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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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"This is a good thing"

Uploaded: Dec 2, 2011
That's what Bishop Ranch owner, Alex Mehran, said about the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane entrance and exit on I-680 planned for Norris Canyon by Caltrans.

Most of the residents attending the Scoping meeting on November 29th disagreed with that position. Jim Gibbon's only question about the plan was "How can we prevent it?" Several speakers questioned why this is being done now and objected to the project, which they believe is designed to help a few busses going to or from the Bishop Ranch Business Park.

Bishop Ranch is very active in transportation planning, and sponsors a bus program with 400,000 bus trips per year. "It is a very successful program," Mehran said, but the HOV plan isn't for Bishop Ranch. It is a regional plan to encourage use of HOV lanes to reduce congestion on the freeways and cut down on accidents from cars weaving across three lanes of traffic to get to or from the HOV lane.

Mehran believes on ramps are more important than the off ramps. At Norris Canyon the on ramp would head north and the off ramp heads south. I asked if it wouldn't be dangerous for busses to enter an HOV lane moving at 60 mph, but Mehran said it would not and it is better than moving from a congested lane at 20 mph into the HOV lane doing 55.

"It is not Bishop Ranch specific," Mehran told me in a phone interview this morning. He was surprised by the residents' surprise since this HOV project has been in the works for almost ten years. It's part of Caltrans regional plan to develop the HOV system throughout the Bay Area to ease traffic on the freeway.

Councilmember Dave Hudson told me after the Caltrans meeting that this plan dates back to 2004 or earlier and is part of a package of laws signed by Governor Schwarzenegger to reduce greenhouse gases throughout the State. Hudson pondered why the environmentalists are objecting to something to reduce the amount of traffic on the highway and fight global warming.

Jim Gibbon wants to use the $200M Caltrans earmarked for the HOV lanes to put BART or light rail down the center of I-680 instead. This would be another solution for reducing automobile traffic on the freeway. Gibbon worries if these HOV ramps are added now it would force BART onto the Iron Horse Trail in the future.

Mehran said $200M wouldn't build more than a couple of miles of BART. He estimated the Norris Canyon ramps at about $15M; so the $200M is for the whole project and not just these ramps at Norris Canyon.

I asked Mehran if adding these ramps would keep BART from using the I-680 to connect Walnut Creek to West Dublin. Mehran told me the design of the I-680 through Danville and San Ramon makes it almost impossible to put BART on it now. The overpasses at local exits would require the trains to be elevated to cross them. So ramps to put the BART train going over the Norris Canyon overpass would be necessary for the BART anyway. I could imagine the hollering of neighbors at that prospect, which would be far worse than having a few cars and busses entering and exiting there.

Mehran said the Iron Horse Trail is the logical place to put a BART connection, which I would vociferously oppose. I am a NIMBY about the IHT, since it IS my backyard, but hundreds if not thousands of homeowners along the trail would object too.

There's no money to build a connection to BART right now, so there's no possibility of this happening for many years. The HOV ramps are a cost-effective alternative to improving freeway traffic that's more practical right now. "As congestion increases throughout the Bay Area, regional improvements benefit everyone," Mehran explained.

Mehran knows the cost of these projects because he recently put up half of the $11M needed to "improve access to the Bollinger Canyon Interchange" in preparation for the City Center. I mistakenly thought these improvements or additions would be made at Norris Canyon, but this HOV plan has nothing to do with the City Center.

Mehran summed up the need for the HOV ramps succinctly. "This is needed and anyone who doesn't get that, get on the freeway at 5 pm."

Comments

Posted by Harry S., a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 3, 2011 at 10:45 am

Roz- I understand many residents having initial objections to this. This plan has been in the works for a while and, in my view, therein lies the problem, again. City staff has been briefing various committees about these, on an annual basis, since 2004. While on Economic Development this was presented to our group and my initial reaction was "bad idea". The traffic congestion is notorious and I am not a believer in HOV ramps. (I have used the Sunol Grade every day since 1998 and get pissed looking at a seldom used lane of traffic). However my thought was for the 2-3 years of construction at Norris Canyon and SRV BLVD. and what a cluster mess that would be; of course we would all get used to it but still.

