Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks for the warm welcome

Dr Joe Rallo has a strange idea of how to get off on the right foot in a new town. He is proposing to exercise eminent domain in order to close down Johnson St. through campus. Never mind negotiating with City Council, forget taking community comment or inconvenience into consideration. Dr. Rallo has decided that since he can, he will.

No one has bothered to justify this in terms of cost/benefit. If there has been a rash of student pedestrian injuries, no one has made that case. The inconvenience is undeniable. Johnson is described by the city as a level F feeder and handles over 10,000 vehicles a day. Parents of Crockett students, residents of the area, anyone wanting to get from Knickerbocker to Av N, all that traffic will either go to Bryant on the east, the construction constricted Sherwood, or jam up residential streets never designed for heavy traffic.

Turns out, city has looked into this possibility. Seems that if ASU exercizes eminent domain, as a state entity, ASU wins. Dr. Rallo may be feeling a bit bullet-proof, with good reason. He can't be voted out, no one in the city has any authority to dismiss Rallo. Winning hand all the way 'round, trump suit. Pardon me if I ask, does he really want to play it?

Dr. Rallo might want to check with Mayor Lown about the trash can episode from Lown's first term. Lown had supported a plan by Trashaway to go to an automated pickup system, would have saved gas, money, time, looked great on paper. Problem was, San Angelo residents were unexpectedly proud of their private trash cans. San Angeloans are some of the most welcoming people on the planet, ask the veterans who recently were feted to a parade and deer hunt. Still, those warm hearted folks keep a handy supply of the metaphorical pitchforks and torches if one crosses them. I was most recently on the wrong end of that when I supported an appointed Police Chief.

Dr. Rallo, ASU is a real jewel-in-the-crown asset for San Angelo, no one doubts that. When ASU desired the change to the Texas Tech system, the almost unanimous public support helped our State Rep. Drew Darby make it happen. I'm here to tell you, if you do this folks will still be cussing you ten years from now.

There are alternatives. You could add to freshman orientation a short course folk in my generation learned in kindergarten; Look Both Ways Before You Cross the Street. Seriously, some have suggested a pedestrian overpass, but I counsel against that. Look at the one on S Bryant. By the time one adds the ADA serpentine ramps on either end, it is a huge time-waster, all the healthy kids still cross the street and jump the low median fence. One I have seen is a pedestrian tunnel. It's as quick as crossing the street and by nature ADA friendly.

Hold off until Rosemont can be opened as a detour, briefly close Johnson, build the tunnel. The students are safer, the short inconvenience is quickly forgotten, the pitchforks stay in the closet, everybody's friends and we all live happily ever after.

I live on the other side of town. I think I have used Johnson St maybe 4 times in the last year. When I first heard about the eminent domain plan, it hit me as arrogant, autocratic, pick an unpleasent adjective. I can only imagine how people who actually depend on Johnson feel. Friendly advice to a newcomer; San Angelo is chock full of great people, it's easy to make friends for life, folk who will watch your back when you need them. Leave them feeling like you have crossed'em and gotten over on them, they will never trust you on anything. Real sure you want to go there over a glorified crosswalk?

16 comments:

  1. It remains to be seen what approach Dr. Rallo will take, but this is not a new issue. See Traffic Jam.

    The thing that upsets me the most is the total lack of planning on how to reroute the 1200+ cars a day that travel through ASU on Johnson. The master plan has been in the works for 6 or 7 years, and the city planning staff has been involved from the start. What does it take to come up with a plan here? It's all very nice they can plan bike paths, etc., but what about basics like synchronized stop lights, etc.

    We have got to do better than this.

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  2. Well, first of all, the city planning staff has nothing to do with the stop lights. Direct that complaint to the operations department. Secondly, the 'master plan' you refer to here is ASU's master plan. There was some limited publicity about this back in 2004 and 2005. This has nothing to do with the Comprehensive Plan that the city planning staff is tasked with implementing. It is an entirely separate document dreamed up by noone other than ASU.

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  3. Anon: The city planning staff, operations staff, SAMPO, etc have all be involved in ASU's master plan to one degree or another from the start. Among those mentioned as helping to develop or at least involved with the master plan are:
    Mr. J. W. Lown – Mayor, City of San Angelo
    Mr. Ron Lewis, Public Works Director, City of San Angelo
    Mr. Brad Stone – Planning department, City of San Angelo (it seems planning was at least informed)
    Mr. Ricky Dickson - Assistant Public Works Director, City of San Angelo (traffic works for him)
    Mr. Clinton Bailey – Department of Public Works, City of San Angelo (the city engineer)
    Ms. E’Lisa Smetana – Senior Transportation Planner and Director of Metropolitan Planning Organization. Just look at.ASU Centennial Master Plan. The mayor and senior planning staff were part of the process. They knew what was coming before the rest of the public did.

