that is, making the Highway 68 signals talk to each other, so that the green lights can be synchronized. This would also speed the flow of traffic. However, according to Leonard, this option costs at least $34 million, and it has been apparently rejected because of the cost.

How many roundabouts would be built? The intent is to place them on 68 at Josselyn Canyon Road, Olmstead Road, State Route 218, York, Pasadera, Laureles Grade, Corral de Tierra, San Benancio, “New Torero” and Blanco. Leonard said there may also be a roundabout at the Ragsdale intersection. The “New Torero” designation is for the expected improvements to the Torero intersection, at the Toro Park subdivision, which will be funded by the money from the developers of Ferrini Ranch. Leonard said that because the Ferrini Ranch development has been approved by the Board of Supervisors, and even though it is in litigation, TAMC must factor in the money the developer has to pay to mitigate the development’s traffic impact. TAMC has not played an active role in limiting development along Route 68, despite the fact that fewer vehicles using the road on a daily basis would make the highway safer.

The panelists observed that the roundabouts would not increase the capacity of Highway 68, which they acknowledged is used by far too many vehicles. Its design capacity is 16,000 vehicles per day, and currently it accommodates between 25,000 and 32,000. The primary reason to build roundabouts is that they are expected reduce accidents by keeping traffic moving. One study has shown that travel time on the entire route at peak hours would be reduced by approximately 5 minutes if the roundabouts replace the stoplights.

One person who spoke up is an avid biker who likes to bike “the loop,” the roadway that loops away from the highway San Benancio to Corral de Tierra. He asked how the roundabouts would affect bicyclists, who now can ride on the shoulders of Highway 68. If the roundabouts were built at both San Benancio and Corral, bicyclists would have to navigate the traffic circles while hoping not to get rear-ended by road-raged drivers. The bicyclist suggested a frontage road but the idea was met with a shrug. Clearly, some users of Highway 68 have not been given much consideration in this proposed plan for roundabouts. On the other hand, drivers of 18-wheelers will be happy to learn that their rigs will still be welcome on this scenic highway.

For those who remember when Route 68 was a two-lane road connecting Salinas and Monterey, be advised that TAMC also plans to widen Route 68 to two lanes in each direction between the airport and York Road, as well as between Toro Park and Corral De Tierra. Thus, our scenic highway will become a scenic freeway for the most part, and there will still be a few places for drivers to come roaring up in the right lane to cut in front of you as you enter one of the remaining parts of the two-lane highway. That widening of Route 68 has a price tag of $107 million.

There is a bright spot in all of this. The state has become very interested in protecting wildlife by building corridors for them to safely get over or under highways, so that they can still wander over their entire habitat. We were informed that even if the roundabouts are not built, and even if the widening is not done, the state will help improve the “connectivity” for wildlife at 10 locations along Route 68. The state would help pay for the expansion of drain pipes to make them big enough for deer and other wildlife to get through, so they can go from one side of Route 68 to the other.

According to Hale and Leonard, this plan will be presented to the TAMC board at its August meeting for approval. Once approved, the plan is sent to the state Department of Transportation for its review and comments. But since the money for the roundabouts will be taken from the Measure X taxes, a local source, the state will not be required to give its approval. Once TAMC gives the OK, it can follow the state’s suggestions or not. The public can write comments on TAMC’s website at this time, as well as after the plan comes back to the county after the state’s review.

How many roundabouts would be built at one time? No one knows for sure. Also, no one at TAMC knows how long it would take to build all the projected roundabouts. And no one knows how the construction process itself would hurt traffic flow on an already challenged roadway. The planners expect there would be more traffic on Imjin Road, which also connects Marina to the Salinas Valley.

One wonders what it would take to reduce the carbon footprint on Highway 68 –- to build light rail connecting Salinas and Monterey and to run electric buses for employees, as Silicon Valley employers do. Yes, it would take a lot of money. It would require a bolder view of the future than replacing traffic lights with traffic roundabouts. It would require embracing measures that actually reduce the number of gas-guzzling cars and trucks on Route 68, thereby reducing pollution, improving safety, and eliminating some of the worst road-rage drivers in the county.

My hope is that someday we will return to the San Benancio School and discuss our disappointment with the roundabout plan as we review TAMC’s plans for reducing the vehicles being driven daily on this beleaguered scenic highway.

Ann Hill is a retired lawyer who lives near Highway 68.

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Election letters that should be read

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One of the most interesting parts of many publications, this one included, is the letters. Here, for your edification and enjoyment, are three particularly interesting responses to the Partisan’s most recent post on Tuesday’s election. Take a peek.