But, much like Measure W and probably like North Camino Ramon future planning, staff and the City council do not properly vet these issues with residents in a meaningful and transparent way. That is as honestly as I can say it, and I know I will take some heat for this but I feel this is becoming a problem to future planning for the city. Might I add, that gaining public insight, opinion and ultimately support, does not and as increasingly is evident, cannot be achieved simply by providing the mandated "3 public hearings". That doesn't cut it anymore.

Instead of coming out after 2004 and holding resident info sessions on the HOV proposal to inform and get feedback from residents, staff and Council apparently get scared off by this and keep it within the city committees until its out for public consumption and then wham; opposition.

Mehran's points on this are credible and realistic, Jim Gibbon's desire for BART or light rail thru the 680 corridor are financially unreasonable and then what if a BART or light rail station needed to be put in San Ramon, can we all imagine the residents uproar; me among them?

I often hear how the publicly funded city center proposed in the 2000-2002 council was a fiasco, people at the community center playing with models creating a myriad of financially unrealistic models of the perfect downtown. That method of gaining input was a waste of time and money. But city leaders, and city staff (I know some who read this) need to get over the past. On projects and planning of major concern to residents, open up to presenting and receiving information from the public in general. Committees and Commissioners often cannot get information out to the public; we need to trust that by bringing up major planning issues for our residents early in the planning process we can perhaps bring a Jim Gibbon and others into the discussion so they can be supporters. There is much more to be gained long term from this approach than doing an information dump once "decisions have been made". That's when "lawsuits tend to happen" which is a lose -lose for everyone who cares about San Ramon.

I must be frank; I have come to realize, with the great tool of hindsight, that Measure W was done the wrong way. I still hold dear to the tenants of local control over regional or county planning for San Ramon. But Measure W and the General Plan update was doomed when the public was not brought into the loop and informed as to WHY San Ramon city staff and the Council wanted to annex Tassajara Valley. 3 minutes to speak at public hearings was not public input. City leaders were silent until No on W got rolling and, give credit to Phil O'Loane and his group; they gained momentum with their message. A poorly informed public was left to choose between a well-funded viewpoint and "trust us". Trust us loses every time.

Going forward, on big issues, we must strive to bring San Ramon residents into the process. We will ultimately gain from a better informed public being supportive of change, providing alternatives and input not considered, and ultimately a San Ramon that plans its future with transparency.

May our newest councilmembers hold true to their promises on such a request.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 3, 2011 at 11:55 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Harry,

Excellent comments. I know you have been reading the San Ramon Observer for a long time. My goal in starting the Observer ten years ago and keeping it going all this time was to educate residents about what the City government is doing and how it could affect them.

I was against the government waste and often stupidity of the Gang of Three, and when they were replaced on the City Council I thought my mission was over. But too much of what happens at City Hall and the Planning Commission are "under the radar" of most residents. Residents don't come to public meetings unless someone, like Jim Gibbon or Save Mount Diablo, incites them enough to spend the time and interest. Often this means presenting one side or incomplete information on the issue.

That's why I wanted to interview Alex Mehran to find out his side of the HOV lane story. Mehran is often the punching bag for the objectors, and I don't know why. Someone at the Caltrans meeting called San Ramon "a bedroom community." That's what they believe it is or should be, but it isn't. It's a business community with some of the biggest corporations in the World headquartered here.

Residents need to understand all sides of whatever issues are raised. As you brought up in Measure W, the reasons for moving the UGB into Tassajara Valley were never clearly explained by the Council. I tried, but I was a lone voice against Seth Adams and his distorted message.

But the City Council blew it big time by not paying attention to the objections at the beginning. I wrote an article in the Express covering one of the first Planning Commission meetings where Jim Gibbon said if you included the UGB move to Tassajara Valley, his group would fight it and you would lose. I take Jim Gibbon at his word. He says what he means and carries it out. So I don't know why you were all so stubborn, except you didn't want to listen to Jim Gibbon. That was a real mistake.

