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Slim Pickin's at Highway Widening Meeting

Comments, please? Well, maybe later. Calera Creek Parkway’s EIR is ready!

BY LIONEL EMDE, RIPTIDE CORRESPONDENT
More than 100 people attended a public meeting September 22 at Pacifica Community Center to make public statements and/or ask questions of Caltrans and San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) about the Environmental  Impact Report for the proposed Calera Creek Parkway project.

After budgeting more than $2 million for consultant help on the study and the three presentations the public has been faced with, only three alternatives are offered: a six-lane highway between Vallemar and Rockaway with a planted median, meaning shrubbery and a wider roadway; a six-lane highway between Vallemar and Rockaway with a “narrow” unplanted median; or no project at all.

The transportation agency presenters ate up 43 minutes of the two-hour meeting supposedly devoted to public comment. They rehashed the project, presenting the same material many people attending had already heard at two previous meetings.

Of 31 people who spoke before this writer went home at 9 p.m., 18 said no to the highway widening, nine said yes, and four either didn’t state a position or had further questions for authorities before issuing an opinion. Some commenters had interesting questions:

Mike Ferreira, representing the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta chapter, asked why Pacifica City Council had not held any public meetings on this issue since 1999. He also asked what the council's position might be.

Tod Schlesinger asked, if the project does not go forward, whether other traffic problems in Pacifica would be addressed. He mentioned eliminating the Fairway Park pedestrian crossing and “fixing the Manor Bridge,” as well as other local issues.

Sabrina Brennan, a resident of Moss Beach who is part of a “Coastside Bicycle” group, said she asked authorities if bicycle lanes were part of the project; authorities said they were not.

Several people requested an extension of the public comment period beyond October 7 to clarify Pacifica City Council’s position and solicit further public comment. Also noted was the age of the data presented as justification for the highway widening. 2005 to 2007 were the years when data were taken. But Todd Bray said a very recent study had noted an improvement in the level of service to “E,” slightly better than in earlier studies.

Send public comments on the project until October 7 at 5 p.m. to Yolanda Rivas, Branch Chief, Division of Environmental Planning & Engineering, California Department of Transportation District 4, Attn: Thomas Rosevear, 111 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94623. Fax to 1-510-286-5600 or email thomas_rosevear@dot.ca.gov

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Good to see that Slim is making public appearances once again. I loved that guy in Dr. Strangelove!

With respect to Highway 1, it must be widened, there can be no denyin'. Since Pacifica City Council and friends have taken a vow of poverty, we must somehow accommodate all those new double-wides, i.e., the Pacifica monster homes of the future. YEEHAW!

The way I understand this:

This is from Caltrans. The city had the chance to pay in matching funds on this project. The city used the money to build trails. Thus the city has no say whatsoever in the outcome of this project.

Mr. Bray, the hippies cannot stop this.

BTW, this should have been timed to be done when the Devil's Slide Tunnels project and the Highway 1 bridge over San Pedro Creek project were finished.

"Don't you think 30+ years has been a little too long to fix the highway?"

Large, expensive, and irrevocable undertakings take some time to assess the actual consequences of. The larger, the more expensive, and the more irrevocable the project, the more time it quite rightly takes to actually understand said consequences. Luckily, a great many of us are giving this issue a great deal of thought.

"And, although there are somewhat better districts of Caltrans than District 4 in terms of scaling projects, environmental concerns, and dealing with the public in a less imperious and arrogant manner, the overall agency tactic of steamrolling to get its way is evident on hundreds of projects statewide."

Despite the clumsy phrasing, it was evident in looking at the documents at SMCTA's consultants' office that this is true. Caltrans and related agencies have been meeting monthly since at least 2007 to shove this huge project through. They didn't even take notice of the huge negative reaction in the March 2010 scoping meeting; it was all about how to better market the project.

Unless Pacifica City Council exercises some leadership and tries to influence where this project is going, expect a drawn-out legal battle.

Amusing that some are trying the old "airhead conspiracy theory" putdown on the objections to the behavior of Caltrans and its cronies in paving the future. The criticisms offered are based on repeated and consistent Caltrans approaches to dozens of projects in the Bay Area in recent decades. And, although there are somewhat better districts of Caltrans than District 4 in terms of scaling projects, environmental concerns, and dealing with the public in a less imperious and arrogant manner, the overall agency tactic of steamrolling to get its way is evident on hundreds of projects statewide. Some of the best daylighting of Caltrans's institutional methods has come from former employees safe from retaliation, as we saw with testimony in the lawsuit against the bypass.

