The block of Grover Beach near the intersection of North Oak Park Boulevard and Brighton Avenue was still taped off and surrounded by flashing police cars at about 9 p.m. on Jan. 21. Road closure signs were visible, temporary lights lit the scene, and numbered markers sat beside nearly every piece of broken glass, stain, and clothing still left in the street.
As investigators worked, writing busily in notepads and conferring over evidence, a small group solemnly huddled around a woman sitting on a nearby curb, her face in her hands, sobbing.
- Photo By Kasey Bubnash
- 'LIFE OR DEATH' At its Jan. 21 meeting, Grover Beach City Council delayed a discussion on traffic safety issues on North Oak Park Boulevard after a pedestrian was hit and killed by a car at the intersection of North Oak Park and Brighton Avenue.
Dog walkers stopped to chat with other onlookers, passing cars slowed as they neared the scene, and neighbors stood out on their lawns and driveways, wrapped up in blankets or hands stuffed in coat pockets, watching. They aren't surprised this happened.
Two hours earlier, just before 7 p.m., the Grover Beach Police Department responded to a reported collision at the 300 block of North Oak Park Boulevard, where a man on foot was allegedly hit and killed by an SUV as he was crossing the road near an unmarked intersection. The investigation is ongoing, according to a Grover Beach Police press release, and the identity of the pedestrian hasn't been released.
At the same time, a Grover Beach City Council meeting was in session, where council members were scheduled to discuss several ideas that could make North Oak Park Boulevard safer for both drivers and pedestrians. Grover Beach residents have complained for years that various portions of North Oak Park are confusing and difficult for drivers to navigate, and dangerous for pedestrians crossing the road.
Although City Council had planned to discuss the potential installation of marked crosswalks, traffic-calming and speed-reduction measures, better intersection striping, and the removal of several parking spots along curbs on the notorious roadway, Mayor Jeff Lee announced after a short break at about 7:30 p.m. that the discussion would be postponed to the council's Feb. 3 meeting.
"I am going to request a continuance for this next item on the fact that we've just received word that approximately a half hour ago there was a fatality at the intersection of North Oak Park and Brighton Avenue," Lee said at the meeting. "A pedestrian versus a vehicle."
Attendees, many of whom were there to share their concerns over the safety issues at that very intersection, met the announcement with grumbles and gasps. One shouted, "We're talking about life or death, folks!"
To pacify the crowd, Lee allowed community members to comment on the projects proposed for the road and several of its intersections. Many complained about the difficulty of making turns and crossing intersections along North Oak Park, cars traveling at high speeds, and parked cars obstructing drivers' vision.
Although a city speed survey conducted in 2019 found drivers on Oak Park Boulevard rarely exceed the 30 mph speed limit by more than 4 miles per hour, Grover Beach resident Les Henderson, who lives on Oak Park, likened the road to a drag race. Henderson said the city has long known about the safety issues at the intersection of North Oak Park and Brighton, but nothing has changed.
"People like me, the residents up here, are begging you for help," Henderson said at the meeting. "And you can't make a decision or you're indecisive or you want to do another survey."
Henderson noted the city's own findings that there were 20 traffic collisions on North Oak Park between West Grand and Sierra avenues in 2018, and 17 collisions on the same stretch of road in 2019.
"Please, folks, help us," he said. "Do something. Make a decision. Please, city manager. Please, public works. Please, police department!"
Residents and city staff disagree about how to make the roadway in question safer. However, most agree that the parking spots along North Oak Park Boulevard near its intersections with Brighton and Newport avenues and in front of Oak Park Christian Church need to go.
Vehicles parked in those spots make it nearly impossible for drivers turning onto Oak Park to see oncoming traffic, according to a city staff report. A city survey regarding the spots found that nearly 90 percent of 55 respondents supported removing about 30 parking spaces along the road.
Half of those parking spaces sit directly in front of Oak Park Christian Church. Pastor Mike Gunderson told New Times that church leaders have been trying to get rid of those spots since before he started at the church nearly 13 years ago.
The parking spots are rarely used for parishioners and are usually filled with used cars for sale. It's unsightly, Gunderson said, and worse, when trucks, SUVs, and even motorhomes are left in those spots, it's challenging for drivers leaving the church parking lot to see oncoming traffic.
But every time the church has requested that the city remove those parking spots, it's been denied. So Gunderson said he was pleasantly surprised when he heard the city's proposal to paint the curb red.
"It's been an issue for a number of years," he told New Times. Δ