And, by the way, if you haven’t seen Jim Toy’s blog, you should check it out as well, and not just because of his running list of Herald bloopers. Just click on his name.

  • Helga Fellay November 3, 2014, 8:48 am

You have pretty much said it all, and very well, too, about the Sheriff’s race, but just within the last week I became aware of another thing, or maybe two: 1. The DSA endorsement which Bernal uses as his strongest bragging right, is not what he makes it out to be; and 2. A disturbing connection between Monterey Downs, the giant horse racing plus casino development planned for the former Fort Ord, and the DSA (deputy sheriff’s association).

At a DSA meeting where 12 of 17 present voted to place the vote of no-confidence on the ballot. This is the meeting where Gesicki was present but Sheriff Miller was not invited. According to Scott Davis, the union has 316 members, of whom about 250 registered to vote. The final tally was 119 of 184 total votes in favor of a no-confidence resolution. But it was a corrupted vote. President Scott Davis himself counted the votes. There was no neutral person present to oversee the vote counting. Remember that the DSA and its president, Scott Davis, received $25,000 from Bernal relative Margaret Duflok, and the DSA received another $9,000 from Monterey Downs, LLC.(Schedule A, California Form 460, Contributions received, page 4 of 8, ID Number 1334267). Scott Davis, President of DSA, is now in a TV commercial touting Bernal. So how impartial and how reliable can that vote count really have been! It’s all smoke and mirrors. And they allowed Bernal to write a memo to the deputies before the endorsement (which made all those illegal promises to the jail deputies). They didn’t give the same privilege to Sheriff Miller.

We have always known that the Republican Party and Big Ag thought they could use a clueless deputy without any personal ambition to buy this election. But we also know that the DSA endorsement, Bernal’s biggest bragging tool, was bought with a $25,000 donation from Bernal’s family and another $9,000 donation from Monterey Downs, LLC. At least those are the only two we know about.

  • Ann Hill November 3, 2014, 10:50 am

    For the 55% of the 2nd district voters who are planning to vote for John Phillips for supervisor, you are voting for the judge made nationally notorious by a Charles Osgood poem on CBS radio, which made fun of Phillips’ decision awarding a thief damages against Costco. The thief had stolen items from Costco, and then tried to get away. He was stopped in his attempt to flee by Costco security officers, but he fought with them and lost. He was injured in the struggle to get away, and he sued Costco for his medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering. Judge Phillips saw merit in the thief’s claim and made Costco pay up. I remember at the time that many voters were calling for the judge’s ouster, because he appeared to have no common sense. Funny that this case was not brought up during the campaign for supervisor. Did the editorial board at the Herald know about it? Probably not. It is also not likely that any one of them spent any time in his courtroom, or they too would have seen the behavior described by David Brown – the temper tantrums, yelling at attorneys and throwing of files. And they might have understood why this judge was known as “King John” by some attorneys. So, get ready for a bumpy ride – judges wield absolute power in their courtrooms. They do not need to build consensus. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – and it is often abused. That abuse of power, as much as the poor treatment of women, was what I had previously written about for the Partisan. It is not a good character trait for a county supervisor. If this concerns you, vote for Mitchell instead.

  • Bill Carrothers November 3, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Royal, you seem to lack some rather elementary powers of observation. I am amazed that you cannot see Bill Freeman for what he is: a useful idiot being played by the open-borders sociopaths who use him to promote their growthio-sociopathic agendas. Second, what limited powers of observation and intellect prevent you from seeing Jan Shriner as anything other than what she is: a toxic agenda monster hell-bent on preventing any successful and practical solutions for the Peninsula’s water issues? There is simply no such thing as a useful conversation with this witch! As for the latest Ferrini Ranch debacle, there is a new word to describe the planning commission members and Board of Supervisors who voted for this additional mile of construction on the highway to hell: GROWCIOPATHS.

  • James Toy November 2, 2014, 8:37 pm

    Thank you for endorsing Felix Bachofner for Seaside. I’ve known Felix for about 24 years, and he’s as incorruptible as they come. My favorite reason for voting for him is that Felix understands land use issues better than anyone I know, and he’s seeking high quality commercial development of existing commercial areas, the type that will draw customers from the entire Peninsula, not just fast-food consumers from Seaside.

