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January 19, 2010


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"While the tunnels project seems like it could be altered to become four lanes, it will never happen, based on federal and state highway safety restrictions."

Those sorts of paper regulations and restrictions can be burned with so little effort and rationalization that it is almost not worth mentioning them.

The tunnels are sized for two lanes each, with room to spare. The bridges may seem narrow, but they are as wide as two-lane highway bridges elsewhere in the state--a long time since I dug it up, but Caltrans has a list of such dimensions for existing highway developments somewhere--and Caltrans never saw a guideline for which it would not issue an exemption if the skids were greased. The plans for the bypass freeway were originally shot through with these. Similarly, the sections to be widened at either end of the tunnels would not require politicians and burearucrats to plow any new ground in exempting them from piddling concerns, such as the bit of state park that would have to be shaved off between the south portal and Montara.

Urban environmentalists managed to turn their victory on Measure T into long-term defeat when they drank the Caltrans Kool-Aid for the tunnels in sessions following the passage of T. That Kool-Aid was flavored with assurances that flimsy paper restrictions would stop the multi-laning outside the tunnels. Most citizens who voted for T thought they were voting for one two-lane tunnel, not two.

Why get into all of that? Because it is a chapter in the textbook on the lessons to be learned about the motivations of money-driven government agencies and those who are willing to rationalize away overdevelopment (development that cannot be sustained). The voices anticipating a significant boost in number of cars on the highway after the tunnels are complete are already taking that probability into account in campaigning for more lanes in Pacifica and on the midcoast from Montara through Half Moon Bay. Taking a long-term view, it's a positive feedback system working toward a piecemealed coastal freeway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.

Not bound by the physical realities of our material world, short-term money-driven interests get over on communities by promoting cornucopian ideals (there will always be a plentiful supply of whatever is needed) and degradation through compromise of that which has already been compromised.

I expect to be pushing daisies before I see considerations of creating truly sustainable cities/communities, including necessary commercial and residential balance, involved in transportation considerations. And the sun will go supernova before we see means to induce a reduction of number of vehicles using a stretch of highway as one of the alternatives in considerations of widening it. The "growth ethic," another flavor of Kool-Aid, won't allow it.

Matt, make up your mind whether you want answers or arguments, please.

But, Todd, it sounds like you're saying they've excluded all other alternatives in advance.

They're required to propose alternatives, but that doesn't mean they can't propose straw men to get the project they want built.

When I say "they," I'm not sure I don't just mean Jim Vreeland. He's on the SMCTA. That's not necessarily a criticism. Lots of people in Pacifica are desperate for city government to "do something," and he's trying very hard to get something done. I just think there should be a more open process.


Caltrans isn't considering anything. The City of Pacifica and San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) are doing the planning and design work in conjunction with the environmental work, and they are required to offer alternatives to the project. When the draft EIR is circulated, we will find out what the alternatives are. From what I've been told, they will be variations on the theme of widening. The overpass-underpass and roundabout I was told were too expensive and environmentally challenging, requiring much more work by the city and SMCTA.

Once again, this project is Pacifica's idea being funded by SMCTA Measure A money so far (about $3 million to date) and Caltrans is the lead agency.

Bruce, I did not say that "making any improvements to Highway 1 will negatively impact Linda Mar." I'm just not the straw man obstructionist you're imagining.

I think that Calera Creek Parkway specifically will be a disaster for Linda Mar. I explained specifically why. I suggested alternative highway improvements that I think would work, some of which would be far cheaper.

Todd, I have never heard those alternatives "considered" except, say, in someone's living room. If you tell me that Caltrans did a study considering all those options and concluded Calera Creek was the best one, then let me see it and maybe I'll get behind it.

Bruce, you say you'd like transit to be part of the options. Calera Creek is what's preventing us from spending any money on transit. I have been told in no uncertain terms that there is no Measure A money available for transit because it is all being reserved for Calera Creek. Not one dime is available for, say, restoring the DX, adding service to the 118, adding school buses, improving bike pathways, or anything else whatsoever. That's in conflict with Measure A priorities, which say something like 30 percent of funds should go to transit.

I agree with Cynthia. I'd like to hear from Caltrans why it supports this particular proposal. And I agree with Bruce that there should be an overall plan and this should be part of it.

Somebody should start a group to discuss transportation planning and pressure our elected officials and SMCTA and Caltrans to listen. How about we make this the subject of our next Riptide gathering?

Maybury? High Tide or that new place in Pacifica Beach Resort (Sandcastle)?

