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‘Streets’ Task Force Takes a Detour

One of the task force recommendations that saw daylight in 2011 was the painting of bike sharrows.

A month after the City Council appropriated $300,000 to make city streets friendlier to foot-powered users, meetings for the task force charged with initiating and supporting these projects were “postponed indefinitely” with the chairman later saying he was fired.

“I didn’t know I resigned until this morning,” chairman of the Complete Streets Task Force, Les Miklosy, said Tuesday.  “Sounds like a coup d’etat and I had nothing to do with it.”

Miklosy was referring to an email he received from Mayor Jane Egly. She serves as City Council liaison to the Complete Streets Task Force, a committee composed of council appointees and intended to support projects that open up city streets to other uses than strictly vehicles.  “My sense was that he had stepped aside,” said Egly, disputing Miklosy’s version of events.

Miklosy sent an email last week to nearly 90 people announcing that task force meetings “have been postponed indefinitely due to lack of participation and commitment by both city staff and residents of Laguna Beach.”

Egly’s note reiterated that task force meetings were postponed, but said a new chairperson would be put in place.  “Ok, well, I’ve been fired, but I didn’t resign,” Miklosy countered.

Chris Prelitz, one of the email recipients, responded to Miklosy’s email by volunteering to reclaim the chairperson’s position, a post he filled previously.  The group was established three years ago and was known then as the Bike Task Force.

“Although I sympathize with your frustration over implementation of Complete Streets,” Prelitz replied to Miklosy, “making a unilateral decision to abandon the Complete Streets Task Force is not in the best interest of Laguna, or in any way furthers making our streets safer for all modes of transportation.”

The leadership shake-up comes two months after the city’s environmental committee nearly dissolved with five of its seven members opting not to re-apply for their positions.  Prelitz was previously chairman of the environmental committee but declined to continue that commitment.

Miklosy said he was frustrated by the lack of response from city officials to his suggestions to make streets safer for bicyclists, walkers, strollers and skateboarders.  Of the 23 recommendations he submitted to city staff for infrastructure projects, he said only three were presented to the council last November.  Miklosy’s complaint was that more money was being spent on studies than on actual projects.

But Egly said that’s a simplistic view.  The council appropriated $300,000 for a trail from the Top of the World neighborhood across the hills to Moulton Meadows and the Arch Beach Heights neighborhood on the east, a path that connects school children to Top of the World schools.

The city budgeted another $300,000 in November for completing other pedestrian projects in the city with the majority of the money allocated for studies and planning, including $50,000 to study the best way to get the Top of the World trail done.  “Les said we don’t need those studies, but he’s incorrect,” Egly said.

“How foolish would it be just to go up there and throw a bunch of concrete down when it doesn’t even look like the city owns the land?” said Christa Johnson, assistant city manager.  “You can’t do an infrastructure project without having that initial work done.  We don’t keep geotechnical experts on staff.  Can you imagine how expensive that would be?”

The money set aside for studies, Johnson said, will help secure future grant money for the projects.  “We want to make sure the city is in a good position to be competitive for what statewide grants there are available,” she said.  “A lot of those programs require that you have some sort of master plan in place.  The $300,000 isn’t going to go far when it comes to sidewalks and other infrastructure.”

The study for the path from Top of the World to Arch Beach Heights will determine land ownership and the type of path as well as whether a bridge, railing or stairs are needed.  “What should we do to make that a passable place for even people like me and children and mothers with babies and still be sensitive to the neighborhood and sensitive to the environment?,” queried Egly.  “I just have tried so hard to explain this to Les and he just said, ‘Well, we should just do it,’ bless his heart.”  Egly described the miscommunications as a “personality quagmire.”

“When people are very passionate about their issue and they know it really well, sometimes it’s hard to translate how that fits into the pie of all city infrastructure and spending,” said Prelitz, explaining the stalemate with the task force.

Prelitz announced a meeting Feb. 14 in the Community Center, urging recipients to prepare by filling bike racks rather than parking spaces. At many of the previous task force meetings, Miklosy said he was the only member present.

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