Supervisors adopt new meeting schedule, approve traffic study to re-authorize radar use

The Amador County Board of Supervisors will no longer meet every week, opting instead to convene every other Tuesday, in a decision made during their regular meeting Tuesday.

Board Clerk Jennifer Burns said the shift was suggested by CAO Chuck Iley, who first presented the idea to administration committee members John Plasse and Louis Boitano as part of continuing efforts to shave expenses off the county’s budget wherever possible.

“That was their basic consideration, the budget,” said Burns, who added that costs to print reports, meeting agendas and minutes are anticipated to be reduced, as well as a considerable amount of staff time.

“It seems to be working for other counties,” Burns said, “although the meetings will probably be longer. We’re going to try it and see, and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll go back to the other way, but we’re going to give it a shot.”

On a motion by Richard Forster, seconded by Ted Novelli, the amended meeting schedule was unanimously approved.

Supervisors will meet again Feb. 8, and again on Feb. 22, continuing the two-week schedule throughout the remainder of 2011.

Motorists in the Upcountry area will soon see minor changes in two speed limits and the “long arm of the law” will continue to utilize radar technology to detect vehicle speeds, after three traffic survey reports were also approved by supervisors on Tuesday.

A report written by Public Works Interim Director Mike Israel said county officials have previously authorized the use of radar on various road sections within the county. For radar to be used, state law requires an engineering and traffic survey to be updated at least once every five, seven or 10 years, depending on the location of the roadway. Three of 11 surveys conducted by Sacramento-based Stantec Consulting Services have been completed, involving sections of Shake Ridge, Climax and Fiddletown roads.

California Highway Patrol Officer John Hardy told the board that any speed limit imposed by local authorities less than the statewide standard of 55 mph “has to be supported by an engineering and traffic survey” in order to be enforced by radar under state laws designed to protect motorists from speed traps.

“Without (a survey), the term unenforceable is applicable in the sense that the California Highway Patrol cannot participate in the speed enforcement program without it,” explained Hardy.

Responding to questions by Plasse and Brian Oneto, Hardy pointed out that, even without the survey, law enforcement agencies, including the CHP, would still be able to issue speeding citations using a peace officer’s estimate of a vehicle’s rate of speed.

“However, it’s not your best evidence,” he said. “Radar is your best evidence.”

During a lively discussion regarding traffic enforcement scenarios, Hardy said road and weather conditions are also factored in by officers when determining whether speeding may have contributed to an accident.

“If you’re traveling at 50 miles per hour in a hailstorm and your vehicle slides off of the roadway, one would articulate that you’re traveling faster than conditions allowed you to do so,” he said.

Hardy said, although he had conducted more than 15,000 speed “estimations” on vehicles during his career, most traffic court judges prefer to see radar evidence to back up those estimates.

In response to a question from Oneto, who asked if more enforcement activity could be expected on Shake Ridge and Fiddletown roads if supervisors adopted the survey results, Hardy said his agency’s efforts are concentrated where they are needed the most.

“We get out to those outlying areas when possible and we enforce the laws where we’re able to,” he said. “Ridge Road would be an example of that, where we can’t necessarily go out and shoot radar on Ridge Road through that segment through Hamricks Grade. Upper Ridge Road receives quite a bit of attention in regards to speed, and Hamricks Grade receives attention in regards to right of way violations.”

On a motion by Boitano, seconded by Novelli, supervisors voted unanimously to accept the survey results, adopt the speed limit changes and, in another move designed to save money, wait until all 11 surveys are complete before officially enacting the ordinances.

After those ordinances are duly noticed and adopted, a 1.1-mile section of Climax Road west of Highway 88 will have the speed limit raised to 40 mph from the existing 35 mph.

The 7.5-mile section of Shake Ridge Road, from Rams Horn Grade to Wandering Hills Drive, will remain at the posted 40 mph, while the upper 1.3-mile section from Wandering Hills Drive to Highway 88, currently posted at 30 mph, will see an increase in the posted limit to 35 mph.

Fiddletown Road, from milepost markers 4.8 to 5.9 and encompassing the downtown area, will remain at the currently posted 25 mph. The Fiddletown Road section has historically seen speeders avoiding the main highways by passing through on their way to the ski slopes.

Five more surveys were expected to be completed this week, with three more due in about a month.

In another action, supervisors approved a job description change for assistant county administrative officer Kristen Bengyel to allow her to begin her new position as health services director. Iley said the basis for the change was to allow Bengyel to focus on increased needs within the Health Department brought on by ongoing personnel reductions. Iley said Bengyel possesses all of the skills and legal requirements to take over the position as set forth by California law.

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