EIR’s and the Damage They Cause


(Updated October 3, 2016)

In the middle part of the last century, brutally insensitive highway-building and other major projects were ripping California to shreds. If you’re too young to remember this, take a trip across the Bay and observe what Highways I-880, I-580, I-80, I-980 and 24 have done to Oakland.

In 1970, to protect California cities and countrysides from the wanton destruction being caused by highway-builders, destructive pubic developments and the industries of pollution, the State Legislature passed the California Environmental Quality Act.  In principle this made good sense.  The idea was that all attributes of a highway or other major project were to be described, publicized and evaluated ahead of time…..before the bulldozers arrived.

Unfortunately this spawned a whole new industry of eager Environmental Impact Report (EIR) planner/writers, too often unschooled in the complexities of major engineering enterprises. Despite being managed by technically-challenged planners, the EIR soon came to be regarded as a convenient place for finding all aspects of a conceptual design.  In the ensuing years this led to many major design errors and distortions of fact.  Reports were often poorly-organized, poorly-written, and full of irrelevancies and redundancy.  More importantly, key design elements such as surveys, geotechnical analyses, structural engineering, traffic counts, ridership projections, construction schedules and costs were and still are often buried among thousands of pages devoted to delineating and describing every conceivable environmental and other aspect of the candidate project.

Time has shown that an important specialty report buried in a two-thousand page EIR does not carry the same weight as a well-publicized, stand-alone document.  To make matters worse, such “specialty” work is often doled out to sub-consultants who lack the qualifications and experience to complete their assignments successfully.  The inevitable result of this careless approach to architectural and engineering aspects of major projects often includes major design mistakes, unrealistic schedules and unsupported “low-ball” cost estimates.  When combined with politicians anxious to sell a potentially unpopular project, the practice becomes doubly damaging.

In the past it was not this way.  Geotechnical reports, long recognized as vital to the success of projects, were prepared with care and given close attention.  Engineering firms had control over all elements of their engineering designs.  The checking of drawings and other design elements was rigorous and comprehensive.  Cost estimating was a careful and exacting process, geared to accurate results.  This disciplined approach is still used today….by competitive bid construction contractors, for whom guess work and carelessness would soon put them out of business.

When buried in EIRs, the subordinated but critically-important design, cost and scheduling elements of projects often do not receive the scrutiny, review and evaluation they deserve.

Muni K & M Line Changes – Rebutting the MTA’s Plan



The SFMTA has been developing plans for the K and M Lines for many months.  Here is an alternative plan which, we think makes more sense:

Southwest of 15th Avenue, the K and M tracks would descend into subway and pass under the St. Francis Circle Intersection. Northeast of 15th Avenue the tracks would be unchanged.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the K-Line tracks would ascend to the surface in the median of Junipero Serra to join the existing tracks.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the M-Line tracks would remain depressed under Ocean Avenue and the northbound lanes of 19th Avenue, and then ascend to the surface in the median of 19th to join the existing tracks. (Or, if the SFMTA went ahead with proposals to eliminate the Winton stop, the line could remain in subway)

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Vote NO on Props J, K


Prop J/K:  BAIT and SWITCH… 

Those behind san Francisco Props J & K have used the understandable desire on the part of many to aid the homeless to divert more than $100 million from cash-strapped city services to the SFMTA, a huge agency to which we have already given billions of dollars in sales taxes, bonds, fares, parking fees and fines.  For the following reasons, SaveMuni strongly opposes this deceptive set of local ballot measures.  Vote No on Props J and K:

  • Despite the State law requiring that tax raising measures pass with at least a 2/3rd vote, Prop K, because of its unique pairing with Prop J, would pass with only a simple majority vote.
  • Despite the fact that under State law it is illegal for a State proposition to cover more than one subject, the sponsors of Prop J have chosen to incorporate no less than four distinctly different subjects involving four different City departments.
  • Instead of more sales tax revenues to be wasted or otherwise misspent on vaguely-defined pet projects, there should be better management of the City’s bloated $9.6 billion annual budget, which already exceeds that of many states and small countries.
  • Despite San Francisco’s already-in-place $241 million a year homeless budget, its homelessness problem continues to expand and get worse. 
  • Despite the billions of dollars already spent on Muni “improvements” Muni’s average vehicle speed has dropped by 13%, it’s schedule adherence over the last year has hovered around a dismally low 60%, its per capita ridership has declined and San Francisco’s traffic congestion problems have gotten worse.  Yet only 12.6% of the Prop. J/K sales tax increase would go toward fixing Muni.

