Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dangerous substandard designs for our roadways?

GUEST BLOG ARTICLE from EUGENIE THOMSON

Streets throughout California are being rebuilt to accommodate the increasing number of bicycles on the road. Due to narrow rights-of-way and the implementation of separate bicycle paths within preexisting roadway cross-sections, this process involves completely redesigning roadways.

I applaud the efforts to make the roads safer for all users but alarmingly, less-than-minimum safety design standards are being applied. This practice is counter to the needs and desires of the public and it is happening here in Alameda.

The City of Alameda has been approving design concepts for these roadway reconstruction projects that violate minimum design criteria and with experimental designs (i.e. Shoreline Bikeway), followed swiftly by approval of grant applications for their final engineering and construction. The Clement Avenue and Central Avenue Complete Street Plans are moving in the same direction.

Problematically, the City has no qualified civil engineers in responsible charge of these projects. All of the City’s four lead civil engineers have left. Clearly numerous safety and traffic delay problems are going unresolved.

Would you hire a divorce attorney who is not licensed? Would you hire an obstetrician who is not licensed? Of course not. Nor should Alameda hire planners to perform civil engineering functions who are not licensed or qualified in that field. But that is exactly what is happening.

I am very concerned that the City is moving forward with reconstruction of its streets with numerous safety problems and causing nightmarish congestion by what staff calls a road diet. (i.e. reduction of lanes).

The same cycle path on Shoreline Drive was recently approved by Public Works staff and consultants to be built on the estuary side of Clement Avenue between Grand and Broadway. The city and consultant’s staff, all planners, stated there were no major flaws. This was concerning, in and of itself. But little did they know that their design was particularly dangerous. Neither the drivers nor the bicyclists would have had adequate stopping sight distances to stop safely (i.e. blind corners) and there were numerous violations of even the most minimum safety design criteria.

Further their design with only one lane (11 feet wide) in each direction required a complete shutdown of Clement Avenue for the regular wide deliveries to the marinas. Their design also added an extra signal phase just for bicycles which would have required a reduction in signal time for autos at Park Street- severely increasing delay for all Alamedans leaving the island in the morning through the Park Street/ Clement Avenue intersection. There was no mention whatsoever anywhere of this excessive increase in delay. Were they hoping Alamedans would not pay attention?

Residents and business owners went to the Transportation Commission on March 25th to fight for what was right. It is heartening the Transportation Commission turned down the City staff and consultant’s plan but with only a slim majority. Wouldn’t you agree Alamedans should not have to go to City Hall and tell staff and consultants that their work has major flaws and the plan is biased and unsafe?

Traffic safety issues are going unaddressed. Let me explain from personal experience. About 15 years ago, my Mom then in her early eighties, was hit by a bicyclist in a similar configuration as along Shoreline. She stepped out of the passenger side of the car into the path of bicyclist traveling quickly. Bicycles easily travel east along the new Shoreline path at 20 mph or much more with the usual tail wind. This too is in the same space where young children excitedly exit the cars to go to the beach.

Building a “commuter cycle” track on Shoreline was inappropriate and unsafe for a recreational trail along a beach. It is a commuter bicycle concept to save time not meant for recreation. A recreational trail should have been built like the one at Crissy Field or like those in Holland along beaches.

I beseech Alamedans to speak up to Council before these poorly designed roadway plans for Shoreline, Central and Clement Avenues cause serious injury. As I think you will agree, these roadway changes affect virtually every Alamedan. We applaud the efforts to make our roads safer. However, far greater care must be taken in keeping us safe. Roads must be designed by qualified civil engineers as required by State Law.

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And now for the bottom line

Mr. Sullwold’s final installment on his analysis of Mr. Russo’s proposal to extend the fire and police contracts 5 years. This must have been an enomous amount of time, to figure this all out; huge shout out to Mr. Sullwold! Thank you!

Alameda Merry-Go-Round

So it’s time to get to the bottom line.

In the Merry-Go-Round’s examination of the proposed new public safety union contracts Council is being asked to approve on April 29, we’ve looked separately at the economic terms of the MOUs between the City and the unions and at the features of the new “OPEB trust” incorporated in the contracts.  Today, we’ll put the two together.

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Trish!!!

She did it. She’s our next mayor. As one fellow summed it up on facebook: “I can move back to Alameda now.”


Why this election matters

Seriously. Vote Trish. Vote Frank. Our very quality of life here in Alameda depends upon it.