To trivialize objections to a huge governmental agency that works in its own interest is to play right into the hands of that agency. Refusal to cede hegemony to any governmental/corporate power that does not act in one's best interest does not make one a wacko.

Local chambers of commerce and city councils often bake cakes together, even though the chambers are private, unelected entities that do not include all local businesses and represent only a minor fraction of the population. It will be interesting to see if citizens of Pacifica can get the city's council off its duff and engaged on behalf of everyone.

Dan:

Don't you think 30+ years has been a little too long to fix the highway?

The city could have asked Caltrans to recalibrate the lights, which would have let traffic move through town quicker.

Mitch & Bill:

Why are you guys so far against the highway fix cost? Are you the slightest bit concerned about the costs of wasted gas and pollution from cars sitting on Highway 1?


How about the countless millions of dollars in lost revenue the city has lost from people fighting every development project?

How about the lost revenue on the quarry? Or the wastewater treatment plant?

I also want to add that I don't consider any of the effort that went into this discussion to be wasted. The push toward highway widening, and the various revelations that have made it more and more clear that this is not what is called for, have spurred some excellent ideas and proposals that stand a far better chance of solving our commute and safety problems without the terrible side effects. While I have had my differences with Caltrans policy and administration, the work of engineers and designers at Caltrans has been invaluable. I think we will come up with the best solution(s) because of it.

Regarding "City Council that has been embarrassingly silent on the issue":

I want to make it clear that nothing I have said on this issue, or have to say now, has been any kind of indictment of this or previous city councils. Over the long course of the discussion of this project, our culture has changed, our economy has changed, the building codes (notably the requirement for sound walls after a certain number of decibels) has changed, our understanding about what constitutes progress has changed, and a council member can't win for losing if he/she is not fabulously quick to recognize that what the public was clamoring for only recently is what they are clamoring against now. Things are not the same as they were, and I think that lots of people have had some time to think about what this particular highway plan might do to our little town and its very meager industrial base. I think we should pass on this highway-widening plan and concentrate on some of the many and various proposals that have been put forth that are far more likely to improve the commute than this widening idea ever could.

Chris Porter is correct: The majority of speakers (five of nine) in favor of the recommended six-lane widening were Chamber of Commerce board members.

My incomplete coverage attempted to capture some of the more interesting comments, and I'm glad Mitch Reid weighed in, as his observations about the lack of visual elevations of the soundwalls need to be paid attention to.

Giant walls shielding the neighborhoods from sound; think about it.

I'd characterize the more vocal commentators as "passionate." It's understandable, considering that many individuals feel powerless and without voice as they confront an enormous state agency hell-bent on a singular course of action, a group of local business leaders who seem to be very publicly at odds with them, and a City Council that has been embarrassingly silent on the issue.

Lionel: Why was there no mention of the Chamber of Commerce members who spoke for the widening? If you are reporting an event, I think it is only fair to represent both sides of the discussion. The article was written as a correspondent and not an op-ed piece. A question to those against the widening: Why do a majority of you feel it is necessary to scream when you speak? I found that very strange. And why are the people in Vallemar screaming and complaining? This doesn't even affect you, as the traffic is over when you get to Vallemar. A big step forward would be to start Vallemar School at 9 a.m. like at IBL. I have brought that up three times, and the last time I was telephoned by the principal telling me a traffic survey was done, and it stated the school traffic did not impact the highway. OK.

I think you won't find many people at all in the "just live with it" camp.

As for conspiracies, I suppose that I should have said only that adjusting the timing of traffic lights is something Caltrans does. Elsewhere, it has been able to solve problems very similar to ours just that way. Maybe it just didn't think of trying it here.

Can't the people who oppose the highway project do better than resorting to conspiracies and hidden agendas on the part of Caltrans to justify their views?

