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Breathable air or drive-thru windows?
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Enjoying the air quality of the last few days?

If you do, keep finding opportunities to idle your vehicle as much as you can.

The fact we live in either the No. 1 or No. 2 worst air basin in the country depending upon the type of pollution isn’t debatable. Nor is the fact there has been a 97 percent reduction of the San Joaquin Valley exceeding one-hour ozone standards since 1995.

And while new federally imposed standards are impossible to meet even if you banned all gas or diesel powered vehicle movements in the nine county region, we still need to do better.

That said it is amazing the lip service paid by Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop — and all other cities in the San Joaquin Valley —  to air quality attainment goals adopted in state-mandated general plans that serve as blueprints for growth. Part of it has to do with the fuzziness of the goals and part of it has to with to the lack of political will.

The biggest ways to reduce ozone pollution aren’t exact a secret. They involve refraining from idling vehicles when dropping off or picking up students, carpooling, public transit, and refraining from using drive-through services.

A repertoire of illness such as asthma and other breathing disorders are attributed to high levels of air pollution significantly made worse when we reach Air Alert status as we have since Monday.

If drive-thru facilities have been identified as being a primary source of idling that make the ozone layer worse, why not ban any new ones outright? Instead cities like Manteca keep adding them. Outlawing drive-thru windows, though, would be about as easy as getting people to sit still for the city doing away with residents being able to have dogs and cats. It isn’t going to happen.

So why not adopt an ordinance that addresses those days when Air Alerts are projected and force the temporarily closure of drive-thru facilities as a health and safety issue?

The conditions that set up an Air Alert based on ozone problems typically happen near the end of summer when Mother Nature combined with back-to-school traffic spikes air woes. Currently that is less than a half dozen days a year although it will get worse as the valley grows.

Would three to six days a year of not being able to use drive-thru windows kill us?

With today’s technologies businesses with drive-thru windows could easily be notified. Code enforcement officers could be assigned exclusively to enforcing the drive-thru closure rule on Air Alert days. The city could make the incentive for compliance high by establishing fines of $25 for every vehicle spotted by code enforcement using a drive-thru window. Those fees would be assessed against the business.

Public schools are a different animal since much of what they do is out of the city’s jurisdiction and under state control. Pressure should be placed on the school board to come up with a solution. As for private schools such as St. Anthony’s, all you have to do is try to drive down Fremont Street when school lets out to understand the problem. Vehicles are lined up in both directions on the street trying to turn into the parking lot effectively blocking through traffic. The stop and go movements is vehicle idling at its worst.

The way for cities to reduce long-term ozone issues are obvious. Passive solutions such as roundabouts where feasible end the stop-and-go traffic movement that traffic lights and four-way stops create.

If staff fails to do so, the Manteca Planning Commission needs to push roundabouts at every opportunity. There is no debate whether the commission has such authority. It is suppose to make sure that projects comply with the general plan. Unless all that verbiage about air quality and ways of reducing pollution through such elements as development design and roundabouts are hogwash, the commission has a legal obligation to put its collective foot down.

With 1,156 homes proposed in the same area in southeast Manteca there will surely be intersections with significant traffic controlled by stop signs in all directions or traffic signals. If projections warrant such controls at Pillsbury Road and Woodward Avenue a roundabout would be a better answer. And why not use roundabouts when possible on the extension of major roads in the Austin Road Business Park?

Manteca’s elected leaders and others in the region should join forces to pressure the state to eliminate one of the biggest sources of stop and go driving in the area — Deadman’s Curve on the eastbound 120 Bypass transition to southbound Highway 99. Not only is it a safety hazard for traffic coming to a stop and then starting up and stopping again like a giant Slinky but it also adds unnecessarily to the valley’s ozone woes.

And if we do exceed the ozone level as established by the federal government, we are going to pay for it immediately in the form of increased fees on business and a $12 surcharge on the annual registration of any vehicle garaged in the nine-county San Joaquin Valley.

Violate the ozone levels enough and the San Joaquin Valley loses all federal highway and transit funds except, of course, for the high speed rail.