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ROAD RAGE: Dispute over King High closure getting personal

Racco under attack by angry residents as the barricades go up

The angry dispute surrounding the closure of King High Dr. at Dufferin St. continues unabated, with local councillor Sandra Racco now in the crosshairs of upset residents.

Barricades went up at the west end of King High on Nov. 19, marking the beginning of a one-year trial closure designed to deter infiltrating traffic from using the sleepy residential street as a thoroughfare.

The move by the city, approved by council at its May 22 meeting following a survey of area residents, is the latest in the lengthy battle dating back more than a decade.

Regional Councillor Mario Ferri found himself at the centre of the storm at an impassioned committee meeting Nov. 5. A lobby group of residents opposed to the closure surrounded Ferri at the end of the meeting to continue their pleas for action.

The frustration and anger of those opposed to the closure has now been fiercely levelled at Racco. The Ward 4 councillor was not at the Nov. 5 meeting.

“This woman has manipulated everybody and manipulated even council,” Concord Rd. resident Renee Benmor said in a phone interview last Friday. “There’s a lot of residents that are very angry right now and, believe me, if she ever shows up at their door, they’ll slam it right in her face.

“I said to her: ‘We took your husband out. We’re going to take you out.’ ”

Benmor was among the large and organized group of about 50 opponents of the closure led by Beverley Glen Blvd. resident Alex Porat at the Nov. 5 committee meeting. Ferri and fellow regional councillor Joyce Frustaglio agreed at the conclusion of that meeting to discuss the situation with Porat.

Out of that meeting came what Ferri calls a “compromise”: the review of the closure after six months rather than after the planned year.

But still faced with the closure and with limited options remaining, opponents looked for support from higher levels of government.

The lobby group scheduled a Nov. 23 meeting at newly elected MPP Peter Shurman’s constituency office.

Shurman did not attend. Instead, the group met with one of his assistants and were told that the matter is a municipal rather than a provincial one, Benmor said.

“Nothing happened (at the meeting), really,” Porat said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We hope that Mr. Shurman is going to raise it with the city.

“What else can we do?”

In the first few days of the closure, both Benmor and Porat say they have witnessed a dramatic increase in the level of traffic on both Beverly Glen and Concord — proving what they say is a dangerous safety risk.

“I’ve noticed the traffic on our streets just really increase,” Porat said. “And now during rush hour there used to be (some) breaks in the traffic, but it’s literally wall-to-wall now.

“Last Thursday, during that snowstorm, my daughter ran across the street … and I almost saw her get hit by a car. It just drives me crazy.”

The anger directed at Racco has led to allegations levelled by Benmor of Racco’s arrogance and favouritism of King High residents over those of surrounding streets.

Benmor also alleges that Racco has denied receiving any communication from her, a claim that Racco vehemently opposed.

“I can guarantee you, this particular lady has never called my office, not even once,” Racco said Tuesday. “The first time she spoke to my assistant was last week.

“I’ve never received a fax, I’ve never got a call, I never got an email from her until now.”

Both said they have documentation proving their claims.

Racco went further, saying previous conversations between them have descended into name-calling and personal attacks.

“She’s called me many names to my face — very rudely too,” Racco said. “That’s where I take exception: when residents start calling people names and taking it personal when I’m trying to do my job.”

Racco’s allegation of inappropriate language mirrored one made by Benmor. At a heated February meeting convened by Porat, Benmor said Racco “shouted” at an attendee and “told him to shut up”.

“This is not a language you speak, right?” Benmor asked rhetorically.

Despite the heated words, Racco said she has not been deterred from her work and is continuing to search for a satisfactory solution.

“I am actively looking to solve problems on a daily basis,” Racco said, adding she will soon be proposing a reconfiguration of left-turn lanes at Dufferin and Centre Sts. at council. “I’m not just sitting there saying: ‘OK, I’ve done my job. That’s it. Too bad.’ ”

Racco also said that the newly scheduled six-month review of the closure would be an opportunity to objectively assess the effectiveness of the barricades on King High.

“We could very well at six months say … it’s not going to work,” she said. “Either we put in other restrictions or take out the temporary closure, (but) I don’t know.

“That’ll be up to council and up to staff to make that recommendation to us.”

Vaughan Today
Online: November 29, 2007 [link]