By Michael Bernd
I am writing this letter in response to Mr. Cahak’s opinion piece regarding the San Vicente Road project in the Jan. 24 issue of the Ramona Sentinel.
There are many reasons for road improvements on San Vicente Road, but I cannot and will not be bullied into supporting something that I do not agree with by Mr. Cahak, or the county. In his opinion piece in the Ramona Sentinel, Mr. Cahak gives readers a false choice between the beautiful oak trees that line San Vicente Road and people’s lives. I reject this choice because it is akin to blaming the gun in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., or blaming the gun in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, rather than putting the blame where it belongs — on the unstable individual.
Many of us who have been born in Ramona, or have lived here for a long time, understand that the winding mountain roads are part of the charm of this community. We may also have lost friends or family members to these roads. In my short 35 years I have lost three friends, all of which were due to excessive speeds. In fact, most of the fatalities on San Vicente are due to speeding or driving with a false sense of confidence.
On March 24, 2011, a 22-year-old man lost control of his car and flipped it several times on San Vicente Road. There were no witnesses and no other cars on the road. The CHP would not confirm the cause of the fatality, but agreed that it was probably caused by speeding.
Jan. 23, 2012, a 19-year-old woman loses control of her car and slams into a propane truck heading in the opposite direction. According to the CHP, the fatality occurred because she was speeding. Nov. 11, 2012, a 55-year-old man was killed after being ejected from his motorcycle. Again, according to CHP accident investigators, the fatality was caused by speeding. I understand that these are only a few examples, but what they all have in common is unsafe speeds on a winding mountain road.
The San Vicente Road project is estimated to cost the county $40 million as well as take two years to complete. As we have seen in other examples of government projects, they take longer to complete than estimated, and cost significantly more as well. I point to SANDAG projects like the I-15 for an example of this.
I am opposed to this project for several reasons, least of which is the reality of another Cedar Creek or Witch Creek fire. In Mr. Cahak’s opinion piece, he opines that the fire danger in the backcountry is gone because there is nothing left to burn. I assure you, and according to Cal Fire, there is still plenty of danger regarding another wildfire. For Mr. Cahak to make that statement based on his own opinion and emotions contradicts everything Cal Fire and the Forestry Service are saying. It is irresponsible for Mr. Cahak to use that as an argument in favor of the road project.
Mr. Cahak also claims that the California Highway Patrol will not, and cannot enforce the speed limit due to safety concerns. I am not sure what these concerns are. If the main reason for not enforcing the speed limit is due to a lack of places to park a CHP patrol car, then I am confused as to what more is needed. Anyone who has driven the road knows there are places to park a patrol car. For example, the turnout where kettle corn and avocados are sold has plenty of room. The driveway at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and San Vicente Road, Chuck Wagon Road, and the Barnett preserve driveway are a few more examples. The mere sight of a CHP car in any of those spots would be enough to slow people down.
If road safety is the true issue, why aren’t cheaper alternatives being tested before we embark on a multi-million dollar project? Most people may not realize that when travelling eastbound toward the country club, the speed limit slows to 45 miles per hour. This has always perplexed me because the road is straighter in that section, yet the winding part of San Vicente heading westbound has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour.
Do we not owe it to ourselves to be fiscally responsible and attempt to find a cheaper alternative than to just rip the road up and re-engineer it? The lowering of the speed limit to 45 or even 40 miles per hour, and the placement of CHP patrol cars in those locations would be a much cheaper alternative to a road project that will take two or more years to complete, cost millions of dollars, and add ten or fifteen minutes to our commute out of the Estates. That is if the road is even navigable during the construction. If for some reason it is not, everyone in the San Diego Country Estates is forced to use Vista Ramona to commute. This could be fatal if we were to have another wildfire during this project.
Furthermore, according to the Department of Public Works, upon completion of the San Vicente Road project, the speed limit would actually increase! That makes no sense to someone who drives that road every day. Mr. Cahak argues that a higher speed limit is acceptable, because four miles of San Vicente Road will be straighter. I question Mr. Cahak’s motivation for a project that doesn’t address the true problem. Speeding!
In Mr. Cahak’s opinion piece, he also blames the roads for the low property values of our homes. I can assure Mr. Cahak that the winding roads have as much to do with our property values as the wind has to do with someone tripping on a step. If I could, I’d like to borrow a statement from James Carville as I think he has summed it up the best. “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Mr. Cahak also made another unfortunate comment toward the end of his opinion piece. He called Ramona the “ugly step-child of the county.” I’m very sorry that Mr. Cahak, who was not born here, has that view of our community. Maybe he should have chosen another place to live. As for the comment about a duty to the public welfare, I agree with Mr. Cahak, that is why I drive slower and in control on these roads. Unfortunately Mr. Cahak will judge me harshly for disagreeing with him about this project and that is fine, but in this great country we have the right to disagree and voice our opinions as well.
In summation, I have outlined an alternative to this time-consuming, inconveniencing, and costly project. Reduce the speed limit by 5 to 10 miles per hour, and park Ramona sheriff or CHP patrol cars in the places I’ve listed. Part of the beauty of this town in which we live is the rural setting, and the fact that we are not Poway north.
I am not choosing oak trees over lives, but what I suggest is a movement back toward personal responsibility. Apparently, the new culture of America is to react hastily anytime a tragedy strikes. Let us not be so ignorant as to blame the road for a fatal car crash, let us blame the true causes — speeding, alcohol, false confidence — and let us also remember our slogan, “Slow down in our country town.”
Michael Bernd, a Ramona native, is a Ramona resident and San Diego Country Estates Association member.