Latinos call pedestrian safety top priority | SierraSun.com

Latinos call pedestrian safety top priority

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunVictoria Martin, 4, and Valeria Martin, 3, of Kings Beach ride their bikes on Bear Street as a car passes by. Pedestrian safety is one of the biggest concerns for the Latino community living in the Kings Beach grid.

Abel Villagomez lives down the street from the North Tahoe Boys and Girls Club and Kings Beach Elementary, and everyday he sees groups of kids walking down his street.

“I really do enjoy seeing the kids this tall, carrying their lunchbox,” Villagomez said, positioning his hand about four feet above the ground. “Everyday, they’re here cruising by.”

For Villagomez and many others in Kings Beach’s Latino community, pedestrian safety is a primary concern for the proposed Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement project.

Despite several cars that are parked on his property, Villagomez and his family walk throughout Kings Beach everyday, just as the majority of the town’s Spanish-speaking residents do.

And the thought of cars driving fast in the community, whether on Villagomez’ street or through Kings Beach’s downtown corridor, concerns many people in its ethnic community.

“[The grid] is not really designed to accommodate thousands of cars,” Villagomez said. “It’s not going to take long for people to learn that going on these streets will avoid them from going to downtown Kings Beach.”

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Executive Director Sylvia Ambriz of the Kings Beach Family Resource Center said many Latino residents who live in the grid, a series of streets located behind the Kings Beach downtown corridor, are hoping that Placer County will slow down traffic or reduce the number of vehicles in the backstreets, regardless of the chosen alternative.

“Their overall impression of the core improvement project is that it is well overdue,” Ambriz said. “They’re definitely waiting for something, regardless of [whether] it’s three lanes or four lanes.”

Placer Deputy Director of Public Works Peter Kraatz said that three out of the eight public meetings for the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement project were conducted in Spanish, with a translator on hand at the remaining five. The county also provided information about the renovation project to Spanish radio stations and distributed bilingual fliers to residents and Kings Beach students.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 census, 41.5 percent of Kings Beach’s population is Hispanic or Latino, but only about a dozen people attended the Sierra Business Council’s Spanish workshop held in May, Kraatz said.

“It’s hard with any project … it’s still, I think, such a challenge to get people [who] have the time to come to these meetings and voice their opinions,” Kraatz said in a phone interview. “I think that’s always a challenge with any public project, but I think we’ve done a very good job with advertising our meetings both with the Hispanic [population] and the community at large.”

Ambriz said she hoped more people would attend the county’s Spanish-language workshop. But the meeting’s small attendance is not a valid indicator for Latino interest and concern with the project. For other cultural factors inhibited Latino participation in the public process, she said.

“They just don’t come from places where they’ve learned how to advocate for themselves,” Ambriz said. “They come here to work and make a better home for their kids and families. The last thing on their mind is how a road will change the community, unless you sit down with them and share what it means.”

After the last of the Sierra Business Council’s public workshops, the Kings Beach Family Resource Center hosted smaller forums that catered specifically to the Latino community.

The center worked with Placer County and focused on distributing correct information at the forums about each of four proposed alternatives, fostering a connection between the Latino community and the project, as well as preventing the spread of misinformation.

Ambriz said more than 160 Latino residents participated in the center’s smaller forums. Feedback revealed that many Spanish-speaking residents are passive about the project because it’s been such a long time coming, Ambriz said.

“They’ve participated in the past, and nothing’s happened, so why do it again?” Ambriz said. “They don’t have faith in processes like these.”

Villagomez, who speaks English fluently, said language barriers further discouraged participation.

“Most of our community are senior residents. You know, my dad came here when Kings Beach was nothing,” Villagomez said. “They have a lack of language, so they can’t really express themselves … they’re not going to feel really free to talk.”

Emilio Vaca, a Kings Beach resident and facilitator for Kings Beach group Creciendo Unidos, said personal connection to the issue at hand is needed to encourage Latino participation.

“It’s about that relationship, you know. It’s not so much that it’s English or Spanish ” they value that relationship more,” Vaca said. “It’s that interpersonal contact. They feel they’re part of [the process] just by making that connection.”

Though Placer County did provide information to the Latino community about the project’s public process, Vaca said many Latinos needed more than an e-mail or a newsletter to encourage their participation in the project.

“Just like any process that’s happened in Kings Beach or Lake Tahoe, if there’s no personal relationship with some of the [Latino] folks, they won’t show up,” Vaca said.

Kraatz said the county will address traffic-calming methods in the Kings Beach grid after one of the alternative is chosen as the preferred option. The traffic-calming process will parallel the project’s design phase.