From the Mayor’s Desk
By Cathy Clark

The city has received numerous complaints about the high school traffic and parking on and around McNary High School. The safety and livability for people living in our neighborhoods and the safety and access for our Keizer students to get to school are very important to us. In order to let people know what is going on, I felt it would help to write an open letter and share the issues and options we are facing.

Mayor Cathy Clark

Students are having more difficulty getting safely to McNary High School. All the entrances are crowded as the more than 2200 students plus staff members converge on the school. Parents have contacted the Traffic Safety Commission and me about making it safer for students to walk, bike or drive. And residents living in areas around the school have faced problems over the years from littering to drugs.

The Salem Keizer School District is aware of the problems and our city manager and police staff have been working with the district regarding school overcrowding and the neighborhood impacts. Until the school and its parking are expanded, we are committed to work with their administration to help solve issues as they arise.

Recently, the majority of issues have been centered on Newberg Drive. Some we have been able to resolve quickly because the city has the authority to take action. Some are more complicated and require coordination with the school or neighbors. And some problems are directly connected to the overcrowding, so the city is actively participating in the site planning process with the district.

Issues that the city can directly solve include:

Cars were parked in muddy gravel areas around a house near the school. It turned out not to belong to a resident but was public right of way so the city did appropriate maintenance to take care of the mud.

Parking by the fire hydrant: The curb has been painted to clearly mark the no-parking zone around the fire hydrant which makes it an enforceable violation to park there.

Littering: School staff, students, including student leadership and some of the neighbors have been keeping the trash picked up on a regular basis. I agree with everyone’s frustration with trash – the mere idea of being so self-absorbed that one does not put trash into appropriate bins is beyond my comprehension. And we all appreciate people who volunteer to clean up and take pride in our community.

A resident raised the issue of towing cars that are blocking driveways and as a result, we found an inadvertent change in our ordinances in the 90’s that is now being corrected to give our police the authority to call for towing in that situation.

Blocked driveways have been an issue, particularly for one neighbor who has been blocked in and was written up for being late to work. With Newberg Drive being an unimproved street, some driveways are not clearly defined. We can work on ways to clearly and consistently mark the driveways. That would provide objective, enforceable spaces for no parking. I am asking our Community Development Department to bring information on options to both Traffic Bike Pedestrian and Planning Commissions. Their recommendations will then be provided to residents who have driveways that are not clearly defined.

There are some issues that need to be handled by the residents with the help of the city:

Newberg Drive is dark. Keizer neighborhoods are each covered by their own street lighting district paid for by the residents. Older neighborhoods like Newberg Drive were built without them, but may at any time establish a street lighting Local Improvement District to install lights and pay for their operation each year. Those of us who live in neighborhoods that have street lights are willing to do so because we value the safety and security they provide. I encourage residents on Newberg and throughout Keizer to all seriously consider putting in street lights if you don’t have them.

Newberg Drive also has no sidewalks. We have a long list of sidewalk projects to build and are getting projects built each year as funds allow. In the meantime, neighborhoods may form a local improvement district program to build sidewalks. The LID allows those costs to be paid back over 20 years or upon sale of the property. Information on sidewalk LID is available from the Community Development Department.

Before school, there is noise and traffic clogging Newberg. According to the Chief, police have been monitoring the area regularly. He explained that traffic congestion is not generally a ticketable offense. The city paid for the traffic signal at Chemawa, which helped ease problems there. Our police department does not have the staffing capacity to monitor the three high school entrances plus the two middle schools and about nine elementary schools; Gubser Elementary has a similar problem to the congestion on Newberg. We have been strongly urging the school district to come up with a short term plan for more parking while preparing for site upgrades in the future.

And there are some issues or concepts that have been proposed which may work but are not as simple as they seem.

Opening another gate at the end of Orchard Street would ease congestion with an additional access point. But students would be walking straight right into traffic on Celtic Way. The future site plan could add sidewalks and realign the roadway, but it is not safe to do currently.

A “No McNary Parking” zone has been repeatedly proposed as a simple solution to the problem.  It is true that the signs are cheap and easy to put up. However, as our city staff has explained several times, the signs alone do not provide enforceable violations that will stand up in court, and the signs inconsistently deny people the use of a public right way. The street belongs to the people of Keizer. Parking in front of a person’s home is not reserved space. We can ask students to not park there. We can ask people attending sporting events to not park there. But it is a public right of way and we cannot legally deny people the right to use it.  Other jurisdictions that have tried voluntary compliance have all had to go to an enforceable program. Another option our staff proposed is limited time parking, such as a three hour limit during the day. But, again, this would have to apply to ALL vehicles, as the residential and non-residential vehicles would not be distinguishable without a permit.

When there is a need established to restrict public parking on public streets, cities across the country have developed residential parking zones. The program like the one in Salem for areas around North Salem and South Salem High Schools has provided clear vehicle identification, parking preference on public streets for residents, and is legally enforceable.  See this link (www.cityofsalem.net/residents/parkingservices/documents/residentialpermit.pdf) to show how those zones are established and the program for residents to purchase parking permits. In order to reserve public right of way as parking for residents, there is a cost to establish and enforce the program. We do not have such a program in place, but I am forwarding this information to the Planning Commission and Traffic Bike Pedestrian Commission to consider the matter. If such a program is established, guidelines and costs would be established for designating residential parking zones.

The city staff and Council know that school overcrowding has led to safety and livability problems for students, residents and families. I am committed to working with you all to achieve effective and equitable solutions.