What San Francisco needs is smarter priority-setting and better decision-making, not more taxes.  Vote No on Props J and K. 

Transit First at Last



SaveMuni has often been critical of the SFMTA. However this time it has earned our thanks and commendation. But first a little history.

On March 19, 1973, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors adopted one of the country’s first “transit-first” policies. In those days idea of “transit-first” was virtually unheard of. However to harried Muni riders whose jammed buses continually crept along in congestion, it sounded like manna from heaven. Henceforth Muni’s bus loads of people were to be given a higher priority on crowded city streets, and the riders cheered.

But nothing happened. Decades went by with little change on the clogged roadways where it was most needed. Continue Reading

RAB Discussion at CSFN


On Tuesday June 19th, at a meeting of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN), San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim and SaveMuni’s Gerald Cauthen presented the arguments for and against Mayor Edmund Lee’s “RAB Study” (which is geared to facilitating the full build-out of Mission Bay).   Mr. Rahaim believes that now is the time to look at Mission Bay in a comprehensive and long-term way.    He noted that he personally would not support any plan that delayed the downtown extension of Caltrain (DTX) for more than two years.

Mr. Cauthen stressed the importance of the DTX project and pointed out that 30 months of RAB planning have produced no definitive proposals, no cost estimates, no traffic counts and no hint of how many years or decades RAB would delay DTX.  Cauthen also questioned RAB’s desire to remove the north end of the I-280 freeway and asked that the streets destined to bear the brunt of 8 lanes of freeway traffic be identified.

A resolution currently before the CSFN would give RAB planners until September 15th to conform their plans to the DTX project as currently configured and aligned.

Driverless Cars Could Wreck Livable Cities


Guest Editorial: Driverless Cars Could Wreck Livable Cities

By Jason Henderson


A tweet by Jon Orcutt illustrates why driverless cars offer little towards sustainable cities.

Over the past year driverless cars have been promoted as a panacea for livable cities. The storyline is that driverless cars will help reduce car ownership, free-up urban space for walking and biking, and help reduce death and injury. The USDOT has joined the parade with its “smart city challenge,” awarding Columbus, Ohio a $40 million prize to implement a demonstration project that includes incorporating driverless cars.

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SaveMuni joins Warriors arena lawsuit


From Business Wire:

Opponents of Warriors Proposed S.F. Arena Win Another Court Victory
Judge Rules Transit Advocacy Group Can Join Litigation Opposing Mission Bay Arena

Major Hearing on Mission Bay Alliance Lawsuits this Friday in S.F. Superior Court Against Warriors, City of San Francisco

June 15, 2016 02:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time
SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–One of the leading San Francisco transit advocacy groups can join opponents of proposed Golden State Warriors Arena as a Plaintiff in the litigation to keep the arena out of Mission Bay, according to a ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong.

“The ill-considered RAB proposals would dump tens of thousands of additional cars a day into vulnerable parts of San Francisco and add billions of tax-payer dollars to the cost of getting Caltrain into downtown San Francisco”

Judge Wong ruled Thursday that SaveMuni, a dedicated association of transit activists, environmentalists and neighborhood leaders, will be allowed to legally join the fight against the Golden State Warriors.

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Paratransit Roundup



At SaveMuni’s May 16th meeting, SFMTA Paratransit Coordinator Jonathan Cheng briefed the group on San Francisco’s paratransit program and the services it provides.  The program operates for 365 days a year and is designed for people who do not have the ability to ride ordinary Muni buses.  It has 13,500 registered riders.  The SFMTA’s Paratransit program is comprised of “SF Access”, a “Shop Around” program and a taxi service.