    Here’s a little more I wrote on Seaside’s election: http://mrtoysmentalnotes.blogspot.com/2014/10/ralph-rubios-momentum.html

    By the way, I struggled with Felix’s last name when I first met him, too. To help me remember, I made up a little saying: “I sometimes listen to Offenbach, but I tend to listen to Bachofner.” :-)

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500_F_53293135_27J85jZn71YPw8YyiI93FVhmRFHQ1gFuI have been accused more than once of talking too much. I like people and like sharing stories. It takes a lot to make me speechless. At the moment, I’m close.

Some background:

Last week the Partisan published a commentary by retired Monterey County prosecutor Ann Hill about John Phillips, the former judge who is now running for Monterey County supervisor. Hill asserted that throughout his career Phillips had demonstrated sexist traits and lapses in judgment of the sort that would make him a poor supervisor.

Shortly afterward, the Monterey County Weekly belatedly discovered that someone has been anonymously distributing flyers featuring a cartoon depicting a wild-eyed Phillips engaged in intercourse with Lady Justice. The result of that discovery was a piece by Weekly editor Mary Duan that was posted online late Friday. It contains an assertion by Phillips’ campaign manager, Plasha Will, to the effect that I might have played a role in production  of the trashy flyer. Her evidence? I formerly was a newspaper editor and therefore knew some cartoonists. Really. That is what she said. You can read it by clicking here.

Duan apparently also deduced that timing could constitute some sort of evidence against me. She reported, incorrectly, that the flyers started appearing after Hill’s piece ran on this blog on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Among the many shortcomings of that theory is that Prunedale residents had started receiving the flyer in the mail sometime before Sept. 12. I’m trying not to make too much of this anyway because I was already having trouble tracking the notion that an entirely reasonable piece by a well-identified 30-year prosecutor is likely to result in a crude and anonymous cartoon. Because of Hill’s piece I gathered my cartoonist friends and urged them to do their worst?

I understand that Hill’s piece may have bothered Judge Phillips. If you’ll scroll down below this post, you can find Hill’s writing and, connected to it, several comments supporting Hill’s point of view and several others firmly defending Phillips. I think it is a good thing that Hill’s piece set off a civil debate about a candidate’s record and character. That is exactly what should happen in a political campaign. Unfortunately, the judge’s attempt to point a finger at me over the ridiculous flyer could be viewed as support for Hill’s point about lapses in judgment.

For the record, the existence of a commentary on this website does not in any way constitute an endorsement of the thoughts contained therein. We don’t have to agree with something in order to print it. I barely know the judge. Before Hill’s commentary ran, I asked him if he wished to respond. Plasha said he did not.

By the way, the Phillips camp essentially accuses his opponent, Ed Mitchell, of being the sly character behind the flyer, possibly in concert with my stable of cartoonists. Mitchell told the Weekly he didn’t care for that one bit and wants an apology. Oh, also, the offensive cartoon is there on the Weekly’s website so you can see what the fuss is about.

OK, enough. I am now back in speechless mode.

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UPDATE: ANN HILL’S RESPONSE TO COMMENTS ON HER ORIGINAL COLUMN, PRINTED BELOW
I could have remained silent. According to some of the responses to my commentary, I should have remained silent. It was a difficult decision whether to come forward with the information I shared about the second district supervisorial candidate John Phillips. For those who have not had any negative experiences with him and who wrote about him glowingly, that is your good fortune and that is your right. I tried to focus on some traits I witnessed that would raise serious questions about this candidate’s fitness to be one of five county supervisors. Each candidate – Mitchell and Phillips —
in this race has his loyal supporters. I wrote for the undecided voter in the second district who is seeking information on both candidates. Perhaps there is someone who has known Ed Mitchell for more than thirty years who can share information about him. Sharing information is not “ranting”. Let’s continue to share information about both candidates.
Ann Hill

 

 

COLUMN BEGINS HERE

The race for District 2 supervisor has focused primarily on whether voters want a third pro-development vote on the Board of Supervisors or whether they want a majority of smart-growth county supervisors. This is a reasonable assessment of the major difference between John Phillips, who is getting lots of money from developers and builders, and Ed Mitchell, who draws support from conservation and environmental groups. But it fails to look into the character of either candidate. I do not know Ed Mitchell, but I have known Judge Phillips for more than thirty years, and I am concerned about certain traits he has displayed in two prior positions of authority: assistant district attorney and Monterey County Superior Court judge.

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Judge Phillips was my boss in the District Attorney’s Office before he became a judge. The DA’s Office was a boys’ club when I was hired in 1981. There were just a few women attorneys. The men were in control and Judge Phillips was the alpha male. Some would say that most men who are his age (70 and up) have a history of sexist remarks in their past, because “that was their generation.” I am nearly 70 and I believe that most men in my generation were not as blatantly sexist as many of the men my age with whom I worked in the DA’s office. And Assistant District Attorney Phillips was the leader of that pack.

