Historical ‘gem’ feels effect of truck routes

In the 1960s, master craftsmen from Japan brought 100 crates of rare wood, woven mats and delicate rice paper to San Mateo, where they constructed a meticulous replica of the Japanese emperor’s summer villa on the Watanuki family’s property.

Today, when Laurie Watanuki runs her fingers across that rice paper, they blacken with diesel soot.

Her Fifth Avenue property is lined on two sides with busy truck routes, on which big-rig trucks roar past, spewing fumes and dust, knocking down low branches, sending volleys of tiny tsunamis across the surface of Watanuki’s otherwise peaceful pond.

And soon, Watanuki could have to contend with truck routes on all three sides of her property.

For about a year, San Mateo’s Public Works Department has been considering how to expand and clarify the city’s truck routes — roads that trucks should use to connect from freeways to commercial areas.

Watanuki, who says she’s lost sleep over this issue, says people on her street have already been hurt enough by trucks. In recent years, three cars have slammed through her fence, one nearly damaging the unique “gem” of history on her property.

As it stands, the city has very few approved routes, said Gary Heap, a senior engineer for Public Works. An expanded list would allow police to cite trucks that frequent streets that aren’t on that list, he said.

Pubic Works initially proposed to designate about 30 streets — many residential — as routes. Since then, that list has been pared down to a handful. The controversial routes would take trucks from Highway 101 to its frontage road, South Amphlett Boulevard, home to dozens of construction companies, software manufacturers and other businesses.

At issue is how to get there: on Fifth Avenue or on Ninth Avenue — both residential streets. Fifth Avenue is a shorter route, but Ninth Avenue is wider. At a recent City Council meeting, residents from each route gave impassioned arguments about why the other should be chosen as a truck route. They cited fears of noise, road damage, pollution and safety hazards to their streets.

Public Works Director Larry Patterson said the council will likely consider the issue again in May.

kworth@examiner.com

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