Patrol request granted

Gilroy
 – City leaders have signed off on a plan to enforce speeding
violations and other traffic infractions along the main access road
to the Eagle Ridge private housing community, which has seen three
major car accidents in as many years.
Gilroy – City leaders have signed off on a plan to enforce speeding violations and other traffic infractions along the main access road to the Eagle Ridge private housing community, which has seen three major car accidents in as many years.

Under a plan City Council members unanimously approved Tuesday night, police would gain ticket-writing authority along Club Drive from the golf course clubhouse to the community’s gatehouse off Santa Teresa Boulevard – a roughly one-mile stretch of narrow, winding road.

“It’s very important to note that we are not providing anything more than we are on other streets in our city,” Mayor Al Pinheiro said, anticipating objections about the city covering enforcement costs for a private community. “It’s also important to note that just because it’s a gated community, the individuals that purchase homes still pay police and fire impact fees like anybody else.”

Current law allows police to enter the community in response to accidents, drunk driving, and other major incidents, but officers have no power to enforce routine traffic violations.

The Eagle Ridge Homeowner’s Association has urged the city for several years to increase police enforcement, according to association president David Light, but it wasn’t until December that city staff discovered a state law that empowers police.

A city memo distributed to council members this week notes that state vehicle code authorizes a city to enforce traffic violations along a privately owned and maintained road when it is “generally held open to the public” for travel to “a commercial establishment” – in this case the Eagle Ridge golf course.

The first step, however, is ensuring Club Drive complies with state standards for public use.

Currently, the road has intermittent stop signs, rumble strips, and signs posting a 25 mph speed limit, according to Light.

He said association members conducted radar-gun tests two years ago. “It was pretty clear,” Light said, “that a significant number of cars were exceeding 25 miles per hour,” including one person clocked at 50 mph.

The worst of the neighborhood’s accidents occurred six months ago, when a woman driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs hit an oncoming van in front of the golf clubhouse, according to Light. She continued driving, then lost control of her vehicle, hit a tree, and flipped the car. Her child had to be airlifted by CALSTAR, according to Light, who was meeting with the homeowner’s association across the street in the clubhouse at the time of the accident.

The community’s traffic woes emerged in part from an arrangement between developer Shapell Industries and city leaders, who agreed to exempt the community from certain zoning requirements during the development phase in the late ’90s. The deal allowed Shapell to install narrow roads that would not normally meet local zoning codes and freed the city from traffic-enforcement duties within the gated community.

Reinstating that enforcement power now requires a complete revaluation of traffic conditions on Club Drive, as well as any upgrades recommended by those studies, according to Police Sergeant Kurt Svardal.

“A speed limit can be posted,” he said, “but before we can enforce radar, a survey has to be done.”

Under the agreement approved Tuesday, the city will ask its traffic consultants to study Club Drive and recommend traffic control measures necessary to bring the roadway up to state code. The homeowner’s association will pay for all study fees and road upgrades. Cost estimates were unavailable, but Light said he did not expect “such a short section will require a lot” of money.

It appears the Eagle Ridge homeowners have succeeded in their initial efforts to make their community safer, but the battle is not over.

“Obviously we would like to have them patrol the whole community,” Light said, “but this is certainly a step in the right direction.”

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