The importance of being an engaged, active and vocal citizen

When the Occupy Wall Street movement began last year, mainstream media reports on it varied from utter confusion to mockery. But it sparked something and pretty soon Occupiers around the country began Occupying a spot in their jurisdiction to bring attention to a variety of complaints and grievances. We have our own Occupy San Diego along with a bicycle cavalry arm – the Occupy Riders who spread their message by bicycle. I will write about our Occupy Riders in a future post.

Many media outlets have attempted to understand the rationale behind the Occupy movement with varying degrees of success. And like Critical Mass, responses to the movement vary all across the spectrum.

Here in San Diego, bicyclists have been promised a bike path along I-15. The promise was originally made in 1993 – almost two decades ago. However, what were the circumstances leading up to the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding? What was taking so long? In an attempt to understand the history, I contacted Caltrans’ Public Information Office to get access to what they call a “Final Environmental/Section 4(f) Statement”. This is the document that details everything from the rationale to construct the I-15 through the Mid-City region, the alternative routes considered, the environmental effects resulting from the construction of this freeway, the public comments that were received and the decision leading up to building the I-15 through the mid-city region. The contents of this 1971 document is detailed below.

1970 map showing where the new segment of the I-15 would be constructed. Image courtesy of Caltrans District 11

The intention of the project was to convert 2.2 miles of an urban four lane highway into a freeway. Part of those 2.2 miles included seven blocks of what used to be 40th Street. 40th Street back then was a residential street. The Environmental Statement that I reviewed described this street as follows, “abutting residents enter the main stream of traffic directly from their driveways and return the same way. Homes face directly onto the traffic only twenty five feet away.” The rationale given, in order convert this section into a freeway, was safety. The accident rate was “8.73 accidents per million vehicle miles” along this stretch of the road. The state average in 1970 was 6.47 for a similar type road and 1.43 for urban freeways.

Considering the time period, public outreach was done through mail and at least one in-person public meeting. 16 organizations responded by mail. 43 organizations did not respond at all. Only 5 out of the 16 organizations opposed the project. 650 apartment units (home to 2,000 residents) and 63 commercial units were listed to be displaced if the project was implemented. At a public hearing, 8 residents offered comment. Only 2 were in favor of this project. This included public comments from two individuals who may have been married (perhaps unhappily), Harold Blum was against the project and Minnie Blum was in favor of it. Out of all the individuals and organizations only a single individual – a resident named Sandra Dupont specifically asked for accommodations for bicyclists.

As we now all now know, the I-15 project was constructed. And non-motorized users lost one valuable connection into Mission Valley.

Last October at the SANDAG Board meeting where the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan was to be voted upon, 87 comments were offered prior to the Board vote. Out of these comments 56 (64% of the comments) organizations and/or individuals expressed opposition to the 2050 RTP. This included:
Molly Foster, member of the public
Stuart Cohen, TransForm
Georgette Gomez, Environmental Health Coalition,
Jessica Parra-Fitch, Policy Advocate at Environmental Health Coalition,
Congressman Bob Filner (51st District)
Keith Pezzoli, The Global Action Research Center
Masada Disenhouse, San Diego 350
Mike Bullock, a member of the public
Valentine Macedo, Laborers Local 89
Margarita Holguin, Chula Vista Community Collaborative
Hugh Moore, San Diego Green Party
Walter Carlin, member of the public
Anne Tolch, member of the public
Marisa Mangan, member of the public
Steve Padilla, Sustainable San Diego
Simon Mayeski, member of the public
Norma Noriega, Environmental Health Coalition
Pamela Epstein, Sierra Club San Diego
Janina Moretti, member of the public
Diane Nygaard, Preserve Calavera
Deborah Knight, Executive Director, Friends of Rose Canyon
Ryan Doyle, Sierra Club San Diego
Bob Silvern, a member of the public
Corinne Wilson, Center on Policy Initiatives
Andrew Bailey, member of the public
Michelle Manian, member of the public
Paul Nevins, North County Bicycle Club
Ernest Verano, a member of the public
Jack Shu, Cleveland National Forest Foundation
Andrea Monk, Sierra Club
Saynab Dahir, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC)
Norma Chavez-Peterson Justice Overcoming Boundaries
Kasey Zapatka
Patrick Murphy
Francisca Jimenez, EHC
Monserrat Hernandez, EHC
Esperanza Cortes, EHC
Martha Cortes, EHC
Evan May
Luz Palomino
Kayla Race, EHC
Silvia Leon, EHC
Jason Baker, EHC
Susan Weaver
Sarah Fuhrmann
Jose Franco Garcia, EHC
Pete Hasapopoulos
Luiza Savchuk
Leticia Ayala
Nicole Capretz, EHC
Joni K Craig, Occupy San Diego
Miguel Basillas
Melissa Berens
Joshua Garman, Occupy San Diego
John Kenney, Occupy San Diego

Last Monday the California State Attorney General joined in the lawsuit filed by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity last November. I’ve briefly touched on the SANDAG 2050 Regional Transportation Plan and how it falls short of state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve our air quality. The message to learn from this is that it is only by being an engaged citizen and an active and vocal part of the decision process can we effect change in our environment. The State Attorney General has now the ability to correct the SANDAG 2050 RTP. When the case is settled and the transportation dollars are allocated in an equitable manner to ensure increasing transportation options – we will owe all gratitude to the 56 individuals who cared enough to show up on October 21, 2011 and speak up and voice opposition against a transportation plan that would only exacerbate the problems we all as a society have grown to dislike. At this point in time, we cannot afford to lose more valuable land to the automobile. We need more options and we need to become more engaged citizens.

40th Street in 1970. Gone forever and replaced by the I-15. Image courtesy of Caltrans District 11