The City Council decided Monday night to spend money on an issue that has plagued parts of Mill Valley for decades. In doing so, the city plans to tackle the worst battleground first.
The council voted to spend up to $30,000 for a consultant to develop citywide guidelines to calm traffic by March 2011. When those guidelines are finished, the Sycamore Triangle – the collection of neighborhoods bordered by E. Blithedale Ave, Miller Ave. and Camino Alto that have long been rife with concerns about cars and trucks cutting through them to get to a main thoroughfare – will be first up to bat.
Several councilmembers said they were reticent to spend more money to study an issue that the city has thrown money at several times over the years.
"I felt a little caught by surprise tonight," said Councilman Andrew Berman of the public's reaction to the matter. "People are darn upset that we keep hiring consultants and they want to know where their money's going."
But the council agreed that the money would be well spent if consultant David Parisi could establish guidelines for dealing with neighborhood traffic issues. Such guidelines, the council said, will avoid the "traffic wars" of years past, whereby residents of certain streets were pitted against one another in a debate when traffic calming measures on one street would simply move the problem to a nearby roadway.
"If we can get to a place where we have citywide guidelines and criteria and goals, so that we can take the traffic wars and the sad history and acrimony and the politics and put it away, rock on," said Councilwoman Shawn Marshall, who said her grandmother was in the middle of similar battles in those neighborhoods in 1965, when Marshall was 4 years old.
Several residents urged the city to avoid creating conditions that have caused intra-triangle squabbling over the years.
"It just shifts the traffic from one street in the triangle to the next, which pits neighbor against neighbor and sets up a very ugly process full of animosity," said Michael Kirsch, president of the Tamalpais Park Neighborhood Association.
"We dealt with the competition in 2007 at a meeting when it was very apparent that the traffic wars were still going on," said Liz Specht of Nelson Avenue. "As we look ahead, we need to realize that we've got a sad history behind us."
Mike Moore, the city's building and planning director, said the guidelines would create a system whereby a resident's request for a speed bump on his street wouldn't move forward without extensive community input.
"Most success traffic calming programs of the last decade are community driven," Parisi said. "That will probably take the form of a vote."
Some objected to making the Sycamore Triangle the pilot project of the guidelines once they are developed.
"The triangle is probably the most complex," Michael Kirsch said. "Why not pick an easier neighborhood problem?"
Berman pointed out the need for a business presence on the ad hoc committee of residents and city staff that will work with Parisi in developing the guidelines. Berman said steady complaints of trucks using the triangle as a thoroughfare made it necessary to get input from the business community.
Ryan Ave resident Susan Kirsch urged the council to continue working with the various neighborhood associations within the triangle and throughout the city to stay on top of the issue.
"But it feels like we've made a huge amount of progress just by the fact that we can sit in this room and not scream at each other," she said.