As a judge, John Phillips was very concerned about the rights of the criminal defendant – rightly so. However, he often did not show the same concern for victims or witnesses who came to court to testify – particularly female victims and witnesses. The case that stays with me involved a gang drive-by shooting in South County. As the deputy district attorney prosecuting one of the gang defendants in the car, I had subpoenaed to court a teenaged girl who had also been in the car at the time and could identify who had done the shooting and who was driving. With the help of an investigator I was able to persuade the girl and her mother to come to court, so the girl could testify against one of the defendants. She was our only cooperative eyewitness. Naturally, both she and her mother were terrified of retaliation by gang members if she took the witness stand. Somehow, she summoned the courage to be sworn in and to identify the defendant as one of the participants in the shooting. She testified before Judge Phillips, who turned to her at the end of her testimony and criticized her in front of a courtroom full of people for what she had worn to court.

In my eyes, the witness had on a clean, pressed, age-appropriate outfit with several layers on top, including a transparent blouse that was over another opaque top. But to Judge Phillips, it was not her courage in coming forward in the face of certain violence against her and her family that he noted. Rather he chewed her out for wearing clothing that he felt was suggestive. The girl left the witness stand in tears. She told me that the judge made her feel like a prostitute. A male deputy sheriff sitting in court who was waiting for another case commented that Judge Phillips was way out of line in the way that he had humiliated the young witness.

This incident was troubling when it happened, and it is still troubling because it makes me wonder whether Phillips would treat a young woman who appears before the Board of Supervisors in the same manner. Maybe he has matured since leaving the bench and establishing the Rancho Cielo youth camp but can we take the risk that a candidate with a history of sexist remarks to and about females has become enlightened and is no longer disparaging of girls and women? More than half of Judge Phillips’ constituents are female, and many women and girls appear to speak before the Board of Supervisors. Will their comments be taken seriously, and will they be given a fair shake if  Judge Phillips is a supervisor, or will he focus on their style of dress or find some other sex-based reason to put them down?

My concern is based in part on Judge Phillips’ reaction to a written complaint filed against him with the Commission on Judicial Performance by the young girl and her mother. An investigation was conducted by the commission. I was contacted and asked if I had witnessed any inappropriate treatment by the judge. The defendant’s attorney was contacted too. I was told the entire investigation was confidential and that I should feel free to speak truthfully. I told the investigator that I had indeed witnessed the judge browbeat the young witness about her clothing choice  and that she had felt degraded by his treatment and told me she would never return to court to testify. The defense attorney warned me against being honest with the investigator, because Monterey County is small and the legal community is even smaller.

After the investigation was concluded, a year-end report of the Commission was issued that indicated that a Monterey County Superior Court judge had received a letter of reprimand for inappropriate comments to a female witness. While no case name was cited, it seemed clear to me that Judge Phillips had been reprimanded. Sometime after the report came out, another Superior Court judge came to me at a Bar Association meeting and told me that Judge Phillips hated me because I had “beefed” him to the Judicial Commission several times. Never mind that I had not ever “beefed” Judge Phillips to the commission – I had just answered the investigator’s questions honestly – from that time on I knew that I would not get a fair shake in his courtroom.

What is most disturbing about Judge Phillips’ reaction to a complaint about his performance as a judge is that he blamed the witness and the prosecutor who presented the witness for getting him in trouble. He apparently never saw anything wrong in his mistreatment of the terrified young woman. Furthermore, he jumped to the wrong conclusion about me – based on no evidence – that I had filed complaints against him – and then he shared this mistaken belief with at least one other judge. He never confronted me directly with these false assumptions, but knowing his belief that I had “told on him,” I made every effort to avoid holding any hearings or trials in his courtroom, especially any that involved women or girls as victims or witnesses.

The negative traits that I have witnessed in Judge Phillips – sexist remarks, poor treatment of a witness, inability to acknowledge one’s own bad behavior, developing and holding a grudge based on a mistaken belief – are not traits I would like to see in any elected official, especially one of our five county supervisors. If you don’t acknowledge that you have done wrong and learn from your mistakes, you just keep making the same mistakes. That is the concern I have with supervisorial candidate John Phillips. The five supervisors vote on issues of importance to all of our lives in Monterey County. We cannot afford to have even one of those five decision-makers relying on personal biases rather than the facts presented to the board.

Retired lawyer Ann Hill was a deputy district attorney in Monterey County for 32 years. 

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