    Secondly, planning may not be involved in the actual installation and timing, but they have been involved with the policies on where signals are installed, requiring them on new developments, etc.. Perhaps I should have been clearer by saying planning by ALL of city staff (which is more than just the planning department) but the reality is that city staff has been involved or at least informed of ASU's planning direction from day one. As soon as city staff became aware of the plans to close streets, especially major ones such as Johnson, they should have modified and adapted the SAMPO master traffic plan to reflect or at least consider ASU's master plan. The city staff didn't have to rely on publicity: they had people at the planning meetings from day one.

    You are right there is no connection between the ASU master plan and the City's comprehensive plan. My point is that there should be. How can you say you have a comprehensive plan when you ignore the actions of a major employer, economic driver, and independent government organzition?

    At today's city council meeting it was stated that they are currently doing a traffic count on Johnson street. Why wasn't that done almost 2 years ago when they were considering closing Rosemont, and closing Johnson street was mentioned as the next step?

    The traffic on Ave. N and Johnson have been rated at F for years. Look at any of the MTP Reports and look at the traffic. Where are the 12,000+ (I dropped a "0" in my earlier post) vehicles on Johnson going to go? What planning has there been to solve the traffic problems around and through ASU?

    The point is, this is not something that city staff was unaware of. They were involved and aware from the beginning of ASU's plan, and have done precious little to address the problem.

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  4. As a parent of two ASU students, the safety of my child is of the utmost importance to me. Attacking their integrity is just inappropriate and not very helpful to any of this discussion. Perhaps when we can ensure that all driver's abide by the laws of the State of Texas then we won't have to worry so much about our children's welfare. In addition, I quite frankly do not want to wait until there is a fatality on Johnson Street before our City does something about it. In addition, it is ASU that is doing the traffic study and the City is tagging along to save face SINCE they have done nothing and have known that this was going to come up (see the Master Plan that City officials contributed to). Furthermore, the viability of ASU and the students' safety is much more important than a few people who might be incovenienced by having to take a different route to the convenience store or wherever else they feel the need to travel two blocks down Johnson Street. If they're still cussing ten years from now, that's their problem. It took Houston Harte 30 years to be built and a lot of folks were forced to sell their homes and move elsewhere. If they are still cussing, I don't think anyone hears them.

    P.S. Tell me that four traffic lights and a speed limit of 25 mph does not deter folks from traveling those two blocks down Johnson. Most of the traffic is probably ASU related. Let's see what the traffic study tells us and get off of ASUs back. They provide so much to this community and we need to show our support.

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  5. Anonymous ASU Mom, The safety of your children is important, just like the safety of the children going to Crockett and Glenn and living in the surrounding neighborhoods is important.

    It is also hard to say that it is just a 2 block inconvenience. Jackson Street is just over .4 miles from Johnson. Much of the traffic seems to be going between neighborhoods north of Ave. N and businesses like GTE, or Crockett or Glenn, which are just south of the campus. The most likely scenario is neighborhood streets such as Jade, Dena, Van Buren, etc. will be used, which increases the risk to the children in those neighborhoods. I don't really think we should be trading the safety of one group for another, which is what this does.

    When Dr. Hindman made his presentation to the City Council, he and the university were willing to help mitigate the impact on the surrounding areas. The impression being put out by the news coverage is that Dr. Rallo really isn't interested in how the city deals with the resulting traffic crisis. He just wants his picture perfect campus, even though that is the exception. Look at Texas Tech with Brownfield Highway running right through the center for example.

    Of course, this is not Dr. Rallo's fault. He has been charged with implementing a plan that the city seemed to hope would go away. It won't. Even without the Centenial Master plan, the city's own SAMPO Master Traffic plan shows the traffic around ASU to be on the virge of major failure. This will just push it over the edge.

    In the end, we must find a better way to deal with this. And it needs to be a City - ASU partnership, with no side dictating or tossing out what seem to be ultimatums.

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  6. Rallo threatening eminent domain? IDIOT.

    My guess is the city's eminent domain will trump ASU's if it gets nasty.

