The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

January 13, 2011
Fix It: Hospital no-smoking rule sends problem next door

The problem: Mercy General Hospital's new policy that prohibits smoking on its campus has one east Sacramento neighbor feeling burned.

Joanie Pope-Ferry has lived on 41st Street next to Mercy for more than 20 years. She said the new policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, has led to a big increase in the number of smokers showing up in front of her house.

Because she's allergic to cigarette smoke, she said the extra traffic prevents her from being able to open her windows.

"They made their hospital healthy and nonsmoking. How can they put their neighbor through this?" she asked.

The solution: Pope-Ferry wants the hospital to create a smoking zone elsewhere, and she wants hospital security to patrol the area and move the smokers.

Mercy officials said there's only so much they can do to regulate where people who visit or work at the J Street hospital go to smoke.

Spokeswoman Shelly King said officials have placed "no smoking" signs on a fence separating the hospital from Pope-Ferry's property and have scheduled an employee forum where they will tell their workers that "our neighbors are important to us and we want to make sure we refrain from doing anything that will be uncomfortable to our neighbors."

- Ryan Lillis

November 26, 2010
New lumps cut driving speeds

By Chelsea Phua
cphua@sacbee.com

The problem: Vehicles speeding along a stretch of 14th Street in the South Land Park neighborhood. Residents say the portion between South Land Park Drive and 43rd Avenue often serves as a shortcut for motorists traveling to Freeport Boulevard.

Alonzo Eaton, 53, who has lived on 14th Street for five years, said he has seen an increase in traffic. Sacramento city officials said traffic studies showed the majority of drivers on 14th Street going at speeds of the posted 25 mph or faster.

The solution: Speed lumps, which are raised devices with cutouts at the widths where tires of emergency vehicles and buses can pass through. Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation, said residents submitted a petition for the devices on the road, which already has two sets of undulations spaced about 1,800 feet apart.

A petition needs at least 10 signatures. Tucker said residents collected 20 by August 2009. The process includes investigation by traffic engineers, approval by the City Council and by a ballot sent out to residents. Officials said 67 percent were in favor, meeting the two-thirds majority requirement. In October, four lumps were installed.

Not everyone seems happy with the additions, which cost about $10,400 and were funded by Measure A, a countywide half-cent sales tax used for roadway and transit improvements.

Eaton's neighbor, Lyle Moffett, 64, said they scratch the underside of one of his cars with a low bumper. "They are just a pain," Moffett said.

Eaton's wife, Candy Holiday, 49, said she likes them. "It slows the traffic way down or you'll be popping up in the air," she said.

November 18, 2010
Fix It: Truck traffic tempered in Folsom neighborhood

The problem: The Lake Natoma Shores neighborhood, adjacent to both the Folsom Corporation Yard and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, has long coped with industrial and commercial traffic along its narrow residential streets.

Laurie Laurent, a resident, said the problem accelerated when the city paved a link between the yard, the VFW Hall site, and the neighborhood.

That meant increased commercial and industrial traffic on neighborhood streets west of Folsom Boulevard, particularly on Forrest Street.

"It's an invasion to bring heavy industrial and heavy commercial traffic into a planned unit development," Laurent said.

The solution: City Councilman Ernie Sheldon has asked city staff to discourage truck traffic in the area, and that has helped. The city's garbage trucks no longer use Forrest Street, for example. Instead they use the Corporation Yard's northern, primary gate at Leidesdorff Street.

Rich Lorenz, public works and utilities director, said the city is sensitive to residents' concerns. And the city has begun moving away from using the Forrest Street exit.

The city also is exploring how best to construct a driveway tying the VFW Hall to Leidesdorff Street, he said. That project could begin in the spring.

That would bring relief, he said, by blocking the use of Forrest Street for any traffic to and from the VFW Hall and the Corporation Yard.

- Loretta Kalb

November 4, 2010
Fix it: When truck takes a big plunge, who cleans up?

The problem: A tractor-trailer loaded with peanut butter chips and ice cream freezers went off the side of Highway 4 near Ebbetts Pass in Alpine County in late August.

The driver was backing up when the trailer started going over the edge, the California Highway Patrol reported. He jumped off before the truck went over, falling 200 feet or more down the steep roadside. A tow company pulled the truck back up in October.

While leaf peeping, reader Megan Harris peeked over the roadside to see where the truck had been recovered and saw there was still a lot of debris. Bears have rooted through the food and several large freezers were still down the hill, she said.

She wanted to know who was going to clean up?

The solution: After a crash, it's up to the CHP to go after insurance companies to handle cleanup, said Officer Jeff Gartner.

The insurer for the truck and trailer stepped up to pay South Tahoe Towing to recover that part of the wreckage.

