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September 2013

The Making of a Sharkmobile






I built this for the Fog Fest Parade. The chassis is a zero-emissions, battery-fueled, personal-mobility scooter. The shark components are reused cardboard provided by Recology of the Coast. The paint is reused stuff from here and there. For a finishing touch, I added small white shark's teeth and a bit of aging/distressing wash.

Todd Bray

Caltrans Conundrum: Calera Parkway Project Too Big to Fail?


From the very first public meeting put on by Caltrans in Pacifica, it was obvious that the state transportation agency had only two plans in mind. Not surprisingly, those same two plans remain as the two build alternatives in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR): narrow median and landscaped median.

As to protecting coastal resources and minimizing impacts to businesses and visitors, the proposed highway widening fails. This failure results in disturbance and permanent removal of multiple acres of land with biological importance to resident populations of endangered species and their habitat, and taking of land used for commercial and visitor-serving purposes.

Caltrans' build alternatives result in a huge expansion of roadway. Highway 1 would grow from its current 64-foot width to either 130 or 148 feet. And keep in mind that this is for adding just one 12-foot lane. Most of the new roadway is nonessential to the additional lane proposed to help traffic flow. Caltrans should consider consolidating the two existing five-foot substandard shoulders and make one 10-foot standard shoulder.

Under the current widening proposal, impacts are allowed for project elements not essential to increasing capacity of the roadway (improving traffic conditions), supposedly the whole point of the project. The result of this excess is impacts to coastal biological resources, visitor-serving businesses, and existing parking, as well as potentially significant visual impact to the entryway into visitor-serving Rockaway Beach.

Alternative proposals should be undertaken and evaluated. We can find one that removes the non-traffic lane elements and adds a 12-foot traffic lane in each direction. This new alternative should be compared and evaluated with others having the least impact. The current Caltrans build alternatives are unacceptable for all the reasons stated above.

A solution is needed. By working smarter, we can find one, or implement those with fewer or no impacts. Lower-impact alternatives must be considered and the best ones adopted before a Coastal Development Permit is issued. I feel strongly that the vast majority of Pacificans will reject the two Caltrans build alternatives and insist on other solutions and/or alternatives.

William "Leo" Leon

Former City Planning Commissioner

Comparing Coast Road Improvements: Rumbling Along Highway 1

By Anneliese Agren, Special to Riptide

Up and down the California coast, towns are reshaping their sections of the coast road due to traffic and safety concerns. Projects that work well are those where a community participates in roadway design. 

When designing a road, there is a cart-and-horse conundrum to resolve. The horse should be citizens pulling the cart full of ideas to be made into a road project proposal. 

But in the case of the City of Pacifica and its Calera Parkway Project, we have a chicken-and-egg quandary:  Which came first, Pacificans’ involvement or Caltrans’ Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?

The City of Pacifica, in collaboration with Caltrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA), seeks to widen a congested 1.3-mile section of Highway 1 (Calera Parkway) by adding one lane in each direction, increasing the existing four-lane roadway to six lanes. There is no other design proposal for the community to review.

The City of Pacifica says that it now cannot host a series of meetings (of which none were calendared) about the already-designed Caltrans/SMCTA project for Calera Parkway, due to a lawsuit filed against Caltrans by Pacificans for a Scenic Coast. The suit’s Prayer requests that the EIR neither be certified nor approved, that Caltrans comply with CEQA by providing an adequate EIR, and that an injunction be issued against furthering the project as designed.

Pacifica’s Transportation section of its General Plan states that “[California] State Route 1 has AADT [Annual Average Daily Traffic] of approximately 45,500 vehicles south of the Sharp Park Road interchange including 4,000 during the peak hour, and approximately 32,000 vehicles north of the Sharp Park Road inter- change including 2,800 during the peak hour. ... The peak-period travel times are northbound between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., then southbound between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m." 

Caltrans’ Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) says the proposed project’s purpose is “to improve traffic operations by decreasing traffic congestion and improving peak-period travel times.” If no improvements are undertaken, the FEIR warns, then in 2035, the traffic projections forecast that the peak-period backup will increase from the current 1.15 miles now to 2.28 miles then. The last time traffic improvements were undertaken was 48 years ago, in 1965, when this section of roadway was widened from two lanes to four.

