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Oceano man paints statement for road safety
By Nathan Welton
The Tribune
Saturday, July 3, 2004


Bill Bookout carefully positioned a water bottle on the street corner in front of his Oceano Nursery.

"That's a kid," he said.

A car squashed it 10 minutes later.

The streets surrounding his small business have become notoriously dangerous, Bookout said, and he's taken the government to task. Last week in protest, he painted the side of his building sea blue, then brushed on it an imitation yellow road sign with several running stick figures trying to cross a street.

He said a hit-and-run driver crashed into his fence a month ago, causing $2,000 in damage. Where the water bottle met its end, a 13-year-old girl was hit by a car in February -- but lived. Around the same time, a speeding driver crashed just up the road and died; another man plowed a car into a next-door building. Last year, an elderly couple was hit in their car while pulling out of Bookout's driveway -- the husband later died from his injuries.

Caltrans has taken steps to rectify the situation, but local residents say it's too little, and tardy.

"This is treacherous," said nursery customer Jeanne Mello, "especially on Fourth of July weekends."

Officials just finished an investigation on the intersections around Oceano Nursery, where Paso Robles Street and 13th Street dead end diagonally into Highway 1 within 100 feet of each other.

The wheelchair ramp where 13th Street cuts off of northbound Highway 1 is so wide that cars routinely drive several feet onto the sidewalk -- exactly where Bookout placed his bottle and close to where the teenage Grover Beach girl was thrown from her scooter last February.

Caltrans' survey identified the intersection as dangerous and called for an increase in curb height to prevent cars from cutting the corner. Essentially the wheelchair ramp will move away from the corner, and construction should start soon.

But investigators stopped there.

Caltrans spokeswoman Marta Bortner said adding stop signs or stop lights -- as preferred by some area residents -- would cause traffic congestion and increase the likelihood of rear-end collisions along Highway 1. This is because of the disproportionate number of cars on the thoroughfare compared to the Oceano surface streets. She also said speed bumps would be too big for the roadway.

"If Caltrans says they can't fix it, they're just being cheap," Bookout said, "and they'll hear it from me."

Bookout also explained that drivers tend to speed along the road, making crossings precarious.

"Is that car going to stop?" he asked, standing in the middle of Highway 1 while walking from his car to his shop.

It didn't.

"Is that one?"


"How about that one?"


"See, there's no safe way to cross the street here," he said. "Three cars in a row didn't stop."

Bortner, however, said putting crosswalks in would give people a false sense of security, especially on the busy highway. She did say it's legal to cross at an intersection, per state Vehicle Code.

Locals weren't impressed.

"There's a bus stop but no crosswalk to it," said resident Stephanie Damron, pointing to a lonely bench amongst fallen leaves on the other side of the road. "You're standing on the busiest corner of Oceano."

Bortner said that the posted 30 mph speed limit was a result of traffic studies, and enforcement fell on the shoulders of law enforcement, not road engineers. CHP officials couldn't be reached for comment late Friday.

"But if there's a stop sign, there'd be no need for cops," said Damron. "Oceano is getting busier and busier, and people think of a highway as a right to go faster."

Still, said Bortner, when communities form that aren't on a grid format, they cause planning headaches.

"It's a challenging intersection," she said.