"It was one of the top 10" unusual towing jobs, said Scott DeChambeau, the towing company owner.

If CHP can't get the insurer for the contents to take care of it immediately, it may turn to the U.S. Forest Service, Gartner said.

The Forest Service - which manages the Toiyabe National Forest, where the crash occurred - would foot the cleanup bill until the insurer could pick up the tab.

The CHP wants it picked up before winter snows cover it up, Gartner said.

- Carlos Alcalá

October 29, 2010
Folsom drivers turning right run red light, worry cyclists

By Loretta Kalb
lkalb@sacbee.com

The problem: When crossing Blue Ravine Road, cyclist Paul Sayegh says he has to dodge motorists who cruise through the red light while turning right from Folsom Boulevard.

We checked during a homebound commute: About half the right-turning motorists didn't stop at the red light, and some actually sped up.

The solution: Sayegh says an electronic sign that alerts traffic to an approaching light-rail train could be employed to signal motorists that pedestrians are in the crosswalk.

Actually, seven intersections along Folsom Boulevard face the traffic issue.

Each has light-rail tracks running parallel to Folsom Boulevard and a pedestrian crossing.

Folsom senior engineer Mark Rackovan said the city is evaluating signage, roadway striping and signal options.

At the Iron Point Road crossing at Folsom Boulevard, the city is testing flashing signs that say "pedestrian crossing" when a pedestrian gets the signal to cross the road.

A consultant "is doing evaluations of motorist behavior at the two locations," he said.

Meanwhile, when staffing permits, said Folsom Police Sgt. Jason Browning, officers will issue traffic citations to violators.

And what does Sayegh say?

"I am hopeful for any changes the city does that work," he said.

October 15, 2010
Natomas road near airport is dumping ground

The Problem: North Natomas resident Terry Palmer said he and neighbors repeatedly complained to the city over the past two months about illegal dumping at Airport Road and Natomas Crossing Drive.

Everything from abandoned vehicles to furniture and TV sets were dropped off at the dead-end street, creating an eyesore and a fire hazard.

He called the city's 311 service line, as well as his City Council representative and the Police Department.

The Solution: After Public Eye called, the site was cleaned up this week.

Jessica Hess, spokeswoman for the Department of Utilities, said the city received 14 calls about the Airport Road-Natomas Crossing Drive since July 1.

The city has one crew to respond to an average of 400 calls per month regarding illegal dumping. She said the crew typically cleans up about 40 sites a day and responds to illegal dumping reports within two to three weeks.

"While we are sympathetic to Mr. Palmer's concerns, illegal dumping is a chronic problem in Sacramento and illegal dumping is a crime," Hess said in an e-mail.

The community can help by reporting incidents in progress, she said. The city offers a $500 reward for those caught and convicted of illegally dumping.

Residents hiring someone to haul waste from their property also can help by using licensed and bonded haulers, who are more likely to take material to the dump or transfer station instead of depositing it in a vacant lot.

People who observe someone illegally dumping material in the city are asked to call the Sacramento Police Department at (916) 264-5471, and to jot down the vehicle's license number and a description of the suspects in case they leave before police arrive.

- Cathy Locke

October 8, 2010
Reader says sample voter ballot's type is too small

The Problem: A Citrus Heights reader objects to the tiny print on Sacramento County's sample ballots, and to the note in the margin advising anyone wishing to view the ballot in larger text to visit the county Elections Office website. What about people without computers or Internet access? she asked.

The Answer: Brad Buyse, county elections spokesman, said the county has 177 different ballots, based on the different races and measures in different parts of the county.

To avoid the costs of reformatting the sample ballot booklet for each type of ballot, elections officials opted to shrink the image of the 19-inch ballot to fit the 10.5-inch sample ballot page, for a savings of about $100,000, he said. For voting, the actual two-sided, 19-inch ballot will be much easier to read, Buyse said.

- Cathy Locke

September 7, 2010
Vacant areas full of weeds are hot-weather fire hazard

By Loretta Kalb
lkalb@sacbee.com

The problem: Weeds and more weeds. They carpet two areas of land in south Sacramento. One is an eight-parcel stretch in the 4900 block of 47th Avenue. The other is adjacent to Clayton B. Wire Elementary School on El Paraiso Avenue. The weeds triggered a call to The Bee from a resident who said the county, once alerted, had failed to address the problem.

The solution: The Sacramento County Municipal Services Agency is within 10 days of having the El Paraiso site cleared, said Zeke Holst, spokesman for the agency. Cleanup of the 47th Avenue site was to have begun late last week.

Holst said when the agency gets complaints, it alerts the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District for feedback.

If the site poses a fire hazard, the county calls in a contractor. For rubbish or serious debris, other enforcement action may be needed. Either way, the process takes time, Holst said.