READ THE WHOLE STORY BECAUSE Mr. Sullwold details about 100 reasons why you’ll care very shortly how you’ve voted …

Alameda Merry-Go-Round

So you don’t think the election this Tuesday for Mayor and Council will matter much to the daily lives of Alamedans?

Think again.

In fact, within less than a year, Council will be making decisions about waterfront development, Alameda Point, retiree health benefits, and the budget.  Each of these decisions will have immediate and long-term impacts; together, they will set the course for the City for the foreseeable future.  And once that course is set, it will be hard to reverse.

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The best Council PAC money can buy

On Tuesday, vote against Pay-to-Play Politics.

Alameda Merry-Go-Round

If either incumbent Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C. or Bonta aide-de-camp Jim Oddie, or both, manages to get elected to Council next week, there are five men to whom they owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

Their names are Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Recognize them?  They’re the five Justices of the United States Supreme Court, all of them appointed by Republican presidents, who signed the majority opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the case in which the Court held it was unconstitutional to limit spending by political action committees on behalf of candidates.

Our friends on the left have denounced Citizens United as giving moneyed interests the ability to “buy elections” for conservative candidates.  But two can play that game.  And in Alameda they have – for the benefit of Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie.  And a down-and-dirty game it has become.

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The truth about Trish

“Maybe we want a Mayor or Council member who will demand that economics be analyzed, alternatives considered, and public questions answered.” – Robert Sullwold

INDEED.    VOTE TRISH FOR MAYOR.     VOTE NO ON MEASURE I.

————-Mr. Sullwold’s blog article “The truth about Trish” (bolds and underlines are mine)

No, we’re not talking about the anonymous proprietor of the Tumblr site – TrashTrish, we think it’s called – devoted to denigrating Ms. Spencer.  We’re referring to two of our most prominent political pooh-bahs.

If you were checking the online political chat a week or so ago, you would have seen the following:

First, the Emperor of the Enlightened, Planning Board member John Knox White, went after Ms. Spencer on Facebook.

“If you think that the business of the city should grind to a halt, Trish Spencer’s you’re [sic] candidate,” he pronounced.  And it wasn’t just what Ms. Spencer actually had done that condemned her, but what she would have done.  “It requires zero leap of logic,” Mr. Knox White declaimed in his typically omniscient manner, “to know that Spencer would have aligned with Doug deHaan and her core supporters in being against” the Alameda Theater project.

Later the same day, the King of Condescension, Ms. Spencer’s fellow School Board member Mike McMahon, took his turn.

Mr. McMahon re-published as a blog comment the diatribe he’d unleashed against Ms. Spencer at the June 24 school board meeting.  (“For 10 years now there has been no moving forward on anything that meets [doesn’t meet?] your approval.”)  Later, Mr. McMahon sniffed that, while Ms. Spencer may have been a “viable” candidate for the School Board, “I see very little in [her] current resume that would qualify her to be a candidate for Mayor.”

The oracles have spoken.  Any further questions?

Well, the Merry-Go-Round has a couple.

What are such esteemed community leaders as Mr. Knox White and Mr. McMahon so exercised about?  And, more importantly, do they have a point?

Stripped of invective, the case against Ms. Spencer seems to be that she is the candidate of No.  (Sound familiar?  It’s the same theme Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are urging Democratic candidates to use against their Republican opponents).

So we decided to look at two of Ms. Spencer’s most recent “No” votes – against the three-way swap among the City, the Housing Authority, and the Alameda Unified School District and against the $179.5 million school bond measure – to see if her opposition had any rational basis.  If Ms. Spencer’s arguments made sense, demonizing her as an ignorant obstructionist can be marked down to sheer arrogance – or to bad manners.

First, the swap.  From AUSD’s point of view, the transaction worked this way:  AUSD transferred its interest in two pieces of real property – the so-called Tidelands parcel along the northern waterfront and a 12-acre parcel at Alameda Point – to the City.  In addition, it transferred a third piece of real property – the site of the former Island High School – and turned over $4.6 million in a housing fund to the Housing Authority.  In exchange, AUSD got a 20-acre parcel at the Point and $1.95 million in cash it could use to fix the Encinal High swimming pool.

The initial presentation to the School Board about the swap lasted less than four minutes.  Despite the complexity of the deal, no Board member asked any questions – except Ms. Spencer, who had a bunch.  But she didn’t get answers.  Instead, no fewer than three times, Superintendent Kirsten Vital flatly refused to provide the information Ms. Spencer asked for.  For his part, Mr. McMahon explained that “a number of items” were “so complicated” that the Board couldn’t discuss them in public.

