By KAREN VELIE
The Grover Beach City Council voted unanimously Monday to remove a partially constructed protected bike lane on Newport Avenue, shorty after residents advertised the idea of a recall.
In mid-September, construction workers began construction on Newport Avenue to include bike paths that run directly next to the curb, separated by an asphalt berm from parking spots, which line the roadway. A few weeks later, outraged residents held a meeting to discuss safety concerns; a meeting attended by Mayor Jeff Lee and Councilwoman Mariam Shah.
During the meeting, Lee pledged to halt construction until city officials had an opportunity to look into the citizens’ safety concerns, a promise he did not keep. Shah on the other hand, said the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Coalition approved of the protected bike lane plan, which she called the future of road design.
Meanwhile, neighbors tripped on the burms, a truck drove over one losing a load, and some of the neighbors’ cars scraped on the steep entries to their driveways. Last week, residents began putting”recall” signs in front of their homes.
Lee responded by asking Newport Avenue resident Dan Shannon to meet for coffee at the Red Bean on Grand Avenue on the morning of Oct. 20.
When Lee and Shannon arrived at the coffee shop, they found two close constituents of Lee, former mayor John Shoals and Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Steve Lieberman, sitting inside.
“I was very upset,” Shannon said. “I think they were there to possibly intimidate me to give Lee support.”
During the meeting, Lee asked Shannon if he would take down the signs “if it goes your way,” and Shannon agreed, Shannon said.
Lee gave a conflicting account of his meeting with Shannon; Lee denied asking Shannon if he would take the signs down.
“My decision was based on the public comment received during the entire process – from those in favor and those not in support of the design, staff presentations, community meetings and the desire to have an outcome that works best for the residents, bicyclists and other users of Newport Avenue,” Lee said in an email.
At the city council meeting on Oct. 21, approximately 30 people spoke during public comment. While everyone in attendance supported bike lanes, Grover Beach residents were almost uniformly opposed to the protected bike lane design.
Newport Avenue residents voiced concerns about the loss of parking spaces, a lack of handicap access, and the danger to bicyclists and pedestrians. They repeatedly asked the council to consider the needs of all residents, and not just cyclists.
Attending in support of the protected bike lane, eight members of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Coalition and several bicyclists from North County said the streets belong to everyone, not just residents of Grover Beach, and that protected bike lanes are safer for cyclists.
“We were displeased that Mariam Shah brought people in from San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles to promote her option,” Shannon said. “They did not care about senior citizens, the handicapped, or the sight impaired. It was all about bikes.”
Shah argued that the Grover Beach residents who spoke at the meeting were older, and not representative of the citizens.
“Is it fair to redesign a professionally designed road at this point?” Shah said. “I would rather see it get a chance. There are voices that are not here. I believe in the intent of this design, to provide biking opportunities that do not exist. This is the way cities are moving.”
In the end, the council voted 4-0 in favor of ripping out the burms, straightening the street, and putting in a buffered bike lane.