Atherton: Key finding in library EIR based on error | April 11, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - April 11, 2012

Atherton: Key finding in library EIR based on error

by Renee Batti

El Camino Real's intersection with Watkins Avenue has given Atherton residents major headaches 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 recently released draft environmental impact report (EIR) — brought to light last 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 already problematic 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 last week 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 intersection, the traffic congestion wouldn't worsen if a new library is built in the park.

The LOS — or level of service — at the intersection is already rated F for peak morning traffic. (LOS ratings range from A to F, with F indicating the worst level of delays for vehicles navigating the intersection.)

For peak afternoon traffic, it is now rated D, but is expected to drop to E even without the library project because of near-term traffic increases stemming from other sources, according to the EIR.

Without a right-turn lane on Watkins, increased traffic would cause delays at the intersection that would earn an F rating during afternoon as well as morning peak periods if the library is built in the park or the Town Center, the EIR concluded.