Two weeks later, the School Board voted, 4-1, to approve the agreement.  Essentially, Ms. Spencer made three points in dissent:

  • AUSD should not proceed with a real-estate swap until the School Board had received an estimate of the value of each of the parcels involved in the deal.
  • AUSD should not agree to give up the Island High property until the School Board had evaluated the potential school-related uses that could be made of that site.
  • The School Board should defer a vote until it could hold a workshop at which the public could ask, and get answers to, its questions about the swap.

Was this pure obstinacy?  It doesn’t seem so to us.  Instead, if one were so inclined, one could defend Ms. Spencer’s position as an attempt to ensure, respectively, “fiscal responsibility,” attention to community needs, and “transparency” – all of which, of course, are values regularly professed by the Inner Ring itself.

Ms. Spencer’s first point was an economic one:  How much was AUSD giving up in order to get money to fix the Encinal High swimming pool (and a substitute site for a school at Alameda Point)?  You couldn’t know the answer to that question unless you knew what the parcels being transferred by the District were worth.  And you couldn’t know what they were worth unless you got an estimate – by appraisal or otherwise – of their value.

To golf war veterans, hers wasn’t an odd request.  When Ron Cowan proposed to swap cash and vacant scrubland for the Mif Albright golf course, one of the first steps taken by the City was to commission an appraisal of the Mif.  This would enable the City – and the public – to determine whether Cowan was offering enough to compensate the City for the property he wanted it to give him.  Sure, the swap would enable the City to meet a long-standing need for youth sports fields.  But no one, at City Hall or in the golf community, desired to pay too much for that benefit.  And if the Mif was worth more than Cowan was offering, he ought to put more money on the table.  As it turned out, it was, and he did.

Ms. Spencer appears to have been motivated by similar concerns.  She wanted to know the value of the property being transferred because that represented the price the District was paying to get the swimming pool money and the substitute school site.  If the three parcels were worth more than staff was saying, the City and the Housing Authority should give up more to get them.  And the more AUSD got, the more it could do for the schools beyond just fixing a swimming pool.

AUSD staff, and Ms. Spencer’s fellow School Board members, didn’t see it that way.  They focused solely on the benefit being received and ignored the price being paid.  The swap provided the long-sought-after money to fix the Encinal pool as well as a better location for a school at Alameda Point.  To the Board majority, that was all that mattered.  Who cares about the value of the property the District had to transfer in exchange?  As Board president Margie Sherratt put it, “It isn’t about a tit-for-tat; it’s about the best use for what our students need in this community.”

Ms. Spencer’s other two objections were met with similar derision – even though, they, too, were hardly frivolous.

Back in October 2013, Ms. Spencer got the School Board to expand the scope of work being done by its architectural consultants to include potential uses by the District of the Island High site.  Under the swap, that property would go to the Housing Authority.  Before the Board agreed to let it go, Ms. Spencer wanted to know whether the consultants had completed their analysis of Island High.  Yes, said Chief Business Officer Robert Clark.  Can their findings be made public now?  Ms. Spencer asked.  No, said Superintendent Kirsten Vital.  When can we see them? Ms. Spencer asked.  In May – i.e.,after the swap had been voted on, said the Superintendent.

And then there was the matter of communication with the public.  After listening at two meetings to citizens raise questions about the swap – none of which Ms. Vital deigned to respond to – Ms. Spencer moved to postpone the vote so that the Board could hold a workshop at which the public could get its questions answered.  The motion failed for lack of a second.  Mr. McMahon then moved for approval of the agreement.  He ended his pitch with a lecture about the Board’s right to conduct business in closed sessions.  “Yes, we’re not obligated to do it that way,” he said.  “But in most cases it makes the most sense, simply because that’s how it gets done.”

The swap discussion demonstrated that Ms. Spencer surely approaches decisions differently than District staff and the School Board majority.  But is that necessarily a bad thing?  Maybe we want a Mayor or Council member who will demand that economics be analyzed, alternatives considered, and public questions answered.  Had such a person been on Council during the last two years, the City might not have ended up borrowing $4 million to build an Emergency Operations Center whose only regular occupant will be one fire captain.

The tortured saga of Measure I likewise fails to support the portrayal of Ms. Spencer as an unthinking naysayer.  Continue reading.

Alameda Merry-Go-Round

Boy, the Inner Ring sure doesn’t like Mayoral candidate Trish Spencer.

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NOW IS THE TIME TO TAKE ACTION

GUEST WRITER EUGENIE THOMSON

If serious action isn’t taken—soon—Alameda residents will find themselves stuck in hour-long traffic jams when leaving the island.