Now Jim and his group are against the HOV lanes. Mehran said these are a high priority for MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) and will be done. If the outcry is too great, the one designated here might be moved somewhere else, but the goal is to increase the use of HOV lanes and ease traffic on the freeway, not to make it easier for the 30,000 to 40,000 commuters who work at Bishop Ranch (how terrible would that be).

As far as BART from Walnut Creek, as Mehran said "We wouldn't see it in our lifetimes," but then he and I are both over 60 (I'm guess how old he is and he might not be 60 yet but close). I'm almost 70, so I hope I don't see BART out of my back window until I'm too old and senile to care.

Dougherty Valley was build with extra wide medians along Bollinger Canyon Road to accommodate light rail. Six years ago I had a writing contract at HP in Mountain View, and I too the light rail from the ACE Train Station to the HP building. It's like what we used to call trolleys. This would be easier and cheaper to put in from the Dublin BART to the propose Transportation Center in the North Camino Ramon plan. That makes a lot of sense to me, but hasn't been presented or explained why North Camino Ramon is the right place to put this and that plan is the right one to have there. Too many pieces of the pie are left out for residents to understand why these things are done. I tried to present the rest of the pie (and I've got to take a cherry pie out of the oven right now).

Roz



Posted by Bob P., a resident of another community,
on Dec 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Harry, Roz

Good points. You both know where I stand in regards to public participation and involvement. I voted against narrowing the notification area for public meetings, and I always voted against anything that reduced the public's ability to weigh in on issues.

I have to admit, my feelings about hearing opinions that differed from mine matured over the years. I learned that compromise solutions work best. Anyone who came to Planning Commission meetings heard me say many times, "you know you have made the right decision because nobody got everything they wanted".

And yes, those who are opposed to something are more vocal then those who agree. We used to believe that the vocal opposition was the minority and there was a large number in the silent majority. Maybe that assumption was flawed??

As far as listening to the Jim's (Gibbon and Blickenstaff) I learned to listen to them and I think I did. We almost never agreed on anything, but sometimes we did, and I think the Commission made better decisions when we gave the Jim's a chance to participate.

Let me comment on two issues raised in your posts here. 1) BART will not up 680, that's a fools folly. I severely doubt it will go on the Iron Horse trail. The answer is not HOV lanes or HOV on/off ramps. The only way to solve traffic is to get people out of their cars. You can have 100 lane freeways and all 100 lanes would be full. 2) The Tassajara valley is a conundrum. My thoughts about 10 years ago included moving the UGB, annexing, and protecting 95% of it as open space. The developed 5% would include a regional transit center, tied to both BART and ACE, as well as transit oriented "smart growth" designed housing.

Just my 2 pesos.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Bob & Harry,

I've always felt the Planning Commission was much more open to listing to opposing viewpoints, or every viewpoint, than the City Council, whether they were the "Gang of Three," or the current City Council. These different Council majorities had different views but both majorities were just as closed-minded.

At the first regular Council meeting after swearing in the new members, I plan to propose a change to the bylaws of the Policy Committee and how items are placed on the Council's Agenda. Stay tuned.

Roz



Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

To call the whole city council "closed minded" I think is grossly unfair. The council has to weigh many factors with every decision before them. They have to weigh testimony of the vocal, often rude, people who are against nearly every project proposed*, against the testimony of those in opposition who have truly thought out their positions and have done their homework, against the testimony of the proponents, against letters and phone calls they may have received, and lastly they have to take into consideration the long term benefits/detriments to the city and the outlying areas. I know for a fact that these decisions weigh heavily on all their minds and none are taken lightly.

Those who complain they don't know what is going on are generally apathetic until something happens that seems to affect them directly. That's why the Jims are so effective in riling them up and intimating this has all gone on in secret meetings. Baloney!

As an original member of the Right of Way Trail Advocates, a group largely responsible for battling the County to get the Iron Horse Trail established on the rail right of way, I would be very surprised if that ever becomes a rail corridor, however, the ROW does have to remain contiguous and that corridor must remain open because it was purchased with transportation funds designated for that purpose. BART on the 680 ROW would probably be a better option, but the difficulties in doing so may be insurmountable. Don't borrow trouble.

