Residents and school officials clashed before the Ventura City Council on Monday, debating late into the evening over whether a section of Poli Street at Ventura High School should be permanently closed.
About 150 people, including parents and students, crowded the council chambers to either express their support or opposition to the proposed street closure, with both sides citing safety concerns.
School district officials asked the council to block off part of Poli Street, which cuts through the center of the campus, as a precaution against possible drive-by shootings. The street would be closed from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on school days.
Residents who live near the high school, however, pleaded with city officials to keep Poli open because of the heavy traffic experienced on their streets during a temporary closure last spring.
Jerry Beckerman, who lives near the school, offered one compromise. He urged the council to install mechanical arms at Palomar Avenue and Sunset Drive to control traffic, and then the city could close Poli if it wanted. He suggested issuing card keys to residents to allow them to come and go as they pleased.
“It’s less expensive to go with this mechanical arm solution,” he said, comparing the cost with installing barricades.
Councilman Todd Collart, in an interview before the meeting, said the city would be hard pressed to find a solution that would please everyone.
“It’s a tug-of-war,” Collart said. “We’re bound to make half the people unhappy.”
The fatal stabbing of a Ventura High School student about seven months ago sparked fears of gang violence, and the council in February temporarily closed Poli between Catalina Street and Hill Canyon Road on school days. The street was reopened in June.
As a result of the temporary closure, traffic significantly increased on nearby residential streets, angering neighbors. Poli is considered one of the most popular east-west routes in the city.
School officials argued Monday that student safety should take precedence over worries about spill-over traffic on neighboring streets.
“We live in a society laden with violence; we are not exempt,” Ventura Unified School District Supt. Joseph Spirito said, urging the council to block off the street. “It saddens me that we are at odds with our neighbors on the hill.”
Louis Donswyk, who has lived on Sunset Drive for more than 40 years, said his main concern is that heavy traffic would be generated on his street.
“I think it stinks,” Donswyk said of the proposed street closure. “They’re throwing a lot of traffic on Sunset, and it’s not slow traffic.”
A city traffic study recommends that if Poli is closed, barricades should also be installed at Palomar Avenue and Sunset Drive that would force detouring motorists to Main Street. The report also calls for replacing a signal at Catalina Street and Poli with a four-way stop.
The traffic study estimates that the number of vehicles on Sunset Drive increased by 80%, or 430 vehicles, during the temporary closure from February to June this year. Traffic on Palomar and Hyland jumped by 800 cars--or 150%--because of the closure.
Other residents said they are worried that police and fire crews will not be able to get to their neighborhoods quickly enough if barricades are erected on Poli, Palomar and Sunset.
“There’s no reason that we should be blocked up here,” Hillcrest Drive resident Imogene Bercaw said before Monday night’s meeting.
According to the traffic study, emergency crews could still get to the hillside neighborhoods if the city distributed master keys to emergency workers.
The estimated cost of the barricades and the four-way stop is about $40,000, city staff said. School district officials said they are willing to pay half the costs.