Grausz, Appelman vie for senior vote

City Council candidates Ira Appelman and Dan Grausz held two forums last week, speaking to the Island’s senior citizen population. The first forum was held at Island House on Sept. 30. The second was held at Aljoya House on Oct. 1. Residents of both living communities attended the forum, along with seniors from across the Island.

Addressing the Aljoya House crowd of approximately 50, Appelman told his audience that “I don’t think seniors get much respect from the City Council.” As “evidence,” Appelman cited a handful of circumstances from the past, such as when the seniors were “booted out” of the Community Center at Mercer View when it opened in 2005 and sent to Covenant Shores for their senior lunch program. He also mentioned the city’s Senior Commission, arguing that the City Council did little to financially support the group after it was established in 2007.

If elected to the Council, Appelman emphasized that he would represent senior citizens’ needs and help those “without political power” to be heard.

“I have spent the last 12 years working with people without political power and telling them how the Council works, which almost none of you know how it works. You don’t know the procedures, you don’t know the commissions, you don’t know the public hearings, you don’t know the rules,” he said.

Grausz took a different approach, encouraging seniors to attend City Council meetings and be heard.

“This is the way our city works. Every Council meeting we start with something we call appearances, where persons such as yourself can come to the Council and tell us what’s on your mind,” he said in response to a woman’s concern about cyclists racing past pedestrians on Town Center pathways. “Every person who comes and raises a point gets a response from city staff.”

Grausz vehemently disagreed with Appelman’s statement that the City Council undervalues senior citizens. He pointed out that the city offers over 30 programs for Island seniors and that Councilmembers unanimously respect their needs and concerns.

“If you can’t come to a Council meeting, all you have to do is contact staff,” he told the Aljoya audience. “And you’ve now contacted me, so I will make sure you get a response.”

Pedestrian safety in the Town Center — whether walking along landscaped paths or crossing busy streets — was one concern expressed by audience members. A few Aljoya residents asked the Council to add a crosswalk outside the retirement community on S.E. 27th Street, as there is currently no safe way to cross the street without walking more than 400 meters to the Starbucks crossing or the other direction to S.E. 24th Street.

Others expressed concern over cyclists who fly past pedestrians without warning on Town Center paths, as well as peloton cyclists who take up much of East and West Mercer Way while circling the Island.

Seniors also touched on what is, perhaps, the Island’s hottest topic — improving the intersection at Island Crest Way and Merrimount.

Appelman responded that he was against a three-lane “road diet” along Island Crest Way and would fight for a four-way stoplight, which was the safest and most logistical option for the Island.

Grausz said that he was not yet decided on which of the four options — keeping the current ICW set-up, introducing a road diet, prohibiting left turns at the intersection or building a four-way stoplight — he would support.

“I’ve not, at this point, decided how I’m going to vote on this. We’re still taking public input,” he said, adding that he did have several concerns about the traffic light option. “People say they oppose the road diet because it will slow down traffic. The reality is, there’s nothing which slows down traffic more than a red light.”

The City Council will not be discussing the Merrimount and Island Crest Way intersection until Dec. 7. The agenda item was up for Council approval last April, but Councilmembers decided to postpone making a decision on the matter until after the mid-biennial budget review was completed in the fall. This would give Councilmembers a better idea of the amount of money available for the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) project.

A full review of the mid-biennial budget, including adjustments for 2010, will be complete in November. With this information, the City Council will be prepared to make its decision on Island Crest Way and Merrimount by Dec. 7.

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