Atherton library: Error discovered in draft EIR

Error involves key finding on traffic impact of library in the park

El Camino Real's tricky intersection with Watkins Avenue has given Atherton residents a headache for many years. It turns out that it isn't sparing the firm that produced the environmental study for the proposed new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

An error in the draft environmental impact report (EIR) -- brought to light this week by a trio of residents that include Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen and her husband, Smith -- resulted in the finding that any library construction project would result in significant but unfixable traffic problems at the Watkins/El Camino intersection.

The firm, LSA Associates of Berkeley, drew that conclusion because it considered the only possible mitigation to be creation of a dedicated right-turn lane on Watkins onto northbound El Camino. But that option wasn't considered feasible because it would involve the taking of residential property in the right-of-way.

As a result, the traffic impact at that intersection is "significant and unavoidable," the EIR says.

But longtime resident Sandy Crittenden wasn't convinced. Earlier this week, he told Councilwoman McKeithen that he believed LSA was in error in measuring the right-of-way, and before long, the McKeithens were out at the intersection taking a look for themselves, Ms. McKeithen told the Almanac.

"They got it wrong," she said. The crew that did the work apparently believed that a white fence located near the roadside indicated the division between public and private property, she surmised.

That is not the case, Interim Public Works Director Mike Kashiwagi confirmed yesterday after investigating Ms. McKeithen's surprising claim.

As it turns out, the existing right-of-way width of Watkins Avenue is 60 feet, "which is adequate to provide a right-turn lane," Mr. Kashiwagi said in an email to the Almanac.

He has informed LSA of the error, and the firm "in consultation with Town Staff will determine the most appropriate way to make this correction," he wrote.

The draft EIR indicated that with a right-turn lane at that problematic intersection the traffic congestion wouldn't worsen if a new library is built in the park or in the Town Center.

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Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm

The issue isn't a right turn lane, the issue is turning LEFT from Watkins onto El Camino. Because the new building on the southeast corner was permitted to be built so close to El Camino, a left turner must move too far out into the street to get a clear vision of on-coming (north-going) traffic. Atherton should be doing everything possible to REDUCE Watkins traffic, not increase it.

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Posted by Nice try, cops
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Isn't it interesting that cops got involved in (incorrectly) determining a right of way issue to prevent a library from being built, so that money can be diverted to them and the new police station. Fascinating. Good work, Ms. McKeithen.

Like this comment
Posted by Voice of reason
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm

There will likely be as much trouble turning left onto Middlefield from Watkins as there is in turning either direction onto el camino. Watkins was repaved and restriped a few years ago and at that time the town wanted to create a right turn lane out of 4-5 properties' right of way and they didn't do it at the time. Now atherton city council wants to trounce on a few atherton property owners to mitigate traffic for people using the street as a cut through to reach/leave a county library. Is it a priority to put in a new turn lane for cars to use without adding a sidewalk across the street to connect pedestrian traffic from El Camino to the park/new library to help alleviate traffic congestion? That street is already way too unsafe for the number of walkers/strollers on it trying to reach the park. Why is nobody on the library planning committee discussing ways to improve foot traffic to the library instead of all this vehicular traffic?

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Posted by Bill Grove
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I admit to not having read the EIR. but for the sake of completeness, why is a stoplight at El Camino and Watkins not being considered? Or a dedicated detour up to Fair Oaks to El Camino where there is a stoplight? Menlo Park has restricted access to Ravenswood from Alma and their Library.
That said, I remain unconvinced that Atherton should build a library in Holbrook Palmer where I value the open space - or even anywhere else, with Menlo Park and Redwood City libraries nearby.

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Posted by Long View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Growing up here, I can remember that the Atherton drainage channel used to be open on the north side of that intersection--and open most of the way to the beginning of Station Lane before crossing over about 25 yards before the tracks to the south side of Watkins.
There are a lot of front yards and picket fences spread out over the now covered creek.

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Posted by Sandy Crittenden
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm

To Bill Grove, I too, want to preserve the Park’s open space. That is why the library in the Park will replace the main house rather than add another building.

Every Atherton resident was mailed “Atherton Library Building Steering Committee Frequently Asked Questions”. This very was addressed.
Won’t it take away open space and playing fields?
No. The proposed library in the Park will replace the main house, replacing a building rather than adding buildings to the Park. No playing fields or open space will be taken away.

To Long View, I too remember when the Atherton drainage cannel was open and dirt lined. Originally the channel was covered where it crossed roads, twice at Watkins Ave., near El Camino, at Middlefield Road and at Marsh Road, where it was stone lined as it is today.
Culverts were installed along Watkins from El Camino Real to the railroad tracks, along Middlefield Road, and along Marsh Road where it becomes Menlo Park.
Some will remember Atherton’s unsuccessful law suit against Menlo Park attempting to stop the culvert project along Marsh Road.

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Posted by Long View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm

So there is then the possibility of 2 lanes, or a dedicated left turn lane off Watkins onto El Camino, if the top of the covered creek easement that runs for several hundred yards there,is used as a lane.
Or did the town give that land away to the more recent owners of the properties that adjoin along side the old creek .

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Posted by outsorcerer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 7, 2012 at 10:51 am

Outsource the PD to the Sheriffs. Then instead of building a new PD office build the new library where the existing PD office and buildings are. The sheriffs dept estimates they could save Atherton $1M a year.

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Posted by John
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 8, 2012 at 6:57 am

Someone please clarify this for me. If we all want to preserve Open Space in the Park and the Main House can be torn down. Why not stop at Step 1 and create more open space?

Step 1-- Tear Down Main House create Open Space
Step 2-- Build County Library and remove Open Space
Steo 3-- Realize that the exisitng park facility needs(offices, storage, arts) of the Main House still need to exist and build a new facility for them removing more Open Space.
Step 4-- Realize that rentals of the main house brought in $90,000 a year to the park and attempt to come up with a plan to replace the income needed for park upkeep.
Step 5-- Realize the county library in the park brings more traffic adding to Public Works expenses (road repairs and traffic lights) and Public Safety expenses (Park Patrols after hours and traffic patrols).
Step 6-- Realize the parking and footprint of the library in the park consumed open space that could have been used for fields.

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Posted by Traffic Impact
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm

What the EIR Traffic report confirms is that traffic will increase and an expense will be incurred lessen the impact, but there still will be an impact.

Who pays for the installation of the traffic light at Watkins and Middlefield and the turn lane at Watkins and El Camino? Who pays for the Public Safety expenses to handle accidents? Who pays for the reduced property value for residents along Watkins?

With the Menlo and Redwood City Libraries so close, why does County need a Library in Atherton?

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Posted by Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

"With the Menlo and Redwood City Libraries so close, why does County need a Library in Atherton? "

It doesn't.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

If the right of way is 60 feet, it looks to me like the new building on the SE corner may be in the right-of-way. Did anybody measure that?

Like this comment
Posted by it gets worse
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 7, 2012 at 11:34 am

The easement for the creek is on the other side of Watkins (also encroached upon all the way down to station Lane on the north side of the street), so there may be a problem with setbacks on both sides of the El Camino/Watkins intersection.
Great job Planning Department!

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