(Editor's Note: Let's do it. Who wants to be part of this? Let me know offline--email me at [email protected])

In regard to Devil's Slide Tunnels and widening the coast: Yes, Caltrans had plans for a six-lane coastal freeway to San Diego. I have a Caltrans photo illustration from 1974 that shows a cloverleaf where Taco Bell is now, and six lanes with bridges over San Pedro Creek. This picture was never shown to the public. In the 1970s, Highway 1 from Pacifica to Montara and Moss Beach was declared a "Two-Lane Scenic Highway." While the tunnels project seems like it could be altered to become four lanes, it will never happen, based on federal and state highway safety restrictions. If you get a chance to walk on the new bridge, you will clearly understand that it will never be four lanes wide (two lanes each direction). It is barely wide enough for a vehicle lane and emergency lane. Furthermore, when the tunnels are finished, Caltrans is required to sell off all the right-of-way land related to the Devil's Slide project within a year.

At least we're not on the list of Top 75 Worst Commutes, although it might seem that way.


I agree with Matthew Levie that making any improvements to Highway 1 will negatively impact Linda Mar. Oh heck, it will hurt all of Pacifica. I think it's time to look at a real solution.

Let's turn the clock back. The original widening of Highway 1 was the worst thing that ever happened to Pacifica. Let's fill it in and make it a rural two-lane again. It will fix so many things.

Then we have to get rid of anything built in town after Highway 1 was widened (when was that, right around incorporation in 1957?). Houses, businesses--you name it--it has to go. That all by itself should take care of any nasty traffic problems we have.

Or we could look at an overall plan that will improve our town, make our commutes easier (and in my opinion this should include better public transportation), entice visitors to spend some money (notice I didn't say more money), and improve our quality of life.

I really have little hope either will happen. This town is the spittin' image of the movie "Groundhog Day."

Todd, thanks for clarifying. Since we are taxpayers, and it does affect our daily lives, I wonder if we could prevail on Caltrans to at least give us a listen?

You can't take a highway away from Caltrans.

To Cynthia:

The city did not abandon lead agency status; it was never legally the city's to begin with. A former city staffer merely claimed lead status. Caltrans merely reminded the city who owns the highway and its right of way.

The highway belongs to the people of California, not Pacifica and not the transportation authority.

There are reasonable alternatives out there, but for some unknown reason, our leadership made a conscious choice to abandon the lead agency role.

By widening the highway, we will not open the coastside to rampant development, but we will continue to have traffic issues because this is a bad design. To do this right, someone would need to step up and take a leadership role from the city and do the work necessary to take this from Caltrans.

I don't see this happening anytime soon, unfortunately.

To Matt:

There has been lots of talk about alternatives, among them a roundabout, an overpass/underpass intersection, and a simple restriping of the Reina Del Mar intersection. This project is a 25-year leftover from another era. The city and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority are doing the environmental work, and intend to give the EIR to Caltrans as lead agency for the project now (since about 2006).

Can someone explain to me how the proposed Calera Creek project will "fix" our highways? I think there's a good chance this project will make life in Linda Mar hell on earth.

The lights at Reina del Mar and Fassler will remain. So a problem like this morning's unbelievable mess, which resulted from the light at Reina del Mar being out, will continue to happen.

When the light turns red, three lanes of traffic will back up at the lights just as well as two. People turning left into Reina del Mar will have to cross more lanes of traffic, so the left turn signal will have to be lengthened and the red light cycle will actually be longer.

Then there will be accidents, and potentially backups, where the highway telescopes back into two lanes north of Reina del Mar.

Plus, of course, people will claim that now that the highway has been "fixed," we can do a lot more development in Linda Mar and the Midcoast, until the six lanes are as clogged as the four lanes were.

I think there ought to be a conversation about the best way to "fix" the highway. I have seen no evidence that Caltrans has considered any alternatives to Calera Creek--underpasses, jughandles, HOV lanes--nothing. And part of that conversation should be finding a reliable funding source for expanded, not decimated, bus service to Pacifica.

No one I know wants or advocates building on the hillsides of Pacifica to the point where we are just like Daly City. I keep hearing about how we need to be more like Capitola. Has anyone been to Capitola? It has a true freeway running through town, and it has not been overbuilt or overexposed.

Bruce is right. As a community, we need to take a long, honest, and hard look at who we are and what we really want. I am a strong proponent of Smart Growth. When practiced with common sense, it truly provides for the needs of the community.

Caltrans is not trying to force development. It is trying to fix our highways. There is a sense of urgency because federal funds are still available, but as with all funding, there is a time limit. So, with a crumbling infrastructure, and no one willing to take the lead, we let the state call the shots.

We got what we asked for, in my opinion.

The EIR is not out yet and the project is still under consultation with regulatory agencies.

Okay, once again I think everybody needs to get a grip. Yes, we must be vigilant to prevent those who want to overdevelop not just Pacifica but all of California from getting their way. At the same time, we need to find a way to finance the sustainability of what we already have.

