March 31, 2014

The Woodside Town COWncil met for their regular meeting on March 11th, with all COWncil members present. The meeting was unusually contentious, with Mayor Burow taking staff to the woodshed and only half-jokingly calling for the Town COWncil and Town staff to resign en masse if the Safe Routes to School project doesn’t go forward this year. If you want to see the fireworks for yourself, go check out the video on MooTube!

Before the COWncil got into the regular business at hand, they heard from Judy Romines, wife of COWncil member Ron Romines and a member of the CERPP Board of Directors. She thanked the COWncil for agreeing to help fund the newly recreated position of CERPP Coordinator, and unveiled the new CERPP emergency information cards that will be distributed throughout the Town to residents to educate them about emergency procedures.

The Town Manager, Kevin Bryant, introduced the newest Town employee – Jason Chen, a new Project Manager. Mr. Bryant had high praises for Mr. Chen, who has been a contract employee until now and apparently excelled in that position. We look forward to his good work going forward.

The COWncil then approved the consent calendar, taking a brief moment to talk about item one – a resolution to agree to share construction costs for a new animal care shelter with the County and 20 other Peninsula cow-munities. The current building has been described as functionally obsolete, and the Peninsula Humane Society, with which the county contracts to do animal control in San Mateo County, has expressed reluctance to renew its contract if the building is not dealt with. The County has agreed and the building will be replaced, and Woodside agreed to help pay for the costs (with the County fronting the construction cost). Due to our Town’s small size and small usage, Woodside’s annual estimated cost will be between $9,800 and $13,100. The COWncil expressed its support for the project, but skepticism over the building’s program’s ambitious timeline of twelve to eighteen months. We’re glad that this important issue is being dealt with – good care of animals is so important!

The COWncil then spent well over an hour discussing three of the Town’s bridges, on Kings Mountain Road, Mountain Home Road, and Portola Road, all of which are around a century old. This was a follow-up to a discussion from November 2012 when it was stated that Caltrans considers all three bridges “functionally obsolete” – meaning they do not meet modern standards for width. The bridges are 18-20 feet wide. Therefore any attempt to secure federal funds to upgrade or repair the bridges would require the bridges be widened to at least 28 feet wide, or 40 feet if they have an attached pedestrian or equestrian path. The COWncil felt then that such a change would greatly “affect the character of the Town” and directed the Town staff to look for ways to renovate the bridges to “extend their life cycle” without widening the bridges.

Since then, little to no progress has been made, as the COWncil found out at this meeting, to their irritation. Both Mayor Burow and Peter Mason questioning the year and a half delay. Town staff attributed the delay to Caltrans not responding, and suggested that the Town go forward with a $159,000 study with Quincy Engineering to study all three bridges to determine their soundness and determine a “cost effective maintenance” to extend their service life. The alternative was to accept federal money (a move that COWncil member Shanahan is against in any case for ideological reasons) and do the study with the idea of having to widen the bridges.

The COWncil talked for more than an hour before eventually conceding that this was the only move for them, as they wished to preserve the bridges. They directed staff to look into obtaining historical status for the Kings Mountain and Mountain Home Road Bridges, with the hope that with that status they could be preserved but still be eligible for federal funding. It was considered unlikely that the Portola Road Bridge would be eligible for historical status. It was further suggested that the real problem with the Portola Road Bridge was the approach, and that an alignment fix might be necessary. Staff will look into that possibility as well.

The COWncil then heard an oral report on the Safe Routes to School project, and for a second item in a row expressed shock and disbelief at the slow pace of progress. The staff has gotten feedback from Town residents, and developed plan sheets on all five projects (detailed in earlier COW reports LINK). However, the school crosswalk proposal has been resubmitted to Caltrans, and the staff was told it would take eight weeks for them to even look at it which endangers the project’s completion during the summer construction window. Town Manager Bryant has contacted State Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblyman Rich Gordon to attempt to hurry along the project.

With obvious frustration, Mayor Burow then stated that, “If this doesn’t happen this year, we should all resign,” “including staff.” He rejected the idea of blaming Caltrans for the delays, saying it “shouldn’t be a surprise,” and that the Town should “be smart about it” – meaning that it’s clear that Caltrans takes a long time to approve things, and that this needs to be built into project timelines. He expressed disbelief that the Town was “gonna miss it again!” as a similar event happened last summer, and the crosswalk was unable to be built in 2013.

Mayor Burow went even further to say, “No one can look at us and say, ‘we know what the hell we are doing.’” COWncil member Kasten interjected that Caltrans is an “opaque bureaucracy.” Burow replied, “But we know that.” He said, “This is a project I’ve asked about every month, and that’s why I’m angry.”

COWncil member Mason weighed in suggesting a possible option, as there is an existing already-approved project for the intersection, that the Town go forward with that and if the changes are approved by Caltrans in time, to incorporate those changes then. The Town Engineer was hesitant, stating that there would be drainage issues, but agreed to look into it. The Mayor demanded an update at the next COWncil meeting, and we’ll all be interested in hearing that!

The meeting closed with more routine business of appointments, but afterwards, the Mayor was seen animatedly discussing his displeasure with the Safe Routes debacle with Town Manager Kevin Bryant.

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