Santa Cruz's freeway-ization of Highway 1 involves "improvements" and lane additions constructed from the fishhook southward, but there still are traffic issues.

In San Diego County, the City of Encinitas is also improving its stretch of the coast road, but it seeks to reduce the current four lanes to three. The towns along the improvement corridor (Encinitas, Leucadia, and Solana Beach) want to slow down traffic, improve safety, enhance the beauty of their towns through landscaping of sidewalks and medians, improve parking, and increase pedestrian traffic. 

AADT along this part of California's coast road (signed as Highway 101) exceeds 19,000 vehicles and is regularly used by emergency response vehicles and citizens up and down the coast, as the road provides direct access to beaches, businesses, and homes.

Bicycle lanes, called “sharrows,” will be added to each northbound and southbound lane. Foot traffic will increase, improving access for disabled persons, along with widened sidewalks and seating areas. Reverse-angle parking will improve safety by allowing drivers to pull out of parking spaces, rather than backing up into traffic.

Encinitas boasts that its four workshops and open-house presentations spanned two years to arrive at a community-designed highway improvement plan. Sessions were held “to receive citizen input in developing the project design.”

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) runs through the City of Malibu. PCH is a four-lane road with speed limits allowing from 45 to 55 miles per hour over its 21-mile stretch along the coast. Although Malibu reports a population of less than half of Pacifica’s, the Traffic Safety Evaluation reports that AADT for this area of the coast road ranges from 29,000 to 53,000 vehicles, but traffic can exceed 100,000 vehicles on a hot, sunny day as the masses travel to Malibu to enjoy its beaches.

After several fatalities caused by motorists, Malibu citizens and their City Council are discussing a Pacific Coast Highway Safety Study to analyze how best to accommodate pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic.  No decisions have been made yet, but slowing down traffic is a priority. Safety Study discussions cover lessening car-dominated use of the road, adding bike lanes and crosswalks, and improving access for disabled persons.

Malibu has hosted eight public meetings over the past two years, and has provided an online survey to solicit suggestions on how to improve PCH safety. Public participation is defined by the City of Malibu as a way to identify and prioritize recommended solutions presented in the Safety Study.

Pacifica's coast road improvement efforts differ from those of Santa Cruz, Malibu, and Encinitas, as do the ways the cities engage the public for feedback. Public participation in Pacifica’s proposed improvement plan began with public meetings to review Caltrans’ draft EIR. Neither Encinitas nor Malibu presented a draft EIR as a first step to determining highway improvements.  

Perhaps the difference in Pacifica stems from the agency that leads the discussion on the Calera Parkway Project: SMCTA. If Pacifica, as a community, were to lead the highway improvement discussion, then Pacifica City Council could liaise with SMCTA and Caltrans to prepare a new DEIR.

If the City of Pacifica had hosted meetings initially to solicit public feedback on how to improve Calera Parkway, or had listened to the many times that citizens had spoken out, rather than soliciting a freeway plan to educate citizens for a "yes" vote, then a community-designed project would have moved forward.

(Anneliese Agren lives on the coast near the Santa Cruz County line and occasionally drives up Highway 1 through Devil's Slide Tunnel and Pacifica. She has been studying coast road improvements for six-plus years and is writing a book on the subject. You can reach her on Twitter @coastroad)

You Know You Are Middle-Aged When...

1. You don't understand what young peasants are talking about.

2. You struggle to read Chaucer in weak candlelight.

3. You hate rowdy taverns.

4. You constantly worry that you might have the Black Death.

5. You don't know or care who Blondel is sleeping with.

6. You tell your wife that Crusaders seem to look younger every year.

7. You struggle with new technology such as the heavy plough and the longbow.

8. You find Gothic architecture too modern.

9. You keep forgetting who the king is.

10. You dream of buying a second hovel in France.

[from Private Eye magazine, U.K.]

Fireworks: The Next Step

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.

