Although a vote wasn’t expected until July, the Willow Glen Business Association (WGBA) went ahead and conducted one of their board meetings as of early morning, Tuesday 23 June 2015, therein casting majority votes against the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet. Even before WGBA was able to publish its own official press release, it was quickly published as of 12:45pm that day by Willow Glen Charm, an online blog, and Facebook page. Online, in the social networking world, this created a sensation, including sneers by those persons who are against the road diet, even including a fervent bigotry towards bicyclists themselves. Nevertheless, while the road diet trial seems to be over; is the decision really final?
According to the original plan for the road diet test, San Jose Department of Transportation (DOT) would take recommendations or position papers from both the business association, WGBA, as well as the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, WGNA. But, that feedback from community associations was to be in July, after the 18 June 2015 Community Meeting, including a traffic data report overview and community input. This has been noted in the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet Trial, a presentation for the Community Meeting as of 18 June 2015; as well as in a document titled “Lincoln Avenue Business District Multimodal Safety and Access Improvement Project DRAFT for Discussion Purposes – 11-10-14 ” (copies of each are seen in the below).
Many of the protestors against the road diet are celebrating that the debate is done and the Lincoln Avenue road diet is dead, which seems to be taken from the belief that “if either Association opposes making the Road Diet permanent, Lincoln Avenue will return to ‘pre-Trial’ roadway marking configuration during the summer.” That was stated at the community meetings on 18th June; but, protestors are quoting just part of the process.
If the decision proves to be problematic, as it has been, Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio could also make a recommendation to move the decision to San Jose City Hall for a vote by districts in the council agenda.
Yet, overlooked by many people, San Jose city council usually takes a break from session all through the month of July.
This is also why the schedule stated that consideration by City Council would occur in September; whereas, Lincoln Avenue resurfacing would occur in October.
Again, that’s also why the community associations (WGBA and WGNA) were to make their vote in July; but, they should have kept those votes closed in a confidential envelope until they were called by San Jose Department of Transportation and Councilmember Oliverio.
San Jose DOT had no intention of bringing an issue before city hall that had opposition from either the business or neighborhood associations; but, then, the board of directors at WGBA jumped ahead of schedule and voted on 23rd June. And they quickly made that confidentiality public.
Later, around that noontime, Willow Glen Charm stated:
The Willow Glen Business Association voted on the road diet this morning.
A paper ballot resulted with ten (10) board members voting against making the road diet permanent.
Four (4) board members voted for making it permanent.
Based on this vote the WGBA Board of Directors does not recommend making the road diet permanent.
Holly Barr’s private blog and Facebook page, Willow Glen Charm, is a public relations device associated with her real estate business; but, it went ahead and published those results, independently of the processes of both the neighborhood and business associations. That’s although Holly’s husband, WGBA board member Greg Barr, was not present at this last WGBA meeting and he apparently gathered the information from someone else.
So, when Barr published the results later around noontime, it seemed to pretty much frame the decision already. That’s ahead of the neighborhood association, WGNA, stating its own position paper. To which, indeed, it still has not.
As well as that WGBA still hasn’t published its own official position paper or press release regarding the road diet. Currently, Willow Glen Charm’s unauthorized and informal news brief is the primary basis for public regards. An official statement does not appear on the front page of the business association’s website (www.willowglen.org), nor at its “News” page section. It is not at the WGBA Facebook page, Downtown Willow Glen. Indeed, as of afternoon 26th June, WGBA has not even shared an article from any other source, stating the organization’s position.
Before the board of the business association had made its decision public, President Chris Roth of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association was reluctant and questioning if he could, or more appropriately, should write a position paper. That’s either approving or rejecting the road diet.
Roth came into question by protesters of the road diet, recently during WGNA’s last Annual Meeting, Thursday 28 May 2015. In that meeting, WGNA officers, board members, and its president are elected. But, some protestors challenged the agenda that night and claimed that WGNA bylaws state that the association cannot take a stance on “divisive” or “controversial” issues. Some people even mock his election, as well as that of the rest of the WGNA board.
Even the San Jose Mercury News reported Roth’s apparent predicament, confirming it in a report as of later that evening at 6:04pm, well after Willow Glen Charm reported the vote at 12:45pm. The Mercury News article has been much circulated around the neighborhood, with the seeming public assumption that the WGBA vote conveys an end to the Lincoln Avenue road diet issue. The business association has not shared the Mercury News article, now appearing in print as of Friday 26 June 2015 (originally only viewed online).
Conversely, the neighborhood association shared the Mercury News article to their Facebook page, in part stating:
…We have yet to issue a formal recommendation, and since road diet feedback has been nearly evenly split, we may not take a position at all.
Regardless of either organization’s decision, this matter may still appear before the City Council in the September/October time frame… They have the final word on whether to make the road diet permanent.