Vallejo is not bankrupt because it has too few homes. Vallejo, like so many other cities that saw huge developments sprout on their hillsides, is bankrupt because of a bigger statewide (or national) problem.

I agree that building a bigger, "better" highway through Pacifica will not solve our problem. But neither will a no-growth or negative-growth plan.

I have been advocating for some time that we (Pacifica) take stock of what we have and develop a plan of how to maximize our profits before we build something else that may or may not add to our bottom line.

We have argued endlessly about parking fees at the beach or beaches. It's a simple thing, yet we cannot get it done. We have to depend on volunteers to keep the beaches clean (thank you to all of them). No, the parking fees won't put Pacifica in the black, but every little bit of funding would help. Are there obstacles? Of course, but they can be overcome.

Money from the parking fees could be used to promote Pacifica, its open space, and its businesses. IT COULD BE USED AS SEED MONEY.

The problem that I have seen over my 20 years here is that the town swings from one extreme to the other. Either we build nonstop ticky-tacky, or we try to stop everything. There has been no consistent plan. It isn't too late, but we have to stop our bickering.

It is no secret and requires no conspiracy theory to state that Caltrans and sympathizers continue to work for a continuous multilane coastal highway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Blocked from building the freeway planned in the late 1950s, the agency long ago developed a strategy of piecemealing it.

Do wider highways spur development in our area? One has only to look at its own employee's write-up on the growth-inducing impacts of the Devil's Slide Bypass that Caltrans suppressed from the EIR. Until opponents discovered this and several other purposeful omissions, that is. Bob Pilgrim was around for these and other bypass shenanigans tried by Caltrans. He was also around for the pro-bypass votes by then-county supervisors Speier and Eshoo. At that time, they demonstrated that the Democrats were no less for environmental degradation and overdevelopment than the Republicans--they just came at it from a different angle and set of justifications. (County supervisors are supposedly not associated with political parties, but everyone knows their affiliations. The county supervisor job is frequently a stepping stone to partisan political office, as it was for Speier and Eshoo.)

Other than Pacifica's internal segment of Highway 1 that Bob has been defending for decades, the only other stretches of highway needed to have a four-lane expressway down to Montara on the midcoast are a short lead-up to the twin tunnels on the Pacifica side--literally pre-designed for the bypass several decades ago--and the stretch of two-lane south of the tunnel--widening already begun with the construction activity outside the south portal. (Each bore of the tunnels is wide enough for two standard lanes with plenty of room to spare.) There is already agitation for widening the remaining stretch to Montara in the guise of getting rid of the current roadcut erosion that causes occasional brief highway blockages there.

And so forth on south through the midcoast. On the San Mateo County south coast, some might be surprised to learn that Caltrans owns a right-of-way 90 feet on either side of the center line in some places, another hangover from that 50-year-old freeway plan. North and south passing lanes in the same stretches of highway there create segments of de facto expressway.

It does no good to point to piddling policy or zoning details putatively restricting overdevelopment but regularly steamrolled by the macro forces in play on our state's coastline.

I am not suggesting that all developers, realtors, politicians, and builders (heck, I'm one) are necessarily part of the problem. But what if you had told the Miwoks in 1849 not to worry because the East Coasters and Europeans who were about to pour in not only weren't conspiring with one another but mostly had no contact with one another. I would say there is still reason for concern.

I will defend Sue on this. She has been a friend to Riptide. She helped us by advertising here last year for a period, which we appreciated, even though we know the business has been tough for her and others. Let's hope 2010 brightens up for all of us.

Oh, I guess because I am a REALTOR, I am in the conspiracy and I want houses built all over the hills. WRONG. But we need to do something. One only has to look at the budget for Pacifica to see that we should just keep things the way they are, the way that it has always been, and soon none of it will matter because we will go the way of Vallejo.

There hardly needs to be a conspiracy when there is a strong enough commonality of interests. I don't suggest that all of those who are acting in concert on this issue even know each other necessarily.

Is Maybury in with George Bush and Halliburton on this one?

Dan: Are you saying there is a conspiracy? Perhaps Bob Pilgrim and you could provide proof of this conspiracy, something more than conjecture and name calling. If I read Mr. Pilgrim's opinion piece correctly, he is alleging that developers, politicians, and real estate agents are working in concert to subvert the public will. Personally, I'd prefer to see some proof.

And to make it clear, I am against blanketing the hills with homes. I think my record on the Planning Commission speaks for itself.

There is nothing theoretical about developers wanting more and more development to be allowed and encouraged. There is nothing theoretical about politicians wanting their names associated with big moneymaking projects. If Jackie Speier (I am right with her on many, if not most, of her stands) is confused on this issue, we need to communicate with her. Left to the free market and to politics as usual, we will have a Daly City-like environment all the way down to Santa Cruz. There is money to be made and a world of investors who would love to be in on it.

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