By JOHN MENKE, Hyde Street Neighborhood Association Representative
On Sept. 25, I emailed you a letter discussing the proposed Hilton Hotel at 1 Western Drive. Excerpts from that letter subsequently appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Pajaronian as an “open letter’’ to you. At the Oct. 8 meeting of the Watsonville City Council, I spoke about the letter and indicated that I would be following up with you on issues it addressed. I also said that I intended to provide an update to the City Council at the Oct. 22 meeting.
The primary unresolved issues for the hotel relate to pedestrian safety, parking, traffic and impacts on existing properties. The first three issues are related; lack of sufficient on-street parking affects neighborhood traffic, and that in turn affects pedestrian safety. This letter is focused on parking and traffic issues; other issues will be addressed in a subsequent letter.
Planning Department staff has said its concerns stop at the property boundaries and that impacts on parking and neighborhood traffic are issues for other agencies (e.g., the Public Works and Utilities Department and the Police Department). I am asking that you have the appropriate staff provide answers to the questions below:
According to the article in The Pajaronian. the Hilton will have 80 guest rooms, two meeting rooms and 85 on-site parking spaces for hotel guests, meeting attendees and 20-25 hotel employees. Thus, assuming that some meeting attendees will not be hotel guests, the Hilton will sometimes not have sufficient on-site parking for all.
The surrounding neighborhood already lacks sufficient on-street parking. Although the Watsonville General Plan allows higher parking density in downtown areas with infrastructure such as transit and parking, those criteria are not met in the area where the hotel is proposed. Note that employees of Yesy’s Restaurant and Super Taqueria are reported to park in the nearby residential areas. Here are my questions on parking:
1. Is parking on streets immediately adjacent to the hotel (e.g., parking on the west side of Western and the east side of Hyde Street) considered “on-site” for the purpose of evaluating available parking for the hotel?
2. What parking will be utilized for Hilton employees? Will the Hilton operate a shuttle service so that employees can park in municipal parking lots?
3. What parking will be utilized by visitors to the hotel and are there any measures planned by any City agency to restrict parking on streets around the hotel to prevent hotel guests, hotel visitors, hotel employees or other who are not local residents?
The Initial Study Narrative prepared in 2015 for the previously proposed La Quinta Inn is being utilized by staff and the project proponent for the Hilton hotel now proposed for that site. Section XV “Transportation and Traffic’’ of that initial study asks if the project will “result in … congestion at intersections.” A traffic report completed by Hexagon Transportation and dated Feb. 23, 2015, states “the project would result in a net 536 additional daily trips” and “traffic related to the hotel will not result in a degradation of operations at the Main Street Freedom Boulevard intersection.” The report also states, “the project will not increase the traffic at any of the study intersections to an unacceptable level of service (LOS).” The City of Watsonville defines an acceptable LOS as “D or better,” and a D LOS is defined as “an intersection that is approaching unstable flow or operation with tolerable delays for short periods and some stacking of cars.”
The Hexagon report discusses the Main Street Freedom Boulevard intersection but does not address other streets and intersections around the hotel (Southern Circle, Western Drive, Hyde Street, etc.) The report notes that the impact on the intersection is “Potentially Significant without mitigation” and that “The project will be charged the standard traffic impact fees to mitigate the trips generated by the facility.”
The current configuration of the intersection of Western Drive and Southern Circle does not allow vehicles traveling east from Hyde Street onto Southern Circle to get into position to exit onto eastbound Freedom Boulevard or southbound Main Street if two or more vehicles are stopped on Western Drive at the intersection. This results in delays and some stacking of cars. The 536 or so additional trips will add to this problematic situation.
I am asking that you have the appropriate staff provide answers to the following questions:
1. Has a traffic study been done to assess the impact of the proposed hotel on intersections other than Main Street and Freedom Boulevard? Is such a study required by CEQA?
2. With respect to the impacts on the Main Street Freedom Boulevard intersection that the Hexagon report identifies, exactly what actions are planned for mitigation?
3. How will the ongoing efforts to alter traffic flow on Main Street as part of downtown Watsonville improvements affect the intersection of Main Street, Freedom Boulevard and Western Drive/Southern Circle?
4. Have the effects of a roundabout at the Main Street Freedom Boulevard intersection been evaluated relative to traffic associated with the hotel?
Please note that most of the issues discussed above are not “new” relative to the construction of a large hotel at the site. Most of the issues have been raised repeatedly by neighborhood residents since the La Quinta was proposed in 2015, but staff has not addressed many of those concerns. Neighbors do not understand how the construction of a large hotel can proceed until parking, traffic, impacts on adjacent properties, and other issues are addressed and resolved. It appears to many of those residents that the Planning Department is not complying with the intent nor the letter of CEQA in reviewing the proposal and issuing a permit for construction of the hotel.