Green Bridge: We spoke—will Caltrans listen?

11/16/2017

Late spring and early summer saw a flurry of activity regarding the controversial Caltrans proposal to tear down and replace the Green Bridge on Highway 1.  Caltrans released scores of technical documents, and hundreds of community members voiced their opinions at public meetings and in written comments. Since then, all has been eerily quiet. So what happened to all of that community input? 

First, a quick recap. In 2007, Caltrans recommended a seismic retrofit of the bridge due to earthquake safety concerns. But in early 2015, the agency instead proposed to demolish and replace the bridge in a project that would include a temporary one-lane bridge and three years of alternating one-way traffic. The community howled and requested other options, including a seismic retrofit. 

That fall, Caltrans proposed several “accelerated” replacement options (no temporary bridge and a construction time of one year, including a three-week total highway closure), but still no retrofit options. The next year, Caltrans promised to prepare a technical design study for a retrofit option. In April 2017, Caltrans released a draft environmental impact report for public review and comment. The D.E.I.R. presented several demolition and replacement alternatives and a no-build alternative, but still no retrofit alternative.  

To solicit public comments, Caltrans participated in two public meetings, both transcribed by a court reporter. The meeting in Marshall last May was sparsely attended. The Point Reyes Station Village Association organized a second public meeting at the Dance Palace in mid-June, which was heavily attended. Caltrans received oral comments at both meetings and written comments until late June. 

At the June meeting, Caltrans stated that the no-build alternative “is a real alternative,” that the most important factor is “community needs,” that if there is a “certain [community] preference that will weigh heavily” in the “final selection process,” and “we’ve decided if the community is so much against this and that’s an overwhelming thing, then so be it.”  

So, how many community members submitted comments to Caltrans, and what did they say? To find out, I obtained a transcript of the June meeting, and copies of every written comment, and I read them all. Here are the revealing results:

At the June meeting—where 56 individuals signed in, though the actual number of attendees appeared to be higher—only 16 people made official oral comments. But the vocal crowd made it clear to all in attendance that the overwhelming majority favored no action.  

By the time the public comment period closed late that month, 317 individuals (mostly local residents), and local non-governmental organizations and businesses submitted written comments. (A few people submitted multiple comments, and government agencies submitted five comments, so the total number of written comments was 325.) Of those 317 commenters, 92 percent opposed Caltrans’s proposal to replace the bridge for one reason or another; 5 percent—17 commenters—supported replacing the bridge. Several comments couldn’t be classified in one of those two categories. Of the 317 commenters, 164 stated specifically that they were in favor of the no-build alternative, and 144 stated specifically that they wanted Caltrans to develop and analyze seismic retrofit alternatives. (Note that at the June meeting, Caltrans promised (again) that it “will develop a less intrusive retrofit alternative,” though it did not say when it would do that.) Scores of commenters requested that Caltrans go back to the drawing board and work proactively with the whole community to develop workable solutions to achieving appropriate seismic safety.

How is Caltrans responding to this overwhelming community rejection of its proposals? Nobody knows, because the community has not heard a peep from Caltrans since the June meeting, and there have been no updates to the project website. 

As it stands now, Caltrans will make a final decision behind closed doors, with no more community involvement, and issue a final decision and final environmental impact report early next year. At that point, Caltrans will begin implementing its decision, unless a lawsuit is filed within 30 days to challenge the impact report and the courts direct Caltrans to stop work. Isn’t there a better way, through real dialogue, to collectively reach a consensus?

 

David Moser is a resident of Point Reyes Station and San Francisco.