Truck route protest in the wrong lane

Eastside Gilroy resident Patty Sweeney, right, was one of

One Gilroy City Councilman has helped residents of the east side
rally against decades-old city truck routes they say are outdated
and unsafe for narrow neighborhood streets. But his counterparts
say the cries are overblown and based on false information spread
through door-to-door efforts that netted a petition with more than
170 signatures.
One Gilroy City Councilman has helped residents of the east side rally against decades-old city truck routes they say are outdated and unsafe for narrow neighborhood streets. But his counterparts say the cries are overblown and based on false information spread through door-to-door efforts that netted a petition with more than 170 signatures.

“It just struck me as inflammatory nonsense,” Councilman Bob Dillon said after seeing a flier handed out to residents by a neighborhood coalition that includes Councilman Peter Arellano. “I don’t know what all the hooting and hollering is about.”

The “hollering” in question escalated during a Nov. 7 Council meeting, when approximately 15 residents spoke against truck routes on the city’s east side which have been in use since the area’s cannery days more than 30 years ago, though the main cannery on Lewis Street has been bulldozed after sitting vacant for years. Some residents brought signs reading “No trucks east side” and “Safer sidewalks, yes. Truck routes, no!” Others said allowing big-rigs on those streets present a danger to children and elderly residents who often walk along Murray Avenue, IOOF Avenue, and Forest, Lewis and Railroad streets. Several other residents, including a longtime trucking family, spoke in favor of keeping the routes as they are.

Whether the city will modify its existing truck routes – a discussion reportedly born from a single complaint lodged against parked semi-trucks on Forest Street – has been an agenda topic during two previous Council meetings but has garnered almost no public attention. That all changed after Arellano and a dozen others from local community groups Voz de la Gente – which Arellano founded – and newly formed Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS) went door-to-door one Saturday to collect signatures and ask residents to attend the Nov. 7 Council meeting to rail against alleged plans to allow more big rigs down residential streets.

“Don’t let ‘em trash our neighborhood!” the flier reads at the top, complete with an image of smoke-spouting dump truck.

“We don’t need heavy semi-trucks driving through our neighborhoods at all hours, endangering children and seniors!” another line states.

There’s just one problem: The handout is flat-out wrong, Dillon and Mayor Al Pinheiro said, including one line that reads, “The Gilroy City Council voted to approve a new truck route through our neighborhood.”

The Council has not voted to alter existing routes since 1974, City Transportation Engineer Don Dey said, let alone to add new ones.

The flier, created by Voz de la Gente member Rebecca Armendariz also praises Arellano’s efforts, stating he “fought hard to make sure this failed, but the City council (sic) is going to vote on this again.” The group collected 172 signatures from Gilroyans on the city’s east side. All the signatures are dated Nov. 5, two days before the Council meeting.

“My concern was the incorrect statements,” Pinheiro said Monday. “They want to gather troops and make their point known. To me, that’s not a problem at all. What is problem is that you want to make sure you have the correct statements. It’s not a matter of new routes being identified.”

Pinheiro, who says he’s not pointing fingers at any one member of the door-to-door efforts, added, “If you’re going to send fliers, they need to indicate what’s actually happening.”

Arellano distanced himself from the flier, but maintained it wasn’t “inflammatory.”

“That had nothing to do with me. I didn’t OK it,” Arellano said. “They put the flier out. I didn’t see it. So I don’t have any idea.”

Arellano said community members who helped craft the flier may have been confused by the Council’s initial discussions in October, when it voted to remove a small portion of the routes but allow the trucks a clear route from Leavesley Road to Luchessa Avenue through east Gilroy neighborhoods.

“It’s confusing for me and I was there,” Arellano chuckled.

Rebecca Armendariz defended the handout, saying, “I’d say the flier contained information that the neighborhood needed to know. It wasn’t meant to be inflammatory.”

Regarding Dillon and Pinheiro’s statements that the flier was inaccurate, she said, “They can feel that way if they like. It’s not my problem.”

The recent flare-up was not brought about by documented fears and concerns that residents were fearful they could be struck by large semi-trucks. The issue was sparked recently when one person complained to city staff about 18-wheelers parked on the 7700 block of Forest Street, according to city officials.

“That’s such a stupid argument. This is all because of one complaint,” Bracco said. “This is all about Mr. (Joe) Sanchez parking his truck on Forest Street. And there’s hardly trucks there anymore.”

Tricia Sanchez owns one of the trucks and says she’s parked there for 12 years and has never heard a complaint from neighbors. The other truck, owned by Joe Sanchez, has been there twice as long, she said.

“You’re worried about safety and I understand that,” she told the Council and other residents Nov. 7. “I have never been in an accident. I have never hit anyone.”

The Council voted 4-2 on Oct. 3 to direct staff to eliminate the Forest Street truck route between Lewis and Eighth streets and Chestnut Street between Ninth and Tenth streets. But no motion to add routes was ever made, and the original proposal from city staff recommended removing truck-route status for six of 11 streets that currently have it. Arellano and Councilman Dion Bracco voted against the revised motion – made by Pinheiro – and Councilman Perry Woodward recused himself because he owns property along one of the routes.

Arellano then made a motion during an Oct. 17 Council meeting to bring the issue back to the dais under city staff’s original proposal. The motion passed 4-2 – with Bracco and Pinheiro voting against – paving the way for public outcry against the residential routes.

Reymundo Armendariz, brother of Rebecca Armendariz, walked east side neighborhoods to gather signatures against the truck routes. He says residents there have always hated trucks coming in and out, even when they were needed for the once-viable canneries.

“Even then I thought it was a bad idea to have semi-trucks through the neighborhood. We need to consider the well being of the community,” said Armendariz, adding his family roots in Gilroy date back to 1921. “We’ve always felt it was really disrespectful, saying ‘Hey, the safety of your children and your home is not a priority.”

During the Nov. 7 Council meeting, Dillon made a motion to take no action and to confer with City Attorney Linda Callon to learn if the city could eliminate truck routes but allow the Sanchez family business to be “grandfathered in” and continue to drive and park their trucks on Forest Street. The motion passed 3-2, with Tucker and Arellano voting against, Woodward recusing himself and Bracco absent.

The issue is expected to come back to the Council by January. If approved, the ordinance would allow truckers to use the former routes when making pick-ups or deliveries, but they would be required to take the shortest route possible back to an existing truck route, Dey said.

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