Investigative Report on San Francisco's Dirty Politics
By Gary Hanauer, Special to Riptide
The federal government reopened October 17. Commenting on Cincinnati-based radio station WLW, House Speaker John Boehner became the first major official to say that the shutdown would end. The end came after both houses of Congress okayed the deals and President Obama signed enabling measures.
Boehner told listeners: "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." Then the Senate voted 81-18 to pass a bill to reopen the government and avoid default, lifting the debt ceiling. Senator Lindsey Graham, appearing on CNN, said, "We overplayed our hand so badly, by the end we had just a pair of 2s."
On October 9, some 100 people assembled in the Vallemar School auditorium to express outrage over Caltrans' controversial proposal to widen Highway 1 in Pacifica, which the state transportation agency has grandly labeled Calera Parkway Project.
No attendees at the meeting spoke in support of highway widening, and many wanted alternatives analyzed and considered.
Former mayor Peter Loeb gave a history of the project, noting that voters had stopped the 380 freeway from being extended through Vallemar from San Bruno, and that citizen action had turned the Devil's Slide Tunnels into a positive alternative to a freeway bypass cutting through Montara Mountain.
Former planning commissioner William "Leo" Leon showed images giving a sense of the project's footprint. He said that the project would double the roadway's width and cause potentially significant visual and environmental impacts to existing business and residential frontage on the Highway1 portion of Rockaway Beach. He also raised concerns about the ability of pedestrians and bicyclists (particularly seniors, schoolchildren, and the disabled) to cross a wider highway.
Pete Shoemaker, president of Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A), argued that the city should hire a traffic consultant to work on a set of softer alternatives, such as light timing, school start-time shifts, and a pedestrian overpass. He claimed that Caltrans tends not to do simple solutions but that Pacifica needs more complex and subtler solutions.
Attorney Hal Bohner explained that he and Peter Loeb are suing the city because the general plan specifically states that highway capacity should not be increased.
PH1A spokesperson Cynthia Kaufman urged people to get involved in the highway-widening issue. A second public meeting to further discuss alternatives will be announced soon.
Overwhelming public interest in and opposition to the project reflect prior public comments by more than 200 citizens in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
PH1A has asked City Council to hold a public hearing on the project, but council has failed to do so and has not taken any public position on the project. PH1A is asking the city to hold hearings and consider alternatives. Once pending litigation is settled, Caltrans likely will ask the city for permits for the project.
(From a PH1A press release, edited for space and clarity)
By Bill Collins, Riptide Correspondent
What happens when a city's elected City Council ducks holding public hearings on a local controversy? In Pacifica, citizens hold their own hearings.
Some 100 people came to a public forum October 9 to hear about the Highway 1 widening controversy. Reflecting the prior 200-plus comments on the environmental impact report (EIR) and at scoping meetings, Pacificans clearly do not buy Caltrans' Calera Parkway Project as proposed, and they want alternatives analyzed.
A second public meeting to further explore alternatives to highway widening is in the works and will be announced soon.
When county and state transportation staff tried to force its own solution to the Devil's Slide issue years ago, citizens had another idea, and insisted on the tunnel, now acclaimed as a smart solution.
In the same spirit, the public now demands that quicker, less disruptive solutions be on the table for Highway 1. Transportation staff will try to force City Council into a "take it or leave it" option, but council should refuse to play ball. Staff will tell council that it has few options, but council should refuse to be led like sheep and insist on full analysis of all options before it votes.
By Peter Loeb, Riptide Correspondent
At the link above is a letter to Caltrans from Pacifica's then-city manager Stephen Rhodes, on behalf of the city, which acts as a "formal commitment" to "maintain the landscaping within the median" of the landscaped-median alternative for the Calera Parkway Project.
This letter also states that the City Council's position, taken on June 25, 2012, is that the landscaped median is the city's preferred project alternative and that the council nominates the "Calera Parkway Project to SMCTA for possible funding of the design stage pending the Council's final decision after the FEIR has been released."
