A group of Temple Hills residents want a downhill pathway project to be implemented, but the city is concerned that either an approval or denial could lead to a lawsuit.
The Temple Hills Pathways Committee is asking the city for funds and a timeline to make neglected and unfinished public walkways usable for neighborhood strolls, safe passage to schools and egress from the hillside in emergencies.
"What tremendous foresight Joe Thurston had when he established the original city tract maps with 5-foot public walkways as integral parts of his layout in 1921," said committee member Caroline Wright in a presentation to the council in May. "Since that time, the pathways have been used by children as routes to walk to and from school and by others to get up and down the hill. They are also used by neighborhood walks and to visit friends on neighboring streets."
Although designated as public pathways, the project was never completed. Implementation of the project was recommended in 2004 by the Open Space Committee, of which resident Bob Borthwick was a member.
"The committee felt (the pathways) would be a worthy addition to the trails that link the town together," Borthwick said Monday.
"They are steep, 5-foot-wide, city-owned lots that dead-end to the left going up Temple Hills Drive, beginning just after you pass the hairpin turn, and placed so people could filter down from the neighborhood without walking on the drive, which is scary," Borthwick said. "But what happened was the intended stairs, similar to those constructed to connect Broadway to Lower Cliff Drive, were never constructed."
City Senior Planner Scott Drapkin, staff liaison to the Open Space Committee, said Tuesday that the area's topography and path width put constraints on implementation.
"These pathways were ahead of their time," Drapkin said. "In fact, they were the subject of a planning study. But the 5-foot width is troublesome."
The trouble is fitting construction equipment in the tight space without impacting neighbors, who also might not be thrilled to have the public strolling up and down paths near their homes.
City officials consulted with legal counsel about the pathways in the City Council's Aug. 16 closed session under the heading of anticipated litigation.
"There are concerns that, whatever the city decides, it could be sued," said City Attorney Philip Kohn. "I could foresee a claim for damages ensuing out of this — for instance, if prescriptive rights had been established."
According to a timeline presented to the City Council, the paths were in use before the city was incorporated in 1927.
1921: Paths included on city tract maps.
1990s: The city sponsored a study titled "Safety Element" to assess the adequacy of safe access and evacuations in emergencies. Temple Hills was identified as one of the neighborhoods with limited, impacted access.
1998: The Temple Hills Community Assn. stated its objective: "to implement and make the pathways identified by the city fathers accessible to and usable by the Temple Hills community." The project had been kept alive by residents' contributions. Reports were printed in the association newsletter.
2000-2004: THCA Pathways Committee worked with the city Open Space Committee and neighbors to keep the pathways open.
2004: The Open Space Committee, members of which visited the pathways and provided input, recommended the council give due consideration to funding and implementing the pathways project. Also, a Cal Poly professor and graduate students studied the pathways as an example of urban community planning.
2005: The pathways project was on the agenda for a joint meeting of the City Council and Open Space Committee, but was put on hold when city funds and attention focused on the Bluebird Canyon mudslide.
2010: The pathways committee was expanded, and efforts to the project were underway. "Pathways Project: Alive and Well" was published in the 2010-11 winter edition of the THCA newsletter.
2011: At the 2011-12 budget hearing, THCA requested funding and a timeline to implement the six key pathways that would provide Temple Hills with safe and needed access to get off the hill in case of an emergency.
Source: Ron Chilcote's Temple Hills History Report