* CAVE people -- Citizens Against Virtually Everything
* BANANAS -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Anything

MLO


Posted by Rob, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 12:47 pm

It's hard to oppose something when you don't find out about it until SEVEN YEARS after it's been proposed. It's hard not to be rude when you find out the city council has known about it all this time but you only found out because of a local Google group. It's hard not to be an apathetic complainer when you work 8 hours a day and have a family and a house to tend to in your spare time, then find out your best interests are being trampled by government agencies that were suppose to be representing you.


Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Rob,

It's not difficult not to be rude. It's simply a choice.

MLO


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

ML,

I know your opinions of the two Jim's are very different from mine. Jim Gibbon can be very passionate in his positions, and that could be taken as being rude, but I have never seen Jim Blickenstaff be rude at a meeting (and your experience with him is different from mine) no matter how many insults have been thrown at him from the Council. Rude goes two ways.

Roz


Posted by Bob P, a resident of another community,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Rob,

It is not very hard to find information on most anything these days. This HOV ramp has been discussed in many forums within San Ramon for years. Most (if not all) information on meeting minutes, agendas, plans, proposals, etc. are readily available on the City's website. I have been in meetings where the final votes are being taken after years of debate and public vetting, only to have someone ask us to delay because they haven't had a chance to study the issues.

As far as rationalizing being an 'apathetic complainer' because of your work schedule, many of us have chosen to become involved in the City, most all of us worked 8 hours or more per day, had houses and families, and generally spent as much time or more on trying to make San Ramon a better place to live.

Ignorance or apathy is not an excuse to be rude.


Posted by Phil, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Rob-
I agree that it is difficult to stay abreast with everything that is happening in our community. But I don't believe that government agencies are purposely trying to bypass public input, although as Harry points out, the three public hearings don't seem to cut it anymore.
What can you propose that City government and staff can do better to improve communication with residents about upcoming projects?


Posted by C Michie, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I don't see this as something that the government was trying to hide or keep us from knowing about. I had heard about the possibility of the ramp on a few occasions. I think that the bigger issue is: there may be some folks that are feeling a lack of trust with the individuals that have been making decisions regarding the city. It sounds like people are also feeling that perhaps the city officials were not listening to their concerns. Whatever it be, it is my understanding that the city is now looking for public comment and are educating the public regarding the proposed ramp. The city of San Ramon has set up links through the city website and any person can submit to receive links pertaining to the different agendas and such. I appreciate this and think it is a nice feature offered to the residents. I do read the City Newsletters that go out and think that that is a good way to get information out to the residents. I would ask city officials to hear what the residents have to say and work with the people that live within this city. I am opposed to the ramp and live just west of the 680, off of Norris Canyon RD. I understand that the ramp would be beneficial for traffic and commuters but I live here and raise my children here and see many reasons why it would not be beneficial. I am hoping that the city officials will listen to all sides and will be open to hearing the residents point of you regarding the ramp.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

C Michie,

Your post is very reasonable and I understand why you don't want these off ramps on Norris Canyon Road. Alex Mehran told me the HOV lanes are a high priority for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and this project will be done. About the best you can hope for is moving them to another overpass.

I can understand why the MTC wants to put them on Norris Canyon because of the existing traffic on Crow Canyon and Bollinger, but from a resident's standpoint they would be better from Bollinger Canyon Road.

I believe Caltrans is willing to listen to all suggestions. I saw one where the exit would direct traffic East on Norris Canyon and away from the residential neighborhoods. This might be a good compromise.

I would prefer the MTC make light rail from the Dublin BART to central San Ramon a priority instead, but right now it isn't.

Roz


Posted by Phil R., a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

Roz-
You may want to ask city staff about the possibility of light rail from Dublin Bart to the San Ramon Transit Center. I was told by city transportation staff a few years ago that the slope on the east side of the San Ramon Valley (at least on Bollinger Canyon Road) was too steep for light rail!


