By Reggie Ellis
At the Exeter City Council's June 8 meeting, City Administrator John Kunkel recommended against the Exeter Union School District's proposal to close Clarence Street for an expansion of Lincoln Elementary School.
Kunkel, who is also the chief of police, presented a traffic study conducted by the Exeter Police Department and the Public Works Department of the intersection at D and Clarence streets on the following days: Monday, April 26; Wednesday, April 28; Friday, April 30; and Saturday, April 28. The intersection counted vehicles traveling on both D and Clarence streets at several key times during the day -- before school, from 7:15-8:15 a.m.; at lunch time, from noon to 1 p.m.; after school, from 2-3 p.m.; and in the evening, from 5-6 p.m.
On average there was more traffic on D Street than Clarence Street. In the morning there was an average of 104 vehicles on D and 79 on Clarence. At lunch there was an average of 87 on D and 47 on Clarence. After school there was an average of 105 vehicles on D and 40 on Clarence. In the evening there was an average of 90 on D and 25 on Clarence. There was a daily average of 282 cars using Clarence between Highway 65 and D Street, and an average of 935 using D Street. Monday morning was the busiest time of day and Saturday morning had the least amount of traffic.
In all, 2,267 vehicles passed through the intersection during the three-day survey -- 1,547 vehicles traveling on D Street and 720 traveling on Clarence.
City Administrator/Police Chief John Kunkel said that, based on the high volume of traffic, he could not recommend closing the street.
"I feel that these numbers would have been even higher if this count had been done with a full school day taken into account," he wrote in his report to the council.
The report also cited a drive thru coffee shop being built at the corner of Clarence Street and Highway 65 as reason to not close the street. He said the coffee shop was being built with the idea that Clarence would be a through street.
"The owner of the business went through site plan review and was not told of the possible closure of this street since the school district had not contacted the city about it's plan until some time later," the report stated.
The school district claims it contacted the city nearly two years ago and had been discussing the move for at least eight years. In an interview in March, Superintendent Renee Whitson said the district discussed the street's closure with former City Administrator Roy Chace. That conversation led the district's purchase of a lot south of the school at the corner of D and Clarence streets on Nov. 18, 2002 in anticipation of the expansion. The Victorian style house -- built circa 1904-1909 -- that sat on the lot was purchased by Dr. Anne Hickey who relocated the home to Elberta Avenue after a lengthy process involving the Southern California Edison on Oct. 16, 2003. The school district then paid to have the lot leveled and resurfaced.
"Many tax dollars would be lost on that investment," said EUSD board member Dean Sutton at the March 9 meeting. "We are formally asking for your support at a later date."
The school district said it would need to add more classroom space in the near future. Expanding the K-2 classrooms to the west (within the school's current boundaries) would diminish its playground. Highway 65 lies just beyond the school boundary to the west making that an impossibility. Going to the south, without closing the street, would mean encroaching onto the school's ball field. To the east is City Park and surrounding homes and to the north are more homes.
Whitson said at one time Lincoln housed 900 students but was overcrowded. She said in order to avoid that, the school district has to plan now for an expansion 15-20 years down the road. Also, the state may be leaning toward universal preschool in public education. A preschool facility in Exeter would logically be built on campus at Lincoln.
Councilmember Joe Bomgardner asked how low traffic numbers would have to be to recommend closure of the street.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable until all the numbers were below triple digits," Kunkel told the council following the report.
Mayor Leon Ooley and Councilmember Jon Stearns were absent. The council did not take any action on the report nor set a date for the decision. The Exeter City Council's next meeting will be on June 22. The council meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at city hall, located at 137 N. F St.