Residents in the incorporated areas with complaints about similar problems should call the county's main complaint line at (916) 875-5656.

To report fire hazards at undeveloped lots or overgrown pastures, call the fire district's weed abatement line at (916) 851-8934.

Or visit the fire district website, www.sacmetrofire.ca.gov, and choose "nuisance complaint" via the business/fire prevention tab.

Send Fix This tips to publiceye@sacbee.com

August 17, 2010
What's on the freeway: Everything, including the kitchen sink

The problem: Hazards on roadways involve plenty of items that don't belong in traffic lanes, including a kitchen sink. The sink was reported recently on the eastbound Highway 50 off-ramp at Zinfandel Drive in Rancho Cordova, officials said.

The California Highway Patrol said objects left by motorists who fail to properly secure a load of household items or construction equipment can do plenty of damage to a vehicle, or cause collisions.

The solution: CHP's Valley Division spokeswoman, Officer Jeanie Hoatson, said the Vehicle Code requires that vehicles be constructed, covered or loaded so that the contents don't drop, sift, leak, blow, or spill. If something falls out, she said the driver is required to either remove it from the roadway or immediately report it to the CHP or other agency that can handle the removal.

"For safety purposes, I couldn't recommend that someone run out in the middle of the freeway to get it," Hoatson said, "but they are required to at least call."

The CHP can arrange for a traffic break to move items to the side of the road for pickup by Caltrans or local road crews.

People hauling items can be ticketed for failing to properly secure a load. And motorists who come upon a stationary object in the road are deemed at fault if they hit it. Hoatson said drivers should be traveling at speeds that allow them to stop or change lanes in time to avoid the object.

- Cathy Locke

August 16, 2010
If you report a water sprinkler violation, the city says it will fix it

The problem: Earlier this month, the city of Sacramento's sprinklers on Addison Way near Meadowview Road in south Sacramento were stuck on for a reported five days, pooling in a nearby retention basin. A resident of the area contacted the office of Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell on the fourth day, a Sunday.

The solution: Pannell's district director notified the city Department of Utilities, which shut off the water by 11:30 a.m., the next day. The city conducted tests and discovered broken irrigation and a broken valve.

By 3 p.m., the valve was replaced, said Jessica Hess, spokeswoman for the Utilities Department. She said the problem was unusual in that no one called to complain before the weekend. A Bee reader, however, reported mid-afternoon watering at the site.

The city encourages Sacramento residents to report any water problem, no matter the source. Residents may do so anonymously by calling 311 or by e-mail at 311@cityofsacramento.org, Hess said.

By city ordinance, summer watering hours are limited to before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Addresses with odd numbers may be watered only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Residents and business owners with even-numbered addresses may water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

No watering is allowed on Mondays.

-Loretta Kalb

June 22, 2010
Cherry Island bottleneck finds itself still bottled up

The Problem: Back in 2005, Mike Pundyk of Elverta contacted us about traffic issues on Elverta Road near Cherry Island Golf Course.

Pundyk cited a big bottleneck around the antiquated, two-lane Dry Creek Bridge and a traffic signal he called "the dumbest light in Sacramento County."

Improvements were due to get under way in 2007, but by 2008 - when Pundyk moved to Oregon to get away from the traffic, crime and crowding in his old neighborhood - nothing had changed. He contacted us to find out whether anything had been done yet.

The answer? Nope.

The Solution: The discovery of American Indian artifacts was the initial holdup, said Stephen White, with the county transportation department.

That was resolved a few months ago. "Now our problem is no money," White said.

Developer fees were supposed to pay for the fix, but development pretty much stopped. Of course, that means traffic "hasn't gotten any worse," he said.

The county wants federal transportation money to widen the bridge to two lanes in each direction and the bridge to be raised out of the 100-year floodplain.

No start dates are planned, however.

- Carlos Alcalá

May 25, 2010
Vandals destroy five trees on 19th Street in midtown

The problem: Five young trees planted by the city of Sacramento on 19th Street between Q and R streets were broken off at the trunk by vandals. Some of the trees were planted just a few months ago.

The solution: The Urban Forestry Division of the city's Transportation Department inspected the damage last week.

"They have been destroyed," said Linda Tucker, spokeswoman for city transportation. "We will need to remove them and replant them in the fall, as the weather will soon be too hot for newly planted trees."

Cost will run about $300 per tree, including trees and labor.

Through attrition, Urban Forestry is spread thinly. Staff levels are down to about 20 people working all city streets, caring for some 100,000 trees, including many older trees.

Reports about problems can be made by calling 311. But unless public safety is at risk, city staff may be unable to respond immediately. In some cases, needed tree removal or pruning may not occur until a neighborhood is cycled into the maintenance schedule.

-- Loretta Kalb



About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at: fraudsquad@sacbee.com.

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