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Commuters squeezing out seniors

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POSTED July 8, 2009 2:27 a.m.
LATHROP – Too much of a good thing is not always good. Case in point: The Park and Ride program for commuters at Valverde Park in Lathrop.

This service has become so popular that the city is now looking at solutions to ease some of the negative impacts of its success, including the possibility of finding alternative Park and Ride locations in town.

The City Council though balked at taking an action Tuesday night at staff’s recommendation to create “custom signs” that would be posted in the parking lot directing commuters to areas where they can and cannot park. Another posted sign could inform commuters that the main parking lot is reserved for users of the community center, the senior center and the park only.

The approximate cost for just those two signs would be $5,000.

And that was the financial bump that prompted the council members – Councilman Robert Oliver was absent – to table the issue to another future meeting while they look for other alternative solutions to this problem.

Valverde Park does have dedicated parking spaces for those who catch van pools at the park to get to work in the Bay Area. A back parking lot was also added on the west side of the Senior Center when the park received a major $2+ million facelift last year. One of the proposed signs would direct commuters to park their cars at this site.

Diverting the cars to this new parking area would open up spaces for daytime visitors to the community center, the senior center and the park during regular daytime hours.

Longtime Lathrop resident Tosh Yoshihara explained that some seniors visiting the Senior Center often have to walk quite a distance because parking spaces in front of the facility are taken over by commuters’ vehicles that are parked there all day. Commuters’ cars use up to 10 spaces on average a day, said Yoshihara.

“This has been going on for as long as I’ve been going to the Senior Center, which is three years. I can walk but there are several who are unable to walk,” said the retired school teacher and Air Force veteran.

He added that this dilemma is a major concern because many seniors go to many of the programs and activities offered there such as the Brown Bag food program, pot luck lunches, square dancing, and computer and exercise classes.

He was all in favor of putting up the signs as suggested by city staff on a temporary basis.

“Let’s start with this, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll go from there,” Yoshihara said.

City Manager Cary Keaten suggested leaving flyers in the windshields of commuters’ cars to let them know that they are parked in areas that are not zoned for carpools.

Council member Christopher Mateo’s idea was to put up two-hour parking signs to discourage commuters from leaving their cars at these marked spaces.

But Mayor Kristy Sayles liked the city manager’s idea of launching an “education campaign” that could be monitored for a while to see if it works.

Alternative Park and Ride locations, possibly somewhere closer to the freeway, were among other suggestions brought up during the discussion.

A section of the Valverde Park parking lot on Fifth Street was designated Park and Ride for commuters under a 1996 cooperative agreement between the city and the San Joaquin Council of Governments which allotted 48 commuter parking spaces. However, over time, the Park and Ride had become so popular that about half of the cars in the parking lot belong to commuters, according to a report from city staff.
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