The problem is that there was never any formal action by council to approve a commitment to maintain the landscaping within the highway median. There is no information about how much the city would pay to maintain the landscaping or where the funding would come from. The public had no input on this formal commitment to Caltrans about costs and city resources involved in such a commitment.
The ongoing cost of maintenance could be quite significant. What's disturbing is that neither the public nor council have any information about that. Shouldn't there be an annual cost estimate of some kind? Without it, how can you make an informed decision?
The more important point is that this was never said in the June 25, 2012 council meeting when this matter was discussed. The council was never informed that it was making a potentially large financial commitment. Yet in this letter, the city manager tells Caltrans what it demands to hear—that the city would commit to this financial obligation. Not only was there no public process but even the council was not told about this when it deliberated. That is a totally screwed-up process.
By John Maybury, Editor & Publisher
As the clock ticks down to a confrontation between forces that propose to widen Highway 1 and those that oppose it, the curiously passive Pacifica City Council has issued an undated press release on city letterhead whining that citizen opposition lawsuits have forced the city to delay public hearings on the widening proposal. Oh, the crocodile tears!
Well, duh, why hasn't the council already done the right thing, the proactive thing, the responsible thing, the democratic thing, and let some air and sunlight into this secretive, bureaucratic process? Why didn't our elected representatives hold public forums long ago? I will leave speculation about the council's motives or reasoning (or lack thereof) to the Big Brains in our Riptide editorial posse. But one word seems to describe this city press release: scapegoating.
Meanwhile, dear readers, click the link below to experience nausea while reading the pusillanimous prose proferred by the city, also linked on the city website homepage. Below, see the response by Pete Shoemaker, chair of Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A).
Response: "The Mayor of Pacifica said that he was 'frustrated' that hearings on the proposed Highway 1 widening project have been postponed. We at Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives (PH1A) agree and share his frustration. We have been advocating for a long time that public hearings be held, and have been frustrated that the City Council did not schedule them sooner, ideally when the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was first released. Now that the final report (FEIR) is out, it is more important than ever that the public be educated on this proposed project." (Pete Shoemaker, chair of PH1A)
A public discussion on October 9 at Vallemar School continues Monday, October 21 at 7 p.m. at Sharp Park Library.
Riptide correspondent Todd Bray has requested disclosure from Caltrans of correspondence between the state transportation agency and the City of Pacifica. Below are some excerpts from Todd's colorfully worded Public Records Act request (edited for clarity and space):
"Dear Mr. Suleiman: On June 24, 2013, former Pacifica city manager Stephen Rhodes wrote to Caltrans District 4 head honcho Bijan Sartipi in response to a letter from you asking for some sort of formal commitment by the City of Pacifica to pay for maintenance of a landscaped median if you were to plow Pacifica as part of the now-infamous Calera Parkway Project. I'm formally requesting to see the letter you sent Mr. Rhodes asking for a formal commitment to fund a landscaped median for the Calera Parkway Project. Consider this a PRA request. By law, you have 10 days to respond with a copy of the letter. As you know, the record of City Council action does not support Mr. Rhodes' assertions regarding a landscaped median, and that is easily provable. In fact, Mr. Rhodes' actions before leaving his position are actionable as a civil matter, and I may in time decide to pursue that course. Thank you for your time."
By Lionel Emde, Riptide Correspondent
A 2012 poll revealed that support for a $30 million bond to build a new library/civic structure had less than required support for passage:
The City of Pacifica website has no record of public discussion of this issue, nor any costs related to the poll conducted by the contractor. Thanks to Pacifica Index for ferreting out this info from obscure city documents.
By Lionel Emde, Riptide Correspondent
This flyer (above) began appearing on doorknobs in Linda Mar over the weekend. Expansion of the utility users tax (UUT) to phones and telecommunications is attacked in the flyer as "severely flawed," as "the city budget is balanced, has a $1.8 million surplus (up from $1.48 million last year) and all city programs including the police and resource center are fully funded."
