Sacred Heart School administrators, staff and parents erupted in applause following the Turlock City Council's unanimous decision in March to move forward with the abandonment process for Cooper Avenue, however, City staff is requesting the Council postpone any further action until public safety concerns raised by neighbors can be addressed by new City Manager Gary Hampton.
A portion of Cooper Avenue — between Rose and Oak streets — runs in between the elementary and preschool campuses of the Turlock private school. Currently, the school has a permit to close the road only during school hours, but the church would like to permanently incorporate the roadway into a closed campus.
To Sacred Heart, the issue is one of safety for their students and parishioners.
Father Salvador Ledesma told the Council in March that he is grateful for the growth his parish has seen — 6,000 families in the congregation, with 4,000 attending services sometime during the week —but the increasing number of parishioners and students coming to the campus without additional land available to expand presents safety issues.
"Help us respond to our one need of safety," said Ledesma, who added that the closure would also help the church be better neighbors.
"The safety of the children must always come first," said Sacred Heart Principal Linda Murphy-Lopes in March, who said that 300 children attend Sacred Heart school and preschool on a daily basis, but over 2,000 kids participate in nightly ministry programs at the church.
Some Cooper Avenue residents, however, believe closing that section of the street would present public safety issues for the whole neighborhood.
Amy Boylan-Mendes said in March that when her house caught on fire during school hours when the street was closed in 2001, she saw the fire engine start down Cooper, then have to turn onto Lyons and back onto Cooper to get to her house.
"The last time I fought this at a city council meeting, I asked how much is my life and property worth to the City and the church? I've seen it with my own eyes," said Boylan-Mendes about the response time for emergency personnel on Cooper Avenue.
Cooper Avenue residents Veronica, Charleen and Joanne Schendel sent a letter of protest to the City, stating that they are against the street abandonment for public safety reasons and because, "I pay property taxes for street access and not for a playground/parking lot."
At the March meeting, Development Services Director and City Engineer Mike Pitcock gave a report stating that the potential impact on traffic, circulation and emergency vehicle response due to the street abandonment would be minimal.
Since then, City staff has come to conclude that certain public improvements need to be constructed before the roadway is vacated to address safety improvements for fire access, traffic control and pedestrian accessibility.
While City staff is recommending the Council on Tuesday continue the abandonment hearing to a future date to allow the City Manager to meet with church officials and neighbors, the Council could decide to move ahead and adopt the abandonment or deny the church's petition all together.
On Tuesday, the City Council is also expected to:
· Consider adopting Development Mitigation Fee programs to pay for the public facilities required to implement the Sewer System Master Plan and the Storm Water Master Plan within the City; and
· Consider adopting the revised 2014-2023 Housing Element and the addition of the Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities Analysis.