Address right-of-way safety

By Joe Cahak

I wish to inform the public that I met with the water board Sept. 23 to discuss the desire to see Ramona Municipal Water District use the right of way in a safer manner and fix the safety issues that exist.

It will cost money. It doesn’t have to break the bank. If agreed to, it will recognize the problem, create new design standards better suited to public safety and will certainly reduce the long-term overall liability potential of RMWD due to the design practice they have been using.

I worked closely with Supervisor Jacob’s office and authority of cooperation direction from her to RMWD Board President Krysak, County Administrator Ekard and DPW Director John Snyder. I can report to you that the county staff, supervisor and the Ramona Community Planning Group, who voted to approve overwhelmingly my letters of statement and support regarding this matter have all been very helpful and cooperative. The county personnel, rather than ducking behind shields of quiet protectionism, have openly agreed to the problem and have been working closely with us to actually get the work done. Deputy Director Michael Robinson recently reported back that the requested road safety work was nearly done. He again also stressed that he hopes to see that RMWD work with DPW and not use the bollards and other hardened objects in the right of way.

So with all this in hand and spurred by the photos of a recent bollard strike in the Estates a couple weeks ago, I came before the water board to keep them up-to-date with the latest information. There was too much said at the meeting for me to include here. We are making the meeting minutes in whole be made public. I think people will be interested to see for themselves how members of the board refused to consider any concern or recognition of this safety matter. These members worked hard to kill the discussion and treat me with very clear hostility for bringing this matter before them.

There is much positioning going on as to the standards and the cost, but there can be a solution. We can find a means to do it over a long period of time to distribute the cost. The Ramona water district has already taken some steps to make future installations safer.

I was impressed with Director Kesinger’s support and help for requesting this matter come before the RMWD Board again. He helped me bring it initially before the board last year. The other individual I wish to say I was impressed with was Manager Ralph McIntosh. At the meeting, Mr. McIntosh said he was looking to see what he could do and fix the problem. Now here’s a guy I relate to, being an engineer myself. He wants to DO something. He’s the new guy dropped into this fresh.  I had sympathy for his position and lack of knowledge of all the details.

Directors Wilsman and Hager made some very inflammatory, hostile and sarcastic statements about my position.  Their lack of concern for our driving safety was appalling. Statements these gentlemen made are in the public record now and can be used against RMWD in any safety litigation against the district. These statements can put the RMWD in a bad position in any court cases. I made them aware of this and Mr. Hager asked if I was threatening them. I told them I was informing them of the risk to the district and the public safety. I told the board that as a public utility using public right of way they have a duty and responsibility to minimize the public safety risk of their fixtures in the road right of way.

I greatly respect Board President Krysak’s and Director Kesinger’s bold and responsible position on this matter.  They ensured this issue was placed on the agenda and that the discussion continued in spite of resistance by directors Wilsman and Hager.

I contacted Manager McIntosh and we discussed the engineering design matters that came up in the meeting and what DPW and I are trying to accomplish. I had discussed the design matters with Eric Swanson (senior civil engineer at DPW) the next morning. Eric has volunteered to help RMWD with inventorying the risky fixtures and also helping come up with a more effective and safer design standard.

Mr. McIntosh agreed he would call and talk to Eric at DPW. He agreed that we could come up with an acceptable standard and solution and felt that he could do something to help. I have reported to RCPG members and Supervisor Jacobs, who continues to be very interested and supportive.

Proposed 3-part:

  1. No new placements without meeting county road standards for placement and safety consideration.

  2. Accident review policy that would place accident-prone fixtures on fast track for removal or safety replacement and be open to public review by the planning group’s Transportation and Trails Subcommittee.

  3. Priority list of unsafe and illegal placements with a schedule of so many a year to replace to new standards or remove. Accident cases move high up list. List based on hardness, proximity to the road and travel speed (speed limit). This should allow a cost managed fix for the problem and also shows good due faith in the solution for any potential court cases and mitigation for such.

With low cost solutions and the priority plan of so many a year amortized out over time, we limit the costs and yet address them in a timely and prioritized manner. This plan will help limit potential liability for future strikes.

I want the community to know that our community planning group approved and signed my letters of support for this matter. This clearly demonstrated unity and resolve on something for the community. This bold stand sent a strong message to the county and water district. This is how our planning group should operate and I wish to express my pride in working with them. I greatly appreciate the support, trust and respect they gave me on this public safety matter.  

These letters got attention and got something done at the county DPW. Now we wait on RMWD and San Diego Regional Design Standards Chair Tim Stanton to respond to these request letters from the county and the community.

SDG&E and the power poles are also being worked on, so stay tuned. I will have more to report on this soon. There is a court case coming up that I am not able to talk about yet. This court case will be a test to help determine how the county can move forward with the authority it should have on road right of way use. I find the current standard of 12 inches from the travel lane on all our 50-55 mph rural roads to be an insane and unacceptable standard for public road safety.

 

Joe Cahak is a Ramona resident.

   
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