The flyer's author is Charles (Chuck) Gerughty, a longtime local real estate agent and accountant. (Full disclosure: Chuck has prepared my tax returns for many years.) Driving around town on October 5, I saw "No on V" signs in several places. It is unknown where the headquarters and source of the signs and flyers are.
By Jim Wagner, Pacifica Taxpayers Against Measure V
For those of us who remember pay phones, rejoice! The City of Pacifica wants to bring them back in a new and “modernized” form. Now we won’t have to fumble for dimes and quarters. The city will collect from us automatically. How quaint. The phone tax deputizes City Council to go out us and root through our records for evidence of scofflaws. Oh, and with subpoena power. Wonder if they get a badge and maybe a sidearm!
Seriously, do you really want the city perusing your financial records? I see all kinds of legal issues here, but I’m not a lawyer, so who knows. How will they keep your records safe from prying eyes, or even from being stolen?
The following is from the text of the ordinance. Voters will be able to read this in its entirety in their voter information pamphlet:
"Compiled by the Pacifica City Clerk Ms. Kathy O'Connell, City of Pacifica. Council may issue an administrative subpoena to compel a person to deliver, to the Tax Administrator copies of all records deemed necessary by the Tax Administrator to establish compliance with this chapter, including the delivery of records in a common electronic format on readily available media if such records are kept electronically by the person in the usual and ordinary course of business. As an alternative to delivering the subpoenaed records to the Tax Administrator on or before the due date provided in the administrative subpoena, such person may provide access to such records outside the City on or before the due date, provided that such person shall reimburse the City for all reasonable travel expenses incurred by the City to inspect those records, including travel, lodging, meals, and other similar expenses, but excluding the normal salary or hourly wages of those persons designated by the City to conduct the inspection."
Oh, and there’s more of this little gem: "If any person subject to record-keeping under this section unreasonably denies the Tax Administrator access to such records, or fails to produce the information requested in an administrative subpoena within the time specified, then the Tax Administrator may impose a penalty of five hundred dollars ($500.00) on such person for each day following: (1) the initial date that the person refuses to provide such access; or (2) the due date for production of records as set forth in the administrative subpoena. This penalty shall be in addition to any other penalty imposed under this chapter. Sec. 3-11A."
I wonder if council even knows this is in the ordinance. If it did and passed it anyway, that's unconscionable! If you want a lawn sign or poster, call me at 650-738-4900.
Ian Butler interviews Cecily Harris, executive director of Coastside State Parks Association:
Ian interviews Pacifica City Councilman Mike O'Neill:
By Ian Butler, Riptide Correspondent
When Sue Pemberton was a kid, I bet she found all the candy at the Easter egg hunt. Now that she’s all grown up, she applies her super powers to picking up litter at the beach. One of the things she has found a lot of is fireworks litter after the 4th of July celebrations, which she began to point out to anyone who would listen.
Eventually, the City of Pacifica responded and convened a fireworks task force to address the problem of fireworks litter on the beach. I was an alternate on that task force, which put together a list of recommendations approved by City Council just in time for this year’s 4th of July celebration.
The changes included reducing the beach area where fireworks are allowed, increased public awareness about fireworks litter, and increased post-celebration cleanups by nonprofit groups that sell fireworks. I went to the beach on the 4th to see how well the changes went, and can say that there is a lot of room for improvement.
The main problem is that the areas of Linda Mar beach where fireworks are no longer allowed were ablaze with fireworks (both legal and illegal) and even several large bonfires. It is tempting to jump to the conclusion that the policy was a failure and that the only way to really get fireworks under control is to ban them from the entire beach, but I spoke with Police Chief Jim Tasa, and he is confident that next year they can do a much better job of enforcing the new laws, so perhaps we should withhold judgment on that for another year.
In the meantime, there is a lot more that we can do. The problem with the new policies is that they address only one little corner of the problem: litter from legal fireworks on 4th of July. Yes, the litter from these fireworks being set off at the beach is a real problem and it’s great that we are addressing it, but the greater problem is that our community is bombarded with illegal fireworks year-round.