I'm open to trying the change to the timing of the lights. That should be done interim if nothing else. I can't really figure how it will help that much when there is a mile or more backup, but it seems like a cheap solution to try, so why not?
I haven't heard many other suggestions that I wouldn't immediately dismiss -- more bus service, changing school hours, or (as one letter writer to the Trib said last week) "just live with it." I've seen virtually empty buses a lot of the time; how will adding more buses get people to ride them? And the school hours already contain a spread of times to allow parents to drop off to different grade levels at different times. Parents have to get to work; they can't drop kids off at school at 9:30 a.m.
Mitch's suggestion of getting rid of the Vallemar light seems like the only real alternative to widening that will actually lessen traffic.
Dan, with all due respect, my friend, your posts seem to contain a lot of paranoia about Caltrans, that it is "out to get us." I understand that for your own reasons you are against this project, but how about using some of your positive energy to present a creative solution? This traffic really is a bummer for those of us who live on the south side of it.

Or the company hired by Caltrans asks:

BTW, what do you want the consultants' findings to say???

Thanks for the $2 million check, BTW!!

To add to Lionel's point, Caltrans sent a letter to the city regarding the Oddstad traffic report, coming in with an LOS C-D for a.m. peaks. That report was redone this year and now states the LOS is E. The preparer, RKH, has done traffic work for this widening document, too. I'm surprised Caltrans put its name on this document.

A lot of people automatically believe that the traffic engineers working for or consulting for Caltrans are geniuses; they are not. I'm not saying that the general public knows as much as they do or more, or that the public has "suddenly become traffic engineers." I'm just saying their solutions to problems are usually very limited.

At the recent public meeting, the consultant even stated that the public came up with a few good ideas they had not thought of. I am for a solution to this traffic problem and strongly believe there are better solutions that have not been fully considered. The re-timing of the lights has not been worked on enough or fully tested.

Right now we are left with Caltrans' word that this or that solution won't work because it says so. (This is how it initially rejected the tunnel alternative.) Caltrans has rejected all ideas except its own and has not provided detailed reasons or the math to verify its claims.

Steve, you are naive in thinking that the consultants working for Caltrans would come to any other conclusion than their paymasters want them to come to. Six lanes? Oh yes, that is the only way, dear master, please pay me and hire me again!
$2 million talks; it speaks eloquently.

Steve, "appreciable" is a word that is usually subject to debate, but in this case I think that it is abundantly clear that those who have been wishing that their commute went faster would appreciate ANY improvement. One could accuse me of having a suspicious nature for this, but I am guessing that the reason why this obvious solution (or partial solution) has not been tried as yet would have to be connected to somebody's interest in not trying it. I make no claims as to having information about what interests or whose interests, but it really doesn't add up.

Dan-O, page 36 of the DEIR says adjusting the timing of the lights won't provide an appreciable benefit.

I wish people would read these things before they offer alternatives that have already been rejected.

It's amazing how everyone in Pacifica is suddenly a traffic engineer.

First of all, Steve, Pacificans are smarter than that and have proved it by electing the likes of Sue Digre and Pete DeJarnatt. Secondly, Pacificans aren't going to wait until after putting up with the major inconvenience involved in the execution of this debacle and finding that its only effect was to kill business in central and south Pacifica the way the freeway did it to the north of town, to educate themselves on the matter and get involved. I understand that the council may ask for an extension of the time allowed for public input. I plan to ask that they do that. I am also informed that a Caltrans representative has said that timing the lights better would improve the traffic flow but that our city council would have to ask that it be done. OK, let us step out of the twilight zone, ask our council to ask that the lights be adjusted, and observe and comment during the extended comment period.

During future council elections, drivers stuck in traffic will be reminded of which council members tried to stop the project by a series of signs along Highway 1 such as "Like being stuck in traffic? Thank Sue Digre and Pete DeJarnatt for blocking highway improvements."

"Anyway, read this and weep because the highway-widening project will happen, because the city gave its blessing to an undefined project in 1999, and the current City Council could do something but is very unlikely to do anything."

Mitch, you never accepted that about the bypass and you shouldn't accept that about this project either. The City Council needs to be called out on its position. I count two yes votes for this project so far, Messrs. Vreeland and Stone will probably say yea, barring huge constituent backlash, but what will the others do?

If the project is built, Pacifica will become even more of a pass-through than it is now. With new bottlenecks, of course.

Here's a link to a screen-capture of that particular page:
http://i.imgur.com/9fOeC.jpg

So Jim Vreeland is on the San Mateo County Transit Authority board? What has he done for the city regarding Highway 1, besides tell everyone in town he was against the project then he tells everyone at the county level that the city is behind it?

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