Bee Investigator: Permits allow tomato processor to close street

snowicki@modbee.comMay 26, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
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Taryn Muralt of Turlock wanted to know why Stanislaus Food Products in Modesto has been able, for the past two summers, to close 11th Street between its plant and its parking lot where trucks full of just-picked tomatoes wait to be processed.

I contacted Brent Sinclair, Modesto’s director of community and economic development. He said Stanislaus Food “applied for, paid for and received the necessary permits” to close 11th Street between B and D streets for about three months in 2011 and for about two months in 2012 and has applied to close it again this year. The company got its closure, he added, “to provide the safe and efficient movement of high-volume truck traffic during the canning season.”

He said the company has paid $27,170 this year to close the street from July 14 through Oct. 13. It paid $16,878 in 2012 to close it from Aug. 12 to Oct. 17, and $14,620 to close it from July 27 to Oct. 16, 2011. That’s almost a 100 percent increase in two years, which sounds “a bit much,” as my English friends would say, but, hey, no one asked for my math skills.

Sinclair acknowledged that closing the city street for so long “caused some inconveniences to motorists during peak periods,” but said the city had monitored the problems and concluded that “it is far safer to close 11th Street to pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles during this period due to the incredibly high volume of truck traffic.” (My persnickety nature makes me point out that pedestrians or bicyclists can easily bypass the sawhorselike roadblock signs.) (Persnickety — what a great word!)

Sinclair said that in the future, the city hopes to close 11th Street permanently and instead reopen 10th Street “as a vehicle/ pedestrian corridor to connect Tenth Street Place to the Tuolumne River Park.” In fact, he added in a later email, “Our goal is to have the street swap completed by the end of this year and have 10th Street operational by next canning season.”

Muralt said she knows closing 11th Street eases the operations of the plant, but pointed out that it’s a city street. “Why does this business get this special consideration, which causes increased traffic congestion and inconveniences many drivers?” she asked.

Really, it’s not terribly inconvenient for drivers to use Ninth Street to get to D or B instead of cutting through on 11th. But there are about 4,400 drivers who use that street each day, according to city statistics. Adding that many extra cars to Ninth Street obviously is going to have an impact.

In comparison, there are 200 double-trailer trucks a day going to the plant.

And opening 10th Street holds its own problems, as it runs close to The Salvation Army’s Berberian homeless shelter, which provides a 100-bed winter shelter, a 40-bed transitional living program and a special-needs shelter for about 30 people. That many pedestrians will cause more traffic safety issues.

The city allows many special street closures, such as the twice-weekly farmers market on 16th Street, and downtown road closures during events such as the Amgen bicycle race and X-Fest, but those are for limited days or hours. Is there another business in town that gets to close its street for three months at a time?

No, Sinclair said.

Businesses need all the incentives they can get in this economy, and Stanislaus Food — in operation for 70 years — provides employment for many people (160 year-round and 1,400 during the peak of canning season), income for area farmers, and canned tomato products for restaurants and consumers. Closing 11th Street would smooth its operations enormously.

But Muralt is right: The closure of a city block for three months each of the past two years has inconvenienced 4,400 drivers a day — that’s 396,000 over three months — and affected traffic elsewhere. Modesto should return Stanislaus Food’s money this year and not close the street again until — and if — 10th Street can be reopened without its own traffic safety issues.

If you drive that route, what do you think?

NEXT WEEK: If city workers damage something, should they fix it?

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at snowicki@modbee.com, fax to (209)578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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