Residents Fear Rush of Traffic If Barrier Is Finally Removed

Times Staff Writer

West Covina and the Rowland Unified School District have been fighting for more than 10 years over a barrier that blocks traffic on Gemini Street near the intersection of Kimberly Drive.

The city put up the wall in 1976 in hopes of controlling speeders looking for a shortcut between busy Azusa Avenue and Shadow Oak Drive.

But the wall also restricted bus access to Giano Intermediate School, just south of the barrier. The school district sued the city in 1977 and finally won the right to have the wall removed in 1987.

Now, residents in West Covina and nearby La Puente, who live on different sides of the wall, plan to ask the school board to reverse its stand at a meeting tonight.

West Covina traffic engineers estimate that traffic on Gemini Street would double each day to 10,000 cars if the wall is removed. Residents fear that Gemini, already plagued by speeding motorists, would become a raceway.

'More Problems'

"In my opinion, it would be best if it stayed up," said Leona Arteaga of La Puente. "We'll have a lot more problems if they take it down."

West Covina resident Art Washington, who has gathered signatures from 150 people asking the board to keep the wall, said the neighborhoods are looking for a show of force at tonight's meeting.

"That's what they understand," he said about the board. "We're voters, and they want to do the will of the people."

Alan Strother of West Covina said board members should take the community's views into consideration, or pay for it at the polls.

"It's their decision . . . but they should agree with what the neighborhood wants to have done," he said.

Throughout the litigation, school board members have been steadfast in their opposition to the wall. But now some of those same officials may be reconsidering their position.

Rowland Unified Supt. Sharon S. Robison said board members have indicated that keeping the wall may still be an option. That possibility grew after residents spoke at a joint meeting of the council and school board in January.

"Everyone who spoke to the joint meeting very definitely wanted the wall maintained," Robison said. "I think our board is still open."

The wall was built by the developer of a residential tract in West Covina after residents complained to the city about numerous speeders. The city discussed its plans to build the wall with the school district. When a compromise could not be reached, the city allowed the developer to build the wall and two cul-de-sacs on each side of the wall, said City Engineer Harry W. Thomas said. The barrier blocks traffic from traveling east-west on Gemini.

The school board sued the city in 1977, claiming that the wall impeded bus and emergency-vehicle access to the 1,000-student Giano School.

School officials estimate that diverting the bus around the wall has cost almost $25,000 annually because of the added mileage from circuitous routes.

The district, which covers portions of West Covina, La Puente, and nearby unincorporated areas of the county, has almost 19,000 students.

West Covina lost its last court battle in October, 1987.

Legal Fees

Robison said the district has spent at least $30,000 in legal fees. City Atty. Colin Lennard did not have a figure readily available but estimated that the city had spent at least as much.

If the wall comes down, the alternative favored by West Covina and the school district would slow the traffic flow by forcing drivers to curve through a series of islands along portions of Gemini, said David Nelson, city traffic engineer.

"We expect that it would offer us the best chance of controlling speeds, but we don't think it would have much impact on traffic," Thomas said.

If the school board reverses its position, the city has agreed to repair the cinder-block wall, which has deteriorated over the years, Thomas said. Tire tracks show where motorists in small cars have gone around the barrier.

Other options being considered by the city are a series of stop signs to slow motorists or another wall at the intersection of Gemini and Helen Lane or Giano Avenue east of the school. The school district opposes the installation of more walls.

Washington said residents want the school board to know they favor none of the alternatives.

"It's going to be bad for the neighborhood if they take that down," he said. "Just because they want to make it easier for the school buses to get there, which they only use a few hours a day, we're going to have to live with the effects 24 hours a day."

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