And those fireworks are traumatizing people, pets, and wild animals alike, with deafening noise, blinding flashes, and toxic smoke, not to mention a serious fire hazard. Our present policy isn’t exactly the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it’s close.
So what can we do? Well, we could ban legal fireworks, which would certainly help curtail the illegal ones, but there is no alternative way to bring in the $100,000 a year that the fireworks sales bring in for our nonprofits. And safe and sane fireworks do have their charm, although I could do without the Piccolo Petes, which are the sonic equivalent of a screaming teapot crossed with Yoko Ono.
Fortunately, there are a few legitimate options available that we have not yet considered. In researching the topic, I learned that several communities offer rewards for information that leads to an arrest for illegal fireworks. This is a form of “crowdsourcing,” enlisting the general public to perform a task, which can be difficult to do otherwise.
In Pacifica we have a culture that has evolved over decades of otherwise law-abiding citizens illegally purchasing and setting off illegal fireworks. It is a social activity—half the fun is impressing your guests with massive mortars that would make the pros jealous. Now imagine how it would feel if any of your guests could potentially get $500 for turning you in. I suspect for a lot of people it just wouldn’t be worth it anymore. This program would be virtually free to implement, because the city collects a $1,000 administrative fine for each conviction.
Another option is one that Chief Tasa suggested, and that is a Social Host Ordinance. This type of ordinance—generally used to prevent underage drinking—holds the owner or parent responsible for illegal activities in a home, as well as any subsequent harm such as drunk driving accidents that may ensue. Applying this strategy toward fireworks could provide a strong disincentive and make it easier to prosecute for illegal fireworks. Like the reward idea, the key to the Social Host Ordinance is to get the word out to the public, for maximum deterrent effect.
There may be more ideas that we can come up with, and we need to seriously consider all of them. If we can’t get the illegal fireworks under control, it is inevitable that all fireworks will be banned. Either that or send Sue Pemberton after the illegal ones. She can find anything.
While some Pacificans are aware that Caltrans recently released the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the highway widening (euphemistically known as the Calera Parkway Project), very few people are aware that the public comment period ended when Caltrans filed its Notice of Determination (NOD) with the State of California effective August 8, 2013.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the lead agency files an NOD after the agency has approved the FEIR and determined that the CEQA process is final and complete.
Public Comment No Longer Accepted
Public comments on the FEIR's adequacy are no longer relevant nor will they be accepted. This includes any comments by agencies involved in the highway-widening process such as the City of Pacifica. CEQA does not require public comment on the FEIR.
Under CEQA, the only way to challenge the FEIR at this point is to file a lawsuit no later than 30 days after August 8, 2013—the date of receipt of the NOD.
Please pass this information around publicly because this massive bureaucratic and engineering process is moving forward. Those who felt assured that the City Council would listen to its constituents have been misled.
The city should have held public hearings and, just as important, should have interacted with Caltrans as a partner in the CEQA process by tailoring this project to our city's unique needs.
Additionally, and counter to its stated goals, Pacifica's Economic Development Committee refused to listen to requests to discuss the economic impacts of the highway widening on Pacifica businesses.
The result is no information to Caltrans from Pacifica voters, and a project completely inappropriate for our small, scenic coastal town
Construction on this project cannot begin without a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) issued by the California Coastal Commission (CCC). To date, no application for a CDP has been submitted to CCC.
The city can choose to apply for a CDP on its own and hold public hearings prior to approving the CDP, where approval of the permit is based on the city's own Local Coastal Plan (LCP) and portions of the Coastal Act.
Or the city can agree to a Consolidated Permit with CCC and Caltrans, where approval of the permit is based on the Coastal Act. If the city approves the CDP, it can be appealed to CCC.
Let's hope the city properly informs and updates the citizens of Pacifica about the upcoming CDP process. The best outcome for democracy in Pacifica would be for City Council to hold public hearings on the CDP and encourage public comments and discussion of specific impacts to Pacifica.
Promises made by some council members, both publicly and privately, to hold hearings on the FEIR were not kept. Citizens should be frustrated and angry with their elected officials and demand to be heard.
Concerned Pacifica Voters