City May Let Citizens Put Heat on Speeders : Traffic: San Clemente is considering loaning radar guns and electronic speed display boards to neighborhood groups.

Marion (Gilly) Gillihan considers himself something of a radical when it comes to cars speeding through his neighborhood.

To the 74-year-old retired electrical engineer, the sound of a racing engine and squealing tires coming down Calle Frontera is a call to action. "When I hear speeders, I run out to the curb and wave at them to stop," Gillihan said. "Sometimes they understand, but once in a while someone threatens to beat me up."

Gillihan and other San Clemente residents concerned about traffic in their neighborhoods may soon have a new tool at their disposal that is likely to be more effective than a pair of flailing arms.

In what would be the first program of its kind in Orange County and maybe in the state, San Clemente is considering loaning radar guns and electronic speed-display boards to interested neighborhood groups.

"Their role would not be to ticket, pull over anyone or enforce traffic laws in any way," said Michael W. Parness, San Clemente city manager. "They would just monitor traffic and let people know when they're going too fast."

Under a proposal to be heard today by the Planning Commission, neighborhood volunteers would operate a portable trailer holding the electronic display board.

Residents would write down the license plate numbers of speeding vehicles and forward the numbers to police. The city or Police Department would then send warning letters to offending motorists requesting that speed laws be observed in the future, Parness said.

The City Council will have the final word on the project, which Parness said would have a minimal impact on the city budget.

Besides the radar gun and digital display board, he said, "the only other costs are for printing materials to publicize the program and some staff time."

Representatives of the California League of Cities and the California Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training said the proposed program might be a first in the state.

"We haven't heard of this before," said Janet Hester, a League of Cities spokeswoman. "It sounds like an interesting idea."

Other cities, including Irvine and Tustin, have used unmanned radar trailers that electronically show a driver's speed on a large digital display board. In addition to the radar trailer, Pasadena uses a camera that records license plate numbers, and speeders are cited through the mail.

Parness got the idea for a Neighborhood Speed Watch program from Renton, Wash., where he served as assistant city manager before being hired last year by San Clemente.

"We usually saw changes in drivers' behavior and attitude," Parness said of the Washington program. "Many people came forward and said they never thought about how fast they were going before."

Lars Holmquist, who serves on the board of the Coast Homeowners Assn. with Gillihan, said he has seen the program work in Arizona.

"It had an effect on me," Holmquist admitted. "I slowed down when I saw how fast I was going."

Members of the Coast Homeowners Assn., who live in a 525-home hillside tract that borders the eastern side of Interstate 5, have had a longtime problem with speeders in their neighborhood.

Calle Frontera is a steep, winding residential street that is a major link between northern San Clemente and neighboring Capistrano Beach. It carries a 25-m.p.h. speed limit that is often ignored by motorists, according to residents and police.

"This is a road that is used as a throughway, and cars tend to speed through there," said San Clemente Police Sgt. Richard Downing. "We have directed traffic enforcement officers into that area several times."

The neighborhood gained some notoriety a few years ago when disgusted residents took to the streets bearing signs that asked drivers to slow down.

In June, Gillihan went to City Hall with a petition signed by about 320 homeowners asking that the city take steps to deal with the problem, such as installing stop signs and speed bumps.

The Neighborhood Speed Watch program "sounds good," Gillihan said. "Anything that can post notice to people that they're speeding will help."

Parness said that communities using the radar gun are likely to discover that the speeders are living down the street.

"People often think (speeders) are from outside the area, but usually they live in the same neighborhood," he said. "And sometimes a neighborhood will use the equipment and discover that the problem is not as severe as they thought."

Gillihan said he hopes his community will be the first to use the radar gun. "We won't have any problem finding volunteers," he noted.

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