1.)  “SF Access” takes ADA eligible riders to any destination within the Muni service area, but sometimes requires one or more transfers between vehicles. Riders must schedule their “SF Access” trips at least 24 hours in advance but can if they desire schedule their trip up to seven days in advance.  Approximately 87% of all “SF Access” trips are on-time. A trip is considered on time when the rider is picked up within the 20 minute window, which extends from 5 minute before and 15 minutes after the scheduled pick up time.

2.)  Group Shuttles:  There are also regularly scheduled group shuttles to certain designated facilities, which saves riders time and is often paid for by the facilities themselves. For instance a “Shop-A-Round” service takes elderly and disabled people to stores and helps them do their shopping.  The Shop-a-Round program is not federally mandated but is available to all (65+) seniors as well as to ADA eligible individuals with RTC cards

3.)  Taxi Service.  ADA eligible paratransit users are also provided with a limited amount of door-to-door taxi service every month.  Cab companies are not required to have handicapped-accessible vehicles, but do receive a $10 bonus per trip, and other incentives, for providing the service.  As with the other services, taxi drivers must be able to assist users in getting back and forth between the doors of their origins and destinations and the taxi.

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Mayor Lee’s “Study” seeks to derail Caltrain Extension



Southern Pacific completed its new headquarters building at Market and Spear Streets in 1916.  The new structure included provision for a future passenger rail terminal that was never built.  However people continued to talk about the need to extend the Peninsula trains  (now known as Caltrain).   By 1970, with the north-south freeway traffic between San Mateo and San Francisco counties steadily increasing, it was obvious that something needed to be done.  A series of studies of the proposed extension ensued, with the intent of identifying the best extension route and the financing needed to add the last 1.3 mile link to the 78-mile existing Caltrain system.

By 1999, San Francisco voters had reached a consensus. Proposition H, which passed by a vote of 69.3% required that San Francisco’s elected politicians and transportation officials make the Downtown Caltrain Extension (DTX) their highest transportation priority. Detailed planning, environmental assessments, and scores of community meetings resulted in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s designation of DTX in 2013 as one of the Bay Area’s two transit priorities in line for federal New Starts funding.

Unfortunately, for the past 15 years San Francisco city officials, while paying lip service to the Caltrain extension, have done virtually nothing to advance the project.  In fact, in 2014, the Planning Department began a multi-year study which is actually undermining the prospects of bringing Caltrain downtown. The Department’s Railyards/I-280 (RAB) study conducted its first public meeting on February 23, 2016, eight months behind schedule, at a raucous session on Potrero Hill. Furious neighbors chastised the secretive planners, particularly for failing to provide any cost or other details of their plans and for their proposal to tear down the north end of I-280.  Also controversial were proposals to relocate the existing railyards to some as yet undefined remote location, and to spend billions of dollars relocating the Caltrain tracks to accommodate Mission Bay developers, particular the developers of a proposed basketball arena.

Private estimates of the RAB proposals put the resulting extra public cost at over $6 billion.  And while San Francisco dithers, the anticipated federal New Starts funding of $650 million needed to help complete the Caltrain extension hangs in the balance.

A new administration in Washington next year will bring new priorities for transportation so the hard won place on the list for federal funds for the Caltrain extension may well be lost. By waiting passively in the wings, the city’s elected politicians threaten to derail a vital regional project that has been over a century in the making. Or they could step up and be counted as genuine backers of the vital DTX project.

Modernizing Caltrain



In March, SaveMuni invited Caltrain’s Casey Fronson to tell us about the Caltrain Modernization Program. We were excited about what we heard.

Caltrain operates the 51 miles of track between San Francisco and San Jose once known as the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which has been in use for the last 150 years. The line has experienced big growth since 2004, when the “Baby Bullet” trains were introduced, speeding up service. Currently the cars are getting very full around rush hour, especially on the morning northbound trains. It will be hard to get much more growth out of the current diesel locomotives, which start and stop slowly and need a lot of space between them, and 2/3 of which are already due for retirement.

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