Community Development Dept.
75 Rowland way
FAX (415) 899-8216
FAX (415) 899-8216
PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF REPORT
DATE: January 17, 2006
STAFF: David Wallace, Community Development Director
SUBJECT: PUBLIC HEARING TO CONSIDER COMMENTS ON THE
SMART DRAFT EIR
The City Council has
requested that the Planning Commission prepare comments from the City of
Novato on the Draft EIR that has been prepared for the proposed SMART rail
project from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
The Sonoma Marin Area
Rail Transit District has published a Draft EIR on the proposed 70 mile
rail system extending from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The public comment
period closes January 23, 2006. Staff has reviewed the Draft EIR and
prepared proposed comments for the Planning Commission to consider. Staff
comments focus on several areas:
Adequacy of the analysis of specific environmental impacts,
assessment of the interrelationship of ridership figures and the
The adequacy of the range of alternatives analyzed in the DEIR,
assessment of which is the Environmental Superior Alternative.
Staff requests that the
Commission, after considering the proposed comments, provide staff with
direction on the comments to forward to SMART on the DEIR. Staff’s
proposed comments are discussed below.
The DEIR indicates that
the rail ties and steel will be replaced along a major portion of the
railway. It also states: “Contaminated material might require offsite
disposal”. The DEIR does not fully discuss the disposition of these
materials nor the anticipated quantity and level of contamination of the
materials. The DEIR should include a more thorough analysis and evaluation
of the environmental impacts associated with disposition of the creosote
soaked rail ties, steel and any contaminated materials. There should also
be an evaluation of where the material would be disposed of and the
potential impacts on efforts by local governments to achieve AB 939
requirements. Mitigation measures should include recycling and reuse of
these materials rather than disposal.
Additional analysis of
noise impacts is needed. Noise impacts were only examined at ‘at-grade’
crossings and the analysis only address the noise resulting from crossing
signals and train horns. The noise analysis should address train noise
itself (engine noise, wind noise, mechanical noise, wheel-squeal, noise
from tunnel ventilation fans, etc.) along the length of the rail line
including the proposed rail/transit stations. In addition, reflective
noise along the entire length of the rail line should be evaluated and
mitigation measures proposed (this is especially important given the
proposal for a ‘barrier’ along the rail line to reduce safety and visual
concerns identified in the DEIR).
The proposed mitigation
measure for noise emanating from the train horns suggests applying for
designation of Quiet Zones. However, this is an inadequate mitigation
measure because SMART does not have control over those designations and
there is no indication whether SMART would support the application for a
Quiet Zone designation submitted by the local agency. In addition, the
DEIR has not clearly articulated the potentially increased liability to
applicants when applying for and or establishing those Quiet Zones since
it may increase potential hazardous situations. Lastly, the Federal
Railroad Administration issued their final rule on the “Use of Locomotive
Horns” (FR Notice April 27, 2005) which includes use of Supplementary
Safety Measures (as also identified in the DEIR pg 5-1) and ASMs. The
DEIR should include the supplementary safety measures (e.g. four-quadrant
gate system, gates with medians or channelization, etc..) and ASMs as a
mitigation measures for SMART implementation since most local governments
should not be placed in the situation of expending the funds and taking
the liability for establishing Quiet Safety Zones for another agency’s
The DEIR states on page
3-140 “Ambient noise from freight traffic was not considered in the impact
analysis for the proposed project”. Noise impacts and mitigation measures
of the cumulative impacts of both commuter and freight rail should be
evaluated in the DEIR. The need to address all cumulative impacts of
passenger and freight traffic is discussed further below.
The DEIR indicates that
the long term impacts associated with increased response times for
emergency vehicles approaching at grade crossings when a passenger rail
train is present are less than significant. The City believes this
analysis is inadequate analysis and that this impact may be significant
and unavoidable. Any loss of life or inability to get to care due to a
train is significant. In addition, the DEIR did not consider the
possibility that the train may be inoperable and blocking a major route to
the hospital thereby adversely affecting the emergency response times for
fire, police and medical emergencies.
The DEIR does not include
an evaluation on potential suicides. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and
Transit District is expending significant funds and effort evaluating
measures to prevent suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. This DEIR needs
to analyze and propose mitigation measures to prevent possible suicides.
The City is concerned the
analysis of PSF4 Pg. 3-221 is inadequate. The DEIR analyzed public safety
in relation to the proximity of schools to the rail track. However, the
DEIR did not consider the public safety issues associated with the
proximity of childcare facilities or parks to the rail line. The DEIR
should include consideration of child care facilities such as those near
the rail line in Hamilton and parks along the rail line. Data should also
be included on the effectiveness of the Operation Lifesaver training
programs and how it would have to be an ongoing program because of new
children coming of age.
The DEIR evaluated CO and
PM air pollutants. However, there are other pollutants emitted from
diesel-fueled engines including sulfur dioxide that were not evaluated.
The revised DEIR should provide a more comprehensive analysis of the air
quality impacts associated with the diesel-fueled engines, along with a
cumulative analysis of CO and PM from other sources.
Bio-diesel was proposed
as an alternative fuel to potentially reduce air emissions, but currently
it is only verified as effective for use in trucks. In addition, there
are increased costs associated with using bio-diesel, which were not
evaluated in the DEIR. Other fuels and other types of vehicles, including
light rail should be evaluated to reduce air quality impacts. Other types
of vehicles should not be eliminated from consideration.
The DEIR did not
adequately evaluate impacts and mitigation measures for train vibration to
residences and businesses located along the rail line. This additional
review should look at specific impacts of vibration on Novato Community
hospital (patients and sensitive electronic instruments) and sensitive
receptors near the tracks such as Los Robles Mobil Home Park.
During the recent storms
of Dec 2005/January 2006, many segments of the rail line where under
water. The DEIR does not include an analysis by segment of how the rail
line will be protected from possible inundation during flood events. The
analysis should also address potential impacts on adjacent and upstream
properties and flood control projects that might be created by the flood
protection measures. If the rail line where to be raised in some areas of
Novato, there may be less capacity in the lower elevation areas to retain
storm waters thereby increasing flooding.
The DEIR should also look
at the impacts and mitigation measures associated with debris collecting
on trestle at Novato creek, causing water to overflow the banks of the
creek and washing out the rail roadbed or other improvements.
measures include a requirement for a geotechnical evaluation. These
mitigation measures should require that a third-party independent
evaluation of the geotechnical analysis be conducted.
A barrier is being
proposed to mitigate the proximity of the bicycle/pedestrian pathway to
the rail line and to mitigate for visual impacts. This barrier is
proposed for a minimum height of 6-8 feet. Should the material of the
barrier be something like chain link fence it could have significant
visual impacts of its own which were not evaluated. Nor did the DEIR
include analysis of potential graffiti and the maintenance requirements
for the barriers. In addition, the DEIR indicated that the barrier would
have periodic gaps to mitigate for wildlife movement. It is unclear how
effective those gaps would be for wildlife and what impacts they may have
on the bicyclists and pedestrians using the pathway.
North Novato Station:
Page 3 of Appendix C indicates that Marin County Transit has identified
this station as a potential site for a new bus transfer center. This
proposal has not been explored with the City of Novato and may not be
feasible given the space constraints at this site, as acknowledged in the
DEIR. The site constraints are so significant the DEIR assumes that
overflow parking areas would be accommodated along Wood Hollow Drive and
Binford Road. However, the proposed land uses for those adjacent parcels
could create significant parking demands precluding use by rail riders.
Any proposed station should provide