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Council Merges Traffic and Planning Commissions

Despite heavy opposition in December, the council voted unanimously to eliminate the Traffic Commission, creating the Planning and Transportation Commission instead.

Despite what sounded like very  to disband the Traffic Commission and combine it with the Planning Commission, the Los Altos City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to do exactly that. 

“I am really concerned that the Planning Commission needs to take into account traffic issues,” Councilmember Ron Packard said, citing past problems having the two bodies consider issues separately. The Traffic Commission was created in 2003.

Packard and Mayor Val Carpenter, who served as an ad hoc committee studying the issue, said they found support for the creation of the new combined commission among the chairs and vice chairs of the planning and traffic commissions, as well as city staff. 

In the next few months, the plan will eliminate 14 city commission seats. This includes the seven-member Traffic Commission and half of the 14 seats on the Planning Commission. What remains is a combined, seven-member Planning and Transportation Commission.

Two residents who volunteer for the city were critical, however.

Jeannie Bruins, a planning commissioner who said she was speaking for herself, reminded the council that traffic is a number one concern of residents, and asked members to not dilute the issue by eliminating the Traffic Commission.

She said the ad-hoc committee only met with four of 21 appointed commissioners—the chairs and vice chairs—to discuss the plan. She also questioned why there had been no public study session as had been previously discussed in .

Carpenter responded that she felt the committee had followed the spirit of what it had been directed to do by the council.

“It didn’t actually surprise me that the current incumbents (of the Planning Commission) didn’t support a reorganization that would go from 14 people to 7,” she said.

Jim Fenton, a member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), also speaking for himself, said he found it “really ironic” that on Tuesday’s agenda were at least four items either directly related to traffic issues.

“There’s evidence there that there is value in having a traffic commission,” he said, adding later, “I just think it’s shortsighted to not have that same degree of focus on overall traffic issues.”

He criticized the staff report that noted a lightening of staff workload by eliminating one commission, saying it ignores the “significant amount of volunteer labor” the Traffic Commission provides.

In addition to creating the Planning and Transportation Commission, the council also voted to:

  • Create a separate five-member commission that deals only with single-family home projects and report directly to council
  • Elevate the BPAC to commission status

The new commissions require changing the city’s zoning regulations, which means the changes will not go into effect for a few months.

The four traffic-related items referred to by Fenton include:

  • A proposed 15 miles-per-hour limit around the city's schools; the council voted to refer the matter to the newly-created Planning and Transportation Commission.
  • A Traffic Commission report about the city's top intersections for accidents, school traffic, and other criteria; the council referred it to BPAC for further study.
  • A plan to make changes in the to discourage people making three-point turns at the entrance to the lot on San Antonio Avenue, and adding in a new crosswalk near the book drop and other safety features; the council approved the recommended improvements.
  • Accepting a grant to make , including a traffic light at the entrance to Trader Joe's; the council actions on Tuesday allow staff to move forward with planning and construction, expected to start later this summer.
Val Carpenter March 01, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Actually, the number of volunteer positions remains almost the same. This restructuring allocates them differently and assigns specific responsibilities to each organization to focus them on the areas of greatest concern to our community. The Planning Commission and Traffic Commission each have 7 members today, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has 6 non-Traffic Commission members, for a total of 20 individuals; the new Planning & Transportation Commission will have 7 members, the new Design Review Commission will have 5 members, and the new Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission will have 7 members, for a total of 19 individuals.

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