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Ripon’s road to nowhere going there fast

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POSTED November 7, 2009 2:44 a.m.
It is Ripon’s Frontage Road to nowhere. It runs under the Wilma Avenue overpass and ends abruptly at the Ripon Christian High campus.

In reality, it is a stark reminder of the danger of trying to impose perfect-world planning on an imperfect world.

It wasn’t a bad idea – at least from the perspective of city leaders who pushed it. They wanted to avoid congestion downtown on Main Street and improve traffic circulation in the central district. They inferred a side benefit was improving traffic congestion generated by Ripon High and Ripon Christian High.

It was anything but a good idea for the Ripon Unified School District. They answer to a higher government authority – the State of California – that puts restrictions on how one can expand a high school campus based on acreage.

That aside, in a day and age of gang violence on the rise, sexual predators in our communities, and the potential for a full-bore wacko to walk onto a campus, why would you want to weaken the security at Ripon High?

Right now access is fairly well controlled. Could it be better given if for all practical purposes it is open to Acacia Avenue? Absolutely. Would security improve with another road bordering the campus? No. If you doubt that take a look at Manteca High. You can access it from three different streets making it a challenge to secure in a lock down ordered for student safety in the event of criminal activity such as the recent bank robbery where suspects originally ran toward the campus and then doubled back and forced their way into a house to start a 13-hour standoff. A few weeks after the Manteca Bank of America robbery, a similar event happened in Ripon prompting the lockdown of Ripon High, and Ripon Elementary.

Should Ripon Christian Schools sacrifice security to shave a few seconds off someone’s car trip? No.

Yes, congestion is tough before and after school. However, building a solution for that purpose only is akin to building an intersection with 16 lanes of traffic crossing another 16 lanes of traffic at Standiford and Sisk in Modesto because that is what it would take for six peak traffic days before Christmas to move traffic at a decent level.

The real Catch-22 comes with the textbook planning approach. City leaders were envisioning a day when Ripon would be much larger, and the bustle much greater in downtown. At that point the theory would be businesses would be thick with plenty of traffic into downtown.

That’s doubtful and here’s why. There will not be measurable growth to the north or on the flank of downtown directly to the west due to physical limitations. At the same time, as the community grows the type of retail the city will want and need would be better served in newer developments such as the Save Mart shopping center on the east side of Highway 99.

Does that mean downtown Ripon is doomed? No. Downtown will continue to be what it is in Ripon – specialty shops, restaurants, and services such as banks although thanks to the community demographics it is bound to get even better especially since the Ripon City Council has already taken steps to enhance the downtown to keep it in the game for businesses as the community grows.

Without having a way to access downtown by sending traffic from the north to the central district’s east side will that discourage people from going there as the community grows? Not if the businesses, entertainment venues including dining, as well as services are what they want and will support.

At the same time, it is reckless to automatically assume the ultimate solution is to build a new high school campus to replace Ripon High.  A future school board given budget constraints and state funding may decide to do what Oakdale High did and expand into the neighborhood. It may end up being the only viable option for years to come.

If all goes well, when Ripon High reaches the tipping point, a new high school campus may indeed be built. But given the community resources invested in the Ripon High campus, why risk boxing in the school district when it comes to options for the high schools.

For now, the road is going nowhere fast.
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