A to build a sidewalk along the south side of Evergreen Avenue in Homestead Valley took a step forward Friday night with a public forum featuring both supporters and opponents of the project, but little of the rancor that had been part of the online debate since a July meeting on the subject.
More than 75 residents turned out to the to hear a presentation on the $1.1 million project from Marin County's Public Works Department and a Q&A session facilitated by Supervisor Steve Kinsey, whose District 4 includes Homestead Valley.
The county revealed its plans to reduce the width of the sidewalk slightly to address residents' concerns but still conform to the state Safe Routes to Schools grant that will pay for the bulk of it. The Q&A session revealed some nuanced opinions in a debate that had been dominated by longtime residents who argued that a sidewalk didn't fit with the character of the neighborhood and parents of students at nearby concerned about the safety of their children.
"These are important conversations that touch on a lot of issues around community identity, and as the person who represents this area, I have an understanding of why there is such strong concern about the character issues of the neighborhood," Kinsey said in opening the two-hour meeting.
Principal Civil Engineer Ernest Klock presented a tweaked version of the project, which would extend along a 2,000-foot stretch of Evergreen from Mill Valley city limits (250 feet east of Ethel Avenue) to the intersection with Melrose, where Marin Horizon is located. It includes curbs and gutters, six new crosswalks, 11 accessible curb ramps, 29 news driveway aprons and myriad drainage improvements.
Klock said the county would reduce the width of the sidewalk from 6 feet to 5 feet to lessen the impact on street parking and aesthetics. He said the reduced width would only eliminate street parking in front of three homes on Evergreen.
"The design details can make a big difference in the way something feels, and that's what we're trying to do here," Kinsey said.
Klock noted that the project would formalize the street parking on the south side of Evergreen with an 8-foot wide parking lane. The addition of the sidewalk and the parking will reduce the width of the traffic lanes to 11 feet each.
Klock also unveiled a new timeline for the project. The state grant originally required that the project begin by June 2011, putting the county in a difficult spot to address the concerns of residents without risking the loss of the grant. With verbal state approval, the design of the project will be completed in the spring of 2012 and construction will begin in July 2012.
The bulk of the night centered on community input, with the crowd equally divided on the subject. The neighborhood's changing demographics, a slow shift from longtime residents to relatively recent arrivals with young children, was on display.
But much of the commentary wasn't that clear cut. For instance, while Marin Horizon parents spoke in favor of the project, so did a number of Homestead residents whose kids attend one of Mill Valley's public schools and who said they worried about letting their children commute to school because Evergreen was unsafe.
Mill Valley Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, a longtime advocate for local Safe Routes to Schools efforts, sought to diffuse concerns about the sidewalk benefiting only Marin Horizon students. She noted that she co-founded the Safe Routes task force 10 years ago as a way to make school commuting safer for students at both public and private schools across the city and its unincorporated neighborhoods.
"Kids do better when they're separate and away from car traffic," she said. "Having them mixed up with cars is not going to work. We'd like you to be connected to the rest of the town."
Some parents said the project wouldn't necessarily make the street safer for bicyclists. By narrowing the street to accommodate the sidewalk and the paved parking, they said, bicyclists would have less of a safe zone from car traffic.
"I really wish the road was wide enough to make it safe for everyone," Public Works Director Farhad Mansourian said.
Some residents said the narrower lanes would actually slow traffic, and some even suggested that a sidewalk could foster community by forcing everyone to walk on the same side of the street.
Many of those with concerns about the project had issues specific to their respective property's drainage and aesthetics, and Klock assured them that the county would work with each property owner to find the right solution for them specifically. He said the new schedule allowed plenty of time for one-on-one discussion.
Despite strong views on both sides, the meeting avoided vitriol. The lone dustup of the night, albeit tame, came when Evergreen resident Mari Tamburo said the application for the $900,000 grant used accident data from within Mill Valley city limits and not in Homestead.
"Why are we so eager to grab onto this money when it's not justifiable?" she asked. "This street has a perfect safety record, and I don't see why we're taking this money we don't deserve and that was taken by ill-gotten means."
Mansourian objected, saying "there was absolutely no false information in the grant application."
"And I have a problem with the suggestion that 'we don't have accidents, so let's not do something," he continued. "Do you want me to wait until something happens?"
Longtime Evergreen resident Kim Jessup called for compromise, encouraging her neighbors to support the project and find ways to help the county make it fit with the community's rural aesthetic as it moves forward. She agreed with those who said photo renderings of the sidewalk showed too drastic a change for the street.
"A picture like that is really daunting and is not a good sales pitch, but I know that this community is a lot more creative than that," she said. "We can make it look and feel more appropriate for the neighborhood, but we need to make that street safe."