In reality, Roth has been told by past WGNA presidents, Richard Zappelli, Ed Rast and Larry Ames that he can indeed write a position paper, controversial or not, with the consent of the WGNA board. This is how it’s always been done over the last 40 plus years.
In the business association’s meeting on the June 23rd, Roth was in attendance and said that he talked to Larry Ames, consulting with him about whether or not WGNA can make a position paper regarding the Lincoln Avenue road diet, considering its recent controversy. Ames actually went against Roth’s assumptions, saying that WGNA could indeed take a stance.
As per the recommendation by other past WGNA presidents, a position paper should, in fact, be written and indicate the findings from the Road Diet Work Group meetings. It should also include other information available to the association, such as from neighborhood stakeholders and residents. For example, it should include feedback from area schools, Parent-Teachers-Association (PTA), bicycle groups, public transportation advocates, public safety groups, environmentalists, the Police Officers’ Association, Firefighters’ local union, community centers and so on.
It’s not known how the assumption has been made that WGNA does not take positions on controversial issues. Article II, section 2 of WGNA Bylaws & Policies says “WGNA represents all members and does not endorse candidates for political office, political parties, or divisive issues.” But, that relates to the fact that WGNA is a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization and cannot involve itself in political campaigns, either for endorsement of political candidates or for a candidate’s platform of issues. That’s not the case here.
As noted by Larry Ames in the forward of WGNA’s book Touring Historic Willow Glen, WGNA has always “worked for improved sidewalks, bike paths, bike lanes, and lately, the rail-to-trail conversion… traffic calming and mitigation.” In fact, this is how the organization was formed over 40 years ago in 1973. And, it was certainly controversial then.
WGNA’s legacy has also been noted by historian April Hope Halberstadt, in a separate historical account of the neighborhood that’s titled Willow Glen Neighborhood, Then and Now. Halberstadt says that “This group contained many political activists, at least philosophically, people who were speaking up on important issues… interested in social change, in human rights, in protecting the environment, regulating big business, and controlling urban sprawl.”
Ironically, where the last Road Diet public meeting was held on June 18, at the Willow Glen High School, it was here, back in May 1973 that WGNA was addressing road issues surrounding Cherry Avenue and Dry Creek. It all centered at the northwest end of the high school campus. Today, the streets around the high school are designed because of the impact by WGNA back then. And that’s a lasting imprint on the community, both in terms of infrastructural design, as much as for the history of grassroots community activism in San Jose. This story is still published on WGNA’s Facebook page, in an album titled. “40 YEARS WGNA History: Cherry Av. & Dry Creek Rd.”
The fight on Cherry Avenue and Dry Creek Road took place in May 1973, as an initiative that WGNA won against City Hall to keep the street to two lanes, instead of four; that is, working against what could have had devastating impact on the neighborhood. This initiative proved to be one of just several, but it was the beginning of years of work by Willow Glen Neighborhood Association.
Lastly, WGNA’s Bylaws actually state,
ARTICLE II: PURPOSE, VALUES and NON-DISCRIMINATION
Section 1. PURPOSE. The purpose of this Association shall be to represent all of its members on issues of neighborhood enhancement and preservation.
The Association shall focus and take appropriate action to include issuing WGNA Policy and Position Papers on such matters as local government policies, procedures, budgeting, spending, sale of public property, tax or fee increases, tax subsidies, planning and land use, transportation, public transit, public safety, traffic, parks, open space, trails, recreation, neighborhood and community quality of life, community building and other neighborhood and community issues. [bold emphasis added]
So, then, why is Chris Roth and his board of directors at WGNA reluctant to do what the board has done all these years?
Some community residents at large have recently attacked Roth’s position at WGNA, citing both his political ambitions in the San Jose Council District, as well as pointing to the falling numbers in the association’s membership. More than that, on Thursday 28 May 2015, WGNA’s Annual Meeting and election of its president, officers, and board of directors have come into question and much criticism. Much of this can be seen online with comments at the Facebook group page of Willow Glen Neighbors, if not places like Willow Glen Charm.
But, aside from all that, the board of directors at the Willow Glen Business Association have rather overlooked the three vital points of criteria by which the vote is to approve or disapprove the road diet. And those criteria should have been on the table and made part of the discussion and debate on the day of the vote, Tuesday 23 June 2015. Those three criteria that were left out — as stated prior and publicly at the Community Meeting, as of 18 June 2015 — were as follows:
1) Improve Safety For All Users2) Create A Calmer Traffic Environment3) Enhance Travel For People Walking And Biking
Instead, it appears that the decision was based on emotion, politics and other biases within the WGBA board, while WGNA’s President Chris Roth was admittedly made “moot.” Beyond a few businesses on the avenue, the rest of the community and its needs must be acknowledged. WGBA needs to make good on that agreement, as does WGNA, Councilmember Oliverio and San Jose Department of Transportation.