New Lawsuit Filed on Highway 1 Widening

PSC Complaint
On September 6, a group calling itself Pacificans for a Scenic Coast (PSC) filed suit in San Mateo County Superior Court against Caltrans, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, and the City of Pacifica. The suit alleges numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by the agencies in the Environmental Impact Report approval process for proposed widening of Highway 1 between Rockaway Beach and Vallemar. Pacifica attorney Celeste Langille filed suit for the group, which is publicly represented by Peter Loeb, plaintiff in a separate lawsuit on the highway widening. Also mentioned in the complaint as part of the group are local activists Bill Collins and Mitch Reid. Below is PSC's official press release.

William Boyce, Riptide Correspondent


Pacificans for a Scenic Coast (PSC) has filed suit against Caltrans under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The suit challenges the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Highway 1 widening project.

The suit contends that the project was not adequately described at the time of the EIR, that the project is out of scale with Pacifica’s scenic nature, that the EIR contains contradictory information on impacts on threatened species, and that the EIR does not adequately address adverse impacts of the project.The suit says in part:

“Caltrans has approved a project that will more than double the width of the existing roadway, and encase the highway in 9-foot-high to 22-foot-high retaining walls. Pedestrians and bicyclists crossing from west to east or east to west would be challenged in crossing such a wide roadway, which as proposed is completely out of scale for a community the size of Pacifica. There were only two alternatives considered by Caltrans, big and Bigger. Bigger was Caltrans’ preferred alternative.”

Caltrans’ EIR concluded there would not be a single significant impact from the project.

"To reach this conclusion, the EIR relied on contradictory information and, more importantly, analysis which ignored its own stated thresholds of significance, and the standards established by CEQA law. For example, while the construction phase of the project is expected to last for at least two years, Caltrans avoided proper analysis of these impacts by labeling them simply as ‘temporary,’ or construction related. Likewise Caltrans ignored its own visual thresholds for significance by not considering the public’s overwhelming objections to the numerous aesthetic impacts of the proposed project.”

The suit contends that the project description is contradictory and inadequate.

“CEQA requires that the EIR includes an ‘accurate’ project description. At minimum it must include a detailed map with the ‘precise’ location and boundaries of the proposed project.”

“Instead the EIR vaguely described the project as widening ‘primarily on the west side of the roadway,’ varying somewhere from ’20 feet to 50 feet wide,’ and referencing pictures which are purely conceptual and ‘not to be used as official record.’ In conjunction, the width of the highway at the pedestrian and bicyclist crossing points was not adequately described.”

“The project does not contain an adequate project description by inconsistently stating that south of Fassler Avenue the project will consist of three lanes in each direction, but also stating that only two lanes will extend south of Fassler Avenue."

"Further the EIR includes photos of the highway after the project construction which omit one of the required project retaining walls. The list of the numerous retaining walls involved in the project, which number in thousands of feet of length, was not provided until the final EIR. By failing to accurately describe the project as detailed above, the EIR prevented adequate analysis of project impacts and mitigations, thus preventing informed decision making.”

“The EIR is internally contradictory regarding California red-legged frogs on the east side of the highway, stating both that they are not known east of Highway 1, yet that the frogs cross east of Highway 1 and that Calera Creek provides habitat east of Highway 1 which may support dispersing of California red-legged frogs...The EIR failed to adequately analyze and consider a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives” which was a “failure to proceed as required by law."

About Pacificans for a Scenic Coast
Pacificans for a Scenic Coast (PSC) is a new organization working to protect, preserve, and restore scenic coastal environs within the City of Pacifica.

PSC Contact: Cynthia Kaufman


Phone: 650-557-9797

Citizinvestor Crowdfunds San Mateo County Parks Foundation

Crowdfunding Public Projects

Citizinvestor is a crowdfunding and civic engagement platform for local government projects. We are in a new partnership with San Mateo County Parks Foundation. The foundation has posted three crowdfunding projects to Citizinvestor: an initiative to replace the fire rings at Memorial Park, three months' worth of funding for the popular Bicycle Sunday program on Canada Road, and an effort to help preserve the endangered thornmint plant. Citizens can now donate tax-deductibly to projects they care about, but their credit cards are not charged unless their chosen project reaches 100 percent of its funding goal before the funding deadline.