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Cloverdale council rejects four-way stop at dangerous intersection


An overflow crowd of sometimes angry, tearful and frustrated people implored the Cloverdale City Council Monday night to put in a traffic light or make other safety improvements at a crosswalk that was the scene of a fatality last summer and serious injuries for two teenage boys on Halloween night.

More than 100 people filled the council chambers asking for an immediate solution, and spoke for hours. But almost all of them had left by the time a council motion failed to put in a four-way stop sign at the controversial pedestrian crossing at South Cloverdale Boulevard and Healdsburg Avenue.

Only Mayor Joe Palla and Councilwoman Carol Russell voted for the stop signs as a precursor to a traffic light that could take years for the cash-strapped city to fund.

Other council members said it was premature to put in stop signs, but agreed to form an ad hoc committee that would take a look at strengthening the street lighting at the crosswalk and other improvements. They also agreed to investigate installing flashing, embedded crosswalk lighting similar to some crosswalks in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg and other cities.

City Manager Paul Cayler said such a system could cost $35,000 or $40,000 at the one intersection.

Time and again Monday, residents urged the city to act quickly.

"Move on this before the city is responsible for another death," said Gloria Ponce, one of nine children of Maria Ponce, the Cloverdale grandmother who was struck and killed by an elderly driver in July.

And some speakers suggested there was a racist element to the city's slowness to act after being urged to do something at the crosswalk months before.

"If this was an animal, something would have been done. Because we're Hispanic, I feel no one is doing anything about it," said Alicia Rivas.

But Mayor Palla disagreed. "We are a community- Hispanic and Caucasian," he said.

City Manager Paul Cayler told the audience the accident last week involving the two teen pedestrians was shocking.

But Ponce's family members said he shouldn't have been surprised considering that following her death many had urged the city to make improvements there to avoid another tragedy.

Delia Ponce, another daughter, said she was "disappointed and disgusted" by comments from Cloverdale officials last week that city could not afford the $250,000 to put in a traffic light at the crosswalk.

Gloria Ponce said prior to the council meeting that her family is considering a lawsuit against the city for the death of her mother, "because I just feel they're putting price tags on people's lives."

"This is the fourth or fifth incident this year. This is crazy," she said. "They need to take some action before another person is killed. I don't want another family to go through what we went though."

Jackie Rose, a longtime teacher at Washington School, said "half the students use the crosswalk when they go home every day."

She said the latest accident has put the community on edge.

"These parents are furious and the kids haven't slept in days," she said.

But two teenage cousins were hit in the same crosswalk Thursday night.

The driver, James Livingston McGiffin, 75, said he didn't see the youths, according to police.

The children had made it about three-quarters of the way across the intersection when they were struck by a small pickup traveling north on South Cloverdale Boulevard around 7 p.m.

One of the boys, Enrique Andrade, 12, suffered badly broken legs, a concussion and a fractured cheekbone, according to his aunt. He was undergoing a second surgery Monday night at Children's Hospital in Oakland and his condition was not immediately available according to a spokeswoman.

His tearful younger brother, Pedro Andrade, told the council Monday he will have metal in his legs for the rest of his life.

"You guys waited too long," he told the council about the lack of safety improvements at the crosswalk.

Andrade's cousin, Baldemar Torres, 13, who broke a shoulder and sustained other injuries, was at Monday's council meeting in a wheelchair. He said prior to the meeting that he was doing better.

"I can walk now," he said.

According to Police Chief Mark Tuma, the intersection where the crosswalk is located has seen five accidents in the last year involving pedestrians and/or bicyclists struck by moving vehicles, resulting in trauma, injury or death.

"I'm angry, frustrated this has happened again and again. Something has to be done. Enough is enough," said Christina Lepe-Duarte.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com