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  7. oh yea, jwt....ron lewis is no longer director of public works

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  8. Anon, I must agree that it is not very bright to threaten eminent domain so early in the process. It solidifies the opposition. From what I have heard the city can't use it's eminent domain powers to counter ASU's. At the same time, ASU will have to pay the city "fair market value" (whatever that is) for the street.

    I also know that Ron Lewis is not public works director anymore, but he was when the Centenial Master Plan was developed. The titles were pasted directly from that plan's section that gives credit to those involved. I am trying to point out that the city staff wasn't kept in the dark about this plan and the proposed street closings. Why was there no planning or action earlier? Why is there not at least a mention of this in any of the cities long range plans? Surely they knew about it long before the final plan was released in 2005.

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  9. ASU Mom, your two kids going to ASU are adults for God's sake! Do you really want traffic diverted through family neighborhoods with narrow two lane roads? ASU will do what they want to do. I hope in raising your children you taught them to use the cross walk / light, and to look both ways if they are jay walkers.

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  10. To: Anonymous response to ASU Mom.
    You too are an adult I think but one wouldn't see it in your response. I disagree completely with your analogy. Also, who said it was an ASU mom. I believe the anonymous "said parent of two ASU students." I agree with him. It's just two blocks. I too had a child at Crockett and at Glenn and I never used those two blocks of Johnson. Too much ASU traffic. I went around so as not to have to drive those two blocks. It was safer for my children when they were younger. From: ASU Student Dad!

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  11. The argument appears straight foward, to close or not to close. I think it won't be that simple. I think it will come down to money. For instance, if Texas Tech is willing to invest a considerable amount of money into the campus, this gives them a lotta clout. If they hint at withdrawing that investment money, it could sway everyone's opinion. Please correct if I'm wrong. I know as citizens, we are paying for the street right, but isn't the college using outside money to invest in our community or are we paying for all of it.

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  12. I learned something new today. I found the ASU operating budget and got a glimpse at how they obtain revenue and how much they spend.

    http://www.angelo.edu/administration/budget.html

    I think their estimated revenue is 88 million dollars. That is a lot of money poured into the community. I would be more willing to agree if I heard how this fits into the future plan or will lend to improving the infrastructure. I care about student safety, but using that for the sole reason to close the street seems extreme.

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  13. I think it is very interesting that the city, Tech System and ASU agreed to postpone the public meeting on the Johnson Street closing until the traffic study was completed, and yet I am aware of certain neighborhood meetings being conducted with certain city staff and certain city council members on the Johnson Street closing. Is ASU participating in these meetings? Have they been invited to participate in these meetings? The particular one I know of, there was no ASU or Tech representation but, there was definitely city staff and council member present. What's up with that?!

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  14. Why aren't they conducting public meetings instead of private neighborhood meetings?

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  15. I just discovered we were still getting comments on this issue, encouraging, that.

    This is strictly my opinion, at least I bother to differentiate between opinion and fact reporting.

    I do not believe for a heartbeat this street closing has much of anything to do with safety, save for that being a politically useful veil. Rallo wants his park-like postcard campus, the proposal is in the Centennial Master Plan, he fully intends to accomplish it, the convenience of 10,000+ San Angelo drivers be damned.

    Having said that, I move to the question, Will it help accomplish the Master Plan goal of increasing ASU enrollment to 10,000? Seriously, that would be a BIG plus for Angelo in general as well as ASU, perhaps the closing and attendant inconveniences could be justified on that basis.

    Personally, I think park-like appearance of the campus rates somewhere below truly important features of a university to a potential out-of-town student, such as academic excellence, expense, rankings on the "Top Ten Party Schools" list, and the always important boys to babes ratio. If that sounds flippant, it is not.

    The public hearing of Dec. 13 was cancelled as part of a dramatic turnaround in Rallo's stance, at least his public position. I am interested in, though not shocked by the neighborhood meetings.

    What has happened will delay any head-butting contest between Rallo and the city until at least February. All things considered, this chance for everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and look at the data when it comes in is a good thing. Given the current rate of attrition by traffic death (zero) we can afford the break.

    Perhaps Rallo could use some of the time to read an old, but still useful book, Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". To be sure, his Doctorate was not in diplomacy.

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  16. Thanks for putting it in perspective Jim. You do a good job. I keyed in on the boys to babes ratio. Since we have a lotta nice lookin ladies in this town, I project the college will grow by leaps and bounds, lol

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