City of Scotts Valley
City of Scotts Valley

Scotts Valley Council members remained poised, asking constructive questions, as they were told about just how bogged down some of their infrastructure improvement projects had become, during a regularly-scheduled session May 17.

Staff blamed this on high turnover at City Hall and pointed to one marquee item—a Bean Creek Road renovation that was supposed to be underway years ago—to highlight the difficulties.

The discussion was part of the introduction of the Capital Improvement Projects plan, a key part of settling on the budget for the coming year. The plan features $15.7 million for fiscal year 2023-24, including $4.5 million in new funding. That’s up from $11.5 million in 2022-23.

There’s $4.7 million for wastewater facilities, $4.4 million for transportation, $2.6 million for City facilities, $2.3 million for parks and recreation and $800,000 each for storm drains and for information technology work.

According to staff, $5 million in projects will be finished within the next year, and $9 million in projects are currently considered “active.”

The City is touting its increased capacity, thanks to the hires it did make and the successful farming out of duties to consultants and contractors. However, HR challenges in the Engineering Division have been seriously slowing things down, Public Works Director Chris Lamm told Council.

“I would say in the last two years in Public Works, we’ve pretty much overturned the entire engineering staff,” he said. “So, when we see that kind of turnover, a lot of projects get put on hold. We don’t have the forces to even (work with) the consultants to get things completed. And so, for example, we have a project that’s out to bid right now—which is the Bean Creek Road Rehabilitation Project—that was a project that was originally funded in 2019. We’re finally getting to that. But that just kind of goes to show where we are, and where this turnover leads to the delays in projects.”

One of the things that did seem to disappoint the Council was the news that it’s no longer clear synchronizing signal lights in town will achieve the traffic flow improvements that a developer promised to win approval for the Oak Creek Park mixed-use project last year.

“The improvements will help,” Lamm said. “The improvements probably won’t fix the issues, from a purely traffic-signal-timing perspective.”

Mayor Jack Dilles brought up the claims made as part of the developer’s presentation, just months earlier.

“I remember that topic came up when Council approved the project at Oak Creek Park, that we might be getting as much as half-a-million dollars (in) fees from that project and that some of that money might be able to go, even with that additional project, (to) help the traffic flow better,” he said.

Oak Creek Park is expected to add 1,678 daily trips (206 in the morning and 126 in the evening). The developer had argued that even though this put them out of compliance with the General Plan, this would only really delay people, on average, by two seconds at Mt. Hermon and Scotts Valley Drive.

“By optimizing those intersections, the signals are going to get much better,” a project representative told Council in December about traffic light updates.

In fact, it was only because of the signal prioritization estimate that the project’s transportation impacts were found to fall within the rules. But only a few months later, the City was already throwing cold water on those assumptions.

A draft study investigating this subject has already been prepared, Lamm noted.

“There is only so much you can do with just re-timing the signals,” he said. “There is just a throughput issue in terms of how much volume of traffic there is on Mt. Hermon and what’s even (possible) with the current lane configurations. We do have a slew of potential projects that have come out of that. It’s a future discussion that Public Works would intend on having with the Council.”

But Councilmember Randy Johnson said he doesn’t think the traffic is really all that bad.

“I’m actually amazed how well the system works,” he said. “I mean, every once and awhile at Granite Creek and Scotts Valley Drive…maybe on a Sunday or a Saturday when school is out and it still maintains that protocol of waiting for left turns onto Glenwood (Drive) or something like that. But Mt. Hermon has 20,000 or 30,000 cars per day. That’s a tremendous amount, and I can see the frustrations. But, when you have that many cars, there’s always going to be waiting time.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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