City Council to hold hearings on C St. closure

By Reggie Ellis

As one of the oldest streets in town, it's no surprise that most of the people who reside on the stretch of C Street from Chestnut Street to Kaweah Avenue own their homes. What is surprising is how different their views are on the future of their street.

The Exeter Union School District has discussed closing a street to expand Lincoln Elementary School for at least five years, but school district's have no authority to close a street. That power lies with the Exeter City Council, which voted in January to consider the idea of both closing a portion of South C Street or just making a cul-de-sac where the it intersects Kaweah Avenue (Highway 65).

Gary Willis has lived at 319 S. C St. since moving to Exeter 19 years ago. He owns his home and another home that sits on the same property. He said he didn't want to have to start over at a new home if the school district were to take his house through eminent domain, a process where public entities can force a property owner to sell at fair market value if the project is deemed a public benefit.

&#8220I'm paying property taxes at the level they were 20 years ago,” Willis said. &#8220If I move my family to a new home, I would have to pay much higher property taxes for the same size home.”

Willis said his parents have owned property on the street for many years and currently rent out the home next to him at 325 S. C St. He said they were going to use the equity in the property as an investment for retirement.

&#8220I just isn't right that they can take your house if they feel like they need it,” Willis said.

Willis' neighbor to the north, Diane Lucas, has begun remodeling her home at 313 S. C St. Lucas has been an avid opponent of the street closure after buying her 1913 Bungalow home three years ago as her retirement. Lucas is currently a third-grade teacher in Orange County but comes lives in Exeter on the weekends to check the progress of her home. She could not be reached for comment.

Rick and Jeanette Woods used to live at 349 S. C St. until an electrical short in a space heater started a fire that burned out the inside of the home on Jan. 23. In January interview, Rick, a handyman, said he had been given permission by the owner to rebuild the home and move back in. The Woods said they had rented the house for more than 20 years.

&#8220Although we don't own this house this is our home,” Jeanette said last month. &#8220This is where our children grew up.”

Lincoln Elementary School is landlocked, surrounded by busy streets and City Park to the west. Adding classrooms within the school's current boundary would diminish playground and ball field areas. Also, a public preschool facility in Exeter would logically be built on campus at the kindergarten through second-grade school.

The option of closing C Street was one of two offered by city administration instead of closing Clarence Street. EUSD has abandoned the idea of expanding the K-2 school across Clarence Street after the City Council denied their request to close the street in 2005. The plan would have required the district buying a drive-thru coffee business that had recently opened across the street, next to a vacant lot the district purchased four years ago.

Jose Rivas, whose family of four has lived at 331 S. C St. for the last 8 years, said he would be in favor of either closing the street but not making it a cul-de-sac.

&#8220I like this neighborhood a lot but we have been considering buying another house because we have outgrown this one,” he said. &#8220I'm in favor of progress for the school district as long as I get fair market value for the home,” he continued. &#8220But if they decide to make this street a cul-de-sac that would be a mistake. This street is already congested when school is in.”

Rob Pendola has lived at 337 S. C St. for three years with his wife and child. He said his family is also getting bigger and might want to look for a house. &#8220I would love to have a cul-de-sac because the cars come flying by at 60 mph. If we get fair market value there's not much to complain about.”

The last house on the street, 357 S. C St., at the corner of C and Kaweah Avenue, is currently being rented but no one answered the door. City Planner Greg Collins said the city might consider taking that piece of property in order to have enough clearance to create a cul-de-sac, similar to A Street, which now dead-ends into the Shell station.

&#8220CalTrans would like to see that intersection closed because it intersects the highway at an angle,” Collins said. &#8220By just closing off that end of the street the options are we could create a cul-de-sac or just put up a barrier and allow the school district to purchase property heading north.”

Collins also said that nothing has been decided and that the council has only agreed to hold public hearings on the issue to gain public input on all of the options.

&#8220All we have done is start the process of vacating a street,” Collins said. &#8220After the public hearings, we will bring back a resolution for the council to either approve or deny. Nothing has been decided.”

Collins said public hearings might begin at the City Council's Feb. 27 meeting. The Exeter City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month in council chambers at City Hall, 137 N. F St. For more information about meetings, call City Hall at 592-3710.

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