The Healdsburg City Council reluctantly took another look at the Foss Creek Circle, and decided that however bad things are, they could be worse.
City Public Works Director Michael Kirn presented to the Council a brief review of the issue at Monday night’s City Council meeting, once again opening up the 2012 decision to convert Foss Creek Circle from a two-way street to a one-way, with traffic moving in a clockwise direction.
The clockwise direction was the path chosen by the City Council in August 2012 when they finalized the street conversion.
Letters to the press, comments on Patch and communication with the City Council itself have been almost universally opposed to the direction of the one-way, a sentiment once again expressed in public comment at the council meeting.
However Kirn reminded the Council that the primary reason for the clockwise direction had not changed: Silver Oak Cellars has a storage and shipping facility at 140 Foss Creek Circle, with a delivery bay that would be virtually impossible to access for a large truck entering the loop from a counter-clockwise direction.
Silver Oak, a premium winery that specializes in cabernet sauvignon grown in Alexander Valley and Napa, built the facility when Foss Creek was a two-way street. Their investment in the property and their status as a good business partner for the City of Healdsburg was not overlooked in the decision to turn Foss Creek Circle into a clockwise circle back in August.
While a number of other arguments, comments and options were considered to either change the direction of the one-way or to return it to a two-way Foss Creek Circle, in the end the Council opted to retain the current direction of the street, and try to work with the U.S. Post Office instead on a more practical solution.
“What a mess this whole thing is, daily,” complained Robert Rawlins, treasurer of the Healdsburg Museum and a 28-year resident of Healdsburg. He was the first of several members of the public to comment in the negative on the current direction of Foss Creek Circle
His suggestion was not only to revert to the more “intuitive” clockwise flow, but to ask the postmaster to open up the facility’s southern gate so people could drive around the post office and exit from another driveway than the one admitting traffic.
The term “intuitive” was widely used, with most agreeing that the clockwise direction currently in use was counter-intuitive. Mayor Susan Jones said at one point, “While I’m in favor of a one-way, I don’t like the direction it’s going… It’s a feeling, it just doesn’t feel right to go clockwise.”
“It’s not that in six months we’ll get used to it,” Rawlins said, in answer to Councilmember Gary Plass’s repeated insistence that “people will get used to” the clockwise direction. “It’s just a bad situation.”
Tim Meikin, himself a candidate for City Council last fall, pointed out that it was not just cars that were faced with an uncertain and counter-intuitive traffic flow, but bicyclists who had to deal with street obstacles that go to extremes to point out the one-way direction to traffic on Grove St.
Caroline Marker, office manager at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, sought to ease the burden on Silver Oak by suggesting that a Moore Lane access might be opened up, to allow wine truck traffic to pass through the Silver Oak property.
Tony Le Blanc of Silver Oak, however, pointed out that the Moore Lane access was to the building to the east of the storage facility, at 120 Foss Creek Circle, and was inaccessible to Silver Oak.
Le Blanc, while making it clear that “as a business we’re open to anything that’s part of a solution,” noted that, “This wasn’t Silver Oak’s idea.” He said a two-way street was better than a wrong-way one way, but did not see a ready solution. “Something is going to be a problem no matter what we do.”
And that seemed to be the dilemma facing the City Council: There was no solution, only compromise.
Plass remained the most adamant of pro-clockwise supporters, insisting again and again that things were getting better with traffic and the relative lack of accidents that suggested it was working. (Part of Kirn’s report was that there had been only one accident in six months, and that outside the Circle but on Grove St, whereas there had been two accidents in the two years since the Post Office relocated.)
Under Plass’ prodding, with the help of a 14-image slide show he presented to the Council and the public, the Post Office became the way out of the one-way conundrum. Asking them to move their drop boxes from their current location inside a circular driveway to the sidewalk, said Plass, would resolve the major point of traffic congestion and driver uncertainty.
Plass suggested either moving the boxes to the curb or putting them on the other side of the circular driveway – thus changing the direction of the drop-off drive – would solve a lot of the problems.
“This is a system that could work, if we could get the Post Office to agree to move their mailboxes.”
Kirn was asked if he had approached the post office about this solution, one they rejected six months ago. He said that on Friday the postmaster said the decision was “above his pay grade,” but had suggested that they, the Postal Service, might be receptive to discussion on the matter.
“They bear some of the responsibility for this situation, too,” he said, since Foss Creek Circle was never designed for the steady traffic a post office draws.
Councilman Tom Chambers asked Kirn, “Do you think this would be a good solution?”
Kirn, ever cautious, said “I think the solution could work.”
At the end of the hour-long public and council discussion, the sense of the Council was that Krin should work with the Oost Office on finding a solution in their location of drop-off boxes, as the problems of either returning Foss Creek Circle to a two-way or changing the direction of the one-way were more difficult to resolve.
“I think we’ll solve part of the problem” said Councilman Jim Wood, “but we won’t solve all of it.”