Shop owners, police team up against speeders
SAN PABLO: A 2003 study showed that three of the top 10 intersections for traffic collisions in the city were on 23rd Street
By Karl Fischer

Not much gets the heart pumping like a shopping trip to 23rd Street in San Pablo.

Dodging a hurtling truck will do that, merchants agree.

"I've had some comments. A customer recently told me, 'I noticed you've been having a sale, but I've been too scared to cross the street,'" said Maria Flores, owner of La Guarecita market and taqueria. "We do have a lot of speeding."

That complaint has echoed for decades among shop owners on 23rd -- one of San Pablo's most-traveled arterial streets. But spurred this year by collaboration from merchants, police say they have redoubled efforts to combat dangerous drivers along the corridor.

Every week, officers with radar guns stand on the sidewalk during commute hours, zapping and ticketing drivers -- many drivers. Police doled out more than 200 speeding tickets on 23rd in August and September.

"We're not just out there to stop people and give them tickets. We want to educate them, too," police Sgt. Dave Lewellyn said. "A lot of people who zip through here don't understand that there's a 25 mph school zone here, and a business zone, so they need to slow down."

Regular, intensive traffic enforcement will continue on the street until drivers slow down, Lewellyn said.

Officer Craig Matecki, a San Pablo traffic officer, stood beside a brick fence on a recent Wednesday morning with a clipboard and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) device, watching the tail end of the morning commute whiz past him.

Patrol cars sat on side streets on either end of the block, waiting for Matecki's signal to swoop into traffic. During the seven speed-enforcement operations in August and September, police wrote more than 200 tickets, almost all for speed.

"Most of our problems on 23rd Street come during commute hours," Matecki said, watching a white cable van zoom by in excess of 40 mph. "A lot of it is focused around the school, people dropping off or picking up the kids."

Richmond High School sits on a long, straight stretch of 23rd immediately south of San Pablo. Police in Richmond and the Contra Costa Health Services Department recently identified that stretch as one of the most dangerous in Richmond for pedestrians, and they are working on safety programs there.

A 2003 traffic study in San Pablo showed that three of the city's top 10 intersections for traffic collisions were on 23rd: at San Pablo, Dover and Market avenues. City crews recently installed new signs and re-striped some crosswalks, police said, and the merchants are pushing for better lighting, more traffic signals and other pedestrian-friendly amenities.

The improvements are due in large part to merchants helping each other communicate more effectively with city government, said San Pablo Mayor Genoveva Garcia Calloway, who helped organize monthly meetings for 23rd Street merchants to discuss shared issues.

Many shop owners speak predominantly Spanish or Southeast Asian languages and lack the English skills to participate effectively in city government or Chamber of Commerce meetings. Discussions in a more familiar environment and at convenient times help encourage participation, she added.

"We knew that, as a group, (the merchants) need a lot of information from City Hall. But because of language barriers ... there is a big communication gap," Garcia Calloway said.

Stores of all description crowd the corridor, one of San Pablo's most traveled arterial streets. San Pablo spent the 1990s investing in 23rd Street's business potential with spruce-up projects and storefront overhauls.

But some newer owners say the same complaints that bedeviled past efforts remain problems for merchants today: lack of pedestrian safety features, too many shabby properties and difficulties navigating municipal bureaucracy.

"The Police Department is more involved," said Humberto Madrigal, who runs La Plazuela Mexican Restaurant & Bar on 23rd Street. "I think the merchants are happier."

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or


Merchants invite those with businesses on 23rd Street in San Pablo to attend monthly meetings to discuss common issues. Meetings are held at 9:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at La Plazuela Mexican Restaurant & Bar at 2022 23rd St.