Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Open Letter to Judge Govendo

Judge Govendo wrote a letter to the editor today that specifically asked me for a response. Here you go:
Dear Judge Govendo,

I expect this will be one of nine letters addressed to you in newspapers in the upcoming days.

Your recent letter to the editor raises some important concerns and it is not too late to have your suggestions integrated into the existing Laolao Bay Road Improvement Plan. There has been a plan to pave Laolao Road for several years now and it is only now moving forward because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has made funding available.

Believe it or not, it is not the federal Department of Transportation paving the road, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is involved because the diversity of corals and percentage of coral coverage in Laolao Bay has decreased significantly in recent decades. The scientists tell us it is because of sediment laden storm runoff from the coral road and recently burned private lands in the watershed smothering the reef.

The road is being paved to reduce the sediment from one of those sources, the coral graded roads. The plan also includes the installation of stream drainage improvements, which will further help reduce sedimentation, and barricading vehicular access to the beach, which will protect important turtle nesting habitat and endemic medicinal plants. The plan also improves on the dive site and pedestrian beach access.

This, however, does not address your concern of bad drivers, but I do not think it is too late to have your concerns heard.

There was a public meeting hosted by NOAA on this issue in Kagman on September 21 of this year and Kathleen Hermann explained in detail the plan. Phase I of the plan has not yet been implemented and I do not believe a contractor has been hired to redesign the plans drawn by Tim Lang of Coastal Resource Management Office in 2005 (the plans have to be redrawn to account for four years of further erosion). When those plans are redrawn, I hope that your concerns can be included.

I would recommend the construction of a separate bicycle lane, speed bumps, and a railing along the dangerous cliff.

Your letter raises a much larger issue, however, as Laolao Road is not the only road that is dangerous on Saipan. As a child I remember asking my stepmother why there were no sidewalks on Saipan and I distinctly remember being dissatisfied with her answer.

Years later I read a great book by James Howard Kunstler called Geography of Nowhere and found a much better answer: Before World War II, America (and Saipan) built villages and towns for people; After World War II, America (and Saipan) built villages and towns for cars.

You can see this by comparing the old villages of Chalan Kanoa, Garapan, Oleai, and Tanapag to the newer villages of Kagman, Dandan, and Koblerville.

The focus of those older villages is the church. The houses and businesses are built around the church. And everything from your school, to the corner shop, to your uncle’s house is within walking distance. The newer villages planned for no church. No school. No businesses. And to go anywhere you have to drive.

Several years ago I wrote a letter to the editor called “Imagine the New Garapan” where I describe how Traditional Neighborhood Development could be applied to our tourist district.

The Saipan of tomorrow could be a lot like the Saipan of old if we plan for it. Village planning can make our streets safer, especially if we plan them so that walking and biking is as convenient as driving.

I apologize for this short rendition of my vision of the New Saipan, but this is supposed to be just a simple letter to the editor. I hope I answered your questions and if you would like to discuss this or any other issues further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Angelo O’Connor Villagomez
Democratic Nominee for Mayor of Saipan

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