Liability is often pointed to when making certain decisions. It is important to consider liability, but it is not the sole force that should guide decisions — particularly when overall public safety is at issue.
Yet liability was the rationale behind the Foster City Council’s recent decision to remove a crosswalk at the intersection of Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue after a pedestrian-auto collision that sent a 17-year-old girl to the hospital.
It is the job of city staff, including its attorney, to bring up all issues when it comes to making a decision. One of those issues is sometimes liability. Avoidance of liability issues is the job of a city attorney, and there should be no fault directed toward the city attorney for bringing it up. However, it is the job of the elected City Council to accept that information and ultimately make a decision that is for the betterment of the community. We feel that wasn’t done this week and that the topic needs to come back for further discussion as soon as possible.
First a primer on the situation. Early in the morning on Jan. 24, the girl was hit in the crosswalk at the intersection. Her injuries were serious and she was taken to the hospital. In response, Councilman Herb Perez brought the idea up of modifying the intersection with the idea that a four-way stop sign might be in order after he heard from residents with serious concerns about the intersection.
On Monday, the council heard the issue and voted 3-1, with Perez recusing himself because his business is nearby and Councilman Steve Okamoto voting no, to not only not put in a stop sign, but to remove the crosswalk and replace it with a flashing light nearby. The rationale? City Attorney Jean Savaree warned of the potential liability of adding the stop sign because the city’s traffic consultant said it was not needed. The city is not liable for an accident if it follows the direction of design experts or professionals. In addition, a pedestrian is still allowed to cross at the location even without a marked crosswalk because it has an “implied” crosswalk.
So instead of making the situation better, the decision has the very real possibility of making the situation worse. And that’s not OK.
It is understandable that not every section of road that is the scene of an accident requires city intervention. However, it never requires city intervention that has the potential to make the situation worse. And liability is a real concern in this day and age. However, members of the City Council are elected to represent the people and respond accordingly when the situation calls for it. This is one of those situations. Councils make policy, and policy often overrides staff recommendations. The council should take this opportunity to revisit the issue and determine if there is a decision that will make the intersection safer. And that should happen right away.