Alameda will have its moment of truth—a day when there won’t be enough money to mitigate all the traffic congestion spawned by out-of-control growth and permit parking costing homeowners over a $400 per year. Residents will only find buses that are also stuck in traffic. When that day comes, there will be no turning back. Our fragile quality of life will be gone forever.

Plain talk is where truth resides. Yet, the City overwhelms taxpayers with reams of complex documents that stymie the average voters. Why has City Hall refused to consider how much longer it will take residents to leave the island via car or bus? Why hasn’t the City been able to explain the effects of all this growth?

Could it be that the City Council, staff and consultants don’t want the residents to know the true effects of the projects? They do mention mitigations (e.g. TDM), but those mitigations are only likely to address a tiny percentage of the traffic and parking impacts.

How is it the Del Monte project’s traffic report states there are a) No parking problems even though the parking supply is only 1.25 cars per unit and the average car ownership is 2.2 cars per unit in Alameda as per the 2000 Census? and b) When all the developments on the island are built, conclude there will only be 19 more cars than today going through the Posey Tube during the AM peak hour by year 2035 and then concluding in no added congestion due to Del Monte and all the development projects combined at the west end?

And it should not take someone like me with a civil engineering license to opine that the City’s idea to lower the parking supply at future development projects is simply not workable in Alameda where sufficient parking supply exist around the development sites. The new residents will park in the surrounding neighborhood streets instead. Traffic will not be reduced like City Hall keeps on saying with reduced parking supply. What will be reduced is the cost for not building the larger garages under the condominium complexes and greatly increasing the developers’ profits.

The Del Monte project at 414 residential units along with all the other mega projects planned by Council is a bad idea for our island. Why all these risks with irreversible harm and without the consideration that Alameda is an island?

Alamedans need to speak up to cap the growth at a reasonable level and require developers to supply parking comparable to actual car ownership patterns, not to the new city standards set by the wishful anti car folks. These unproven and unsustainable standards will result in irreversible harm to our neighborhoods.

The island and its connections to the East Bay need to work for all users, its residents and businesses, pedestrians, bicycles, cars, trucks and buses.

Ignoring the problems and then creating nightmarish congestion and parking problems will ruin what is so great about Alameda. This has been going on continuously since the environmental document process regarding Alameda Point Project started, through proposed projects like Neptune Point and today with the Del Monte and other northern waterfront projects.

Now is the time to take action. Let us move forward and use our taxpayers’ dollars to build a community, we can be proud of. That I believe starts with voting for Frank Mataresse for council who supports a cap on residential development and for Trish Spencer for Mayor who comes with a fresh approach.

And secondly, I urge residents to speak up and let Council know they must define the traffic and financial risks and challenges clearly and accurately.

So many have tried, have volunteered many hours, provided written and oral constructive comments, but Council ignores them. Sadly, I too have lost total trust in any professional report from City Hall.

I urge all Alamedans to vote for Frank and Trish for more government transparency, an open debate of the traffic and financial challenges and for capping development to a level that is reasonable for our island. As of now, I will not vote for the other council seat, neither candidate is concerned about the extremely risky financial and development decisions being made by current Council.

Act today, tomorrow it will be too late.

Reference:
The Del Monte Traffic Impact Analysis March 25, 2014 for the above traffic facts can be found on the City website: Planning Board Agenda item #7B, June 23, 2014, click on File # 2014-652, then click on Draft Supplemental Negative Declaration (Exhibit 3) and download the PDF pages 214 and 233. By doing the simple math calculation one can obtain the difference between the volumes for northbound coming out of the Posey tube (this is the volume approaching the 7th and Harrison intersection # 20: AM Existing is 902 thru and 1686 turning => total 2588 vehicles per hour; and AM Cumulative year 2035: 869 thru and 1738 turning => total 2607 vph). This calculates to only 19 more cars per hour above the report’s today’s AM peak hour volume into the Posey tube after all the developments are built including Alameda Point for the Cumulative condition without Del Monte, the cumulative condition upon which Del Monte was tested for its future traffic impacts. And then concluding neither Del Monte nor all the other projects combined would produce zero traffic impacts at the west end.

And the last paragraph on page 253 provides the consultant’s parking conclusion (TR-9) of no parking problems.
Unfortunately, Council is not questioning these reports with the hidden incorrect data and unbelievable results even after the residents raise these concerns. Instead, Council is ignoring the future traffic problems, does not perform the effort to find financially feasible infrastructure solutions nor assess how much development is feasible for the island. Sad but true.