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Phil,

The light rail proposal is one of the options in the Consultant's report Jim Gibbon got from the CCTA website. One option instead of HOV lanes would be to put light rail on the I-680 Median, with a station at Norris Canyon Road, and connect light rail from the Dublin BART to another station at Bollinger. I like the idea of light rail from the Dublin BART to Bollinger, but then put the HOV exits at Bollinger.

Alex Mehran said I should speak to Lisa Bobadilla, the City's Transportation Manager, about it. I guess that will be the next thing on my list to do. Thanks for the suggestion.

Roz


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Dec 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Everyone,

I have to say the media is often at fault for not providing information about plans before they are at the gelling stage. This HOV plan has been in the works since at least 2003. Measure J hinted at "improvements in the 680" and adding HOV and HOT (pay) lanes.

The Express is the only paper in San Ramon covering this story now. The Patch has a story on the accident rate on the I-680 between Alcosta and Crow Canyon. One of the replies describes cars going in and out of the HOV lane, causing accidents. This is exactly why these HOV on and off ramps are being proposed. There's a whole web of reasons for this that are part of a larger picture.

Harry as you well know any kind of planning requires changing attitudes and behavior. It's like bringing home a new cat. She'll hide in the closet or under the bed for three weeks until she decides it's safe to come out. It will take her another month or two to decide what she likes or doesn't like about living here. People are the same. They don't like anything new at first, but gradually get used to it, and then they don't want it changed.

Roz


Posted by Harry S. , a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

Roz- I agree with your comments about changing attitudes and really appreciate the feedback from others here on the blog; refreshing to hear reasons/opinions that are not tinged with anger. I will say the fact that this has been out there for 7 plus years as was mentioned still underscores my point: not too many residents have time to attend committee meetings or read about these agenda items by perusing local agency minutes or agendas. However, going forward city staff should be compelled to think about informational sessions with the public so that staff can get the "pulse" of those who attend and take that back to the regional transportation agencies for consideration.

A question as to whether I as a resident would prefer HOV ramps at Norris or a light rail stop? Where is the money for light rail going to come from? Whereas MTC has this budgeted and a continuous 680 HOV lane north and south has been on the planning docket for a decade with funding; well the choice is pretty clear. Bishop Ranch is a major work center and as Dougherty Valley continues to get built out and Tassajara Valley will get built out by the county, Crow Canyon and Bollinger Canyon are going to grow in congestion not lessen. HOV ramps could mitigate this but I don't believe drastically.


Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on Dec 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I'm late to the discussion, but I'll toss in my historical two pesos on BART's past vision of running tracks along I-680, although the information is admittedly ancient history (in Tri-Valley political terms).

During the summer of 1971 (fresh out of Amador Valley High School!) I served on a small citizen panel helping BART consultants study different routes to serve the Tri-Valley from Hayward and Walnut Creek. The conclusion at the time was there would not be nearly enough ridership between Walnut Creek and the Tri-Valley, compared to ridership to/from Hayward. The geography of I-680 through Alamo and Danville was not attractive to installing highway median tracks for such low projected ridership. So the focus was always on extending BART from Hayward through Dublin Canyon in I-580, and then maybe branching off to the Pleasanton Fairgrounds, to Livermore and the Lab, and then loop up to terminate at Las Positas College.

At that time no one had a vision for the San Ramon Valley becoming anything other than a sea of houses, a true "bedroom community," not a job center. Well, maybe Alex Mehran had a different vision back then, but no one on the citizen panel did.

The BART thinking at that time also was that interstate highway median stations were not as desirable as stations in suburban city centers, with tracks running through neighborhoods (i.e., like the tracks through Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, and Concord). BART liked that track alignment, thinking people could walk to stations. But when it came to predicting the cost of buying right-of-way for that vision, the cost of building in highway medians was so much less because Caltrans already had the land or could get federal funds to move vehicle lanes to make room in the median.

I still have the 1971-1972 final report and maps showing all of the various routes the panel studied, "Routes A through O" (yes, there were that many options). I had to leave the Tri-Valley to attend U.C. Santa Barbara, so I was only able to participate for a few months.

Good luck to all trying to determine how to handle all of the current and future traffic!


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