Even after weeks of negotiations with Caltrans concerning the planned raised median strip project on Florida Avenue, the Hemet City Council still is not satisfied with the landscaping agreement as submitted.
Questions arose on the proposed landscaping agreement by councilmembers during the Sept. 26 council meeting of who should have the responsibility of maintaining the landscaping once it is completed.
The agreement between the city and Caltrans on median landscaping as submitted, would make the city responsible for maintaining the trees, bushes, grass, watering, lighting and other structures on the 6.5 miles of median on Florida Avenue from W. Acacia Avenue to the city limits at Stanford Avenue and beyond to Lake Street in the county area of Val Vista.
Caltrans would agree to initially purchase and plant the landscape and necessary utilities on the median and once completed turn the maintenance over to the city. The cost of the initial landscaping work borne by Caltrans is estimated at $500,000. What drought tolerant trees and plants that would be planted on the median had not been decided by the parities by the date of the meeting.
In reviewing the proposed agreement, the council learned that Caltrans wanted the city’s approval for the landscaping portion of the project so their engineers can go ahead with the construction plans soon. The date, Nov. 20, was mentioned as the last date for the council’s approval, and if not agreed on, Caltrans would remove all the landscaping requested by the city and the medians would be all concrete. Caltrans wants to begin construction on the median by spring 2018.
“Are they blackmailing us or discriminating against us?” Councilmember Karlee Meyer said to begin the council discussion by referring to the Caltrans website that has a landscape podium about how important landscaping is for the environment, yet wanting the city to pay for the maintenance. “Maybe, and Mike (Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful) and I can have a meeting with them about this… They need to be talked to about this.”
Perciful talked about the types of trees that might be planted in the median and the possibility that they could become a liable for the city if the city was maintaining them and someone ran into them.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said.
He called upon Hemet Police Chief David Brown to explain how better traffic enforcement once helped reduced cross median accidents by 42 percent on Florida Avenue without any raised medians. He suggested with better traffic enforcement, the need for any raised concrete medians would not be necessary, yet Caltrans insists the raised medians are needed.
Councilman Russ Brown questioned who would be funding the maintenance of the Florida Avenue medians in the county areas if landscaping were included in them and the safety studies Caltrans used to determine why medians were needed on Florida Avenue. He said no data was furnished on the Caltrans median safety study. He said there is a concern about the city’s liability for any accidents on the median.
Councilwoman Bonnie Wright said that even though there is major council and merchant resentment against the Caltrans raised median strip plan on Florida Avenue, it is a state project “and it is going to go through.”
“I don’t think anyone of us wants this project as it is,” she said. “Certainly not what it was.”
She noted that it would not be productive for the council to “just vote no” on the project after all the concessions by Caltrans had been made.
“It’s just going to go through,” Wright said. “It’s state government at its worst, but it is what it is.”
Following the nearly hour-long discussion, the council agreed to postpone the vote until the next meeting in November and send the agreement back to the staff to ask Caltrans to provide more information about their original data used to make the median strip a necessary safety project and what the city’s landscape costs would be.
“We’re just not there yet,” Wright said.
They also asked the staff to better determine what plants and utilities would be placed in the medians and when was the “drop dead” date for the decisions on landscaping and hardscaping that needs to be finalized and submitted to Caltrans.
“They’re (Caltrans) in the driver’s seat,” Brown said, and the city will have to determine whether to have landscaped or concrete median strips.
Interim City Manager Allen Parker pointed out the city would face liability for any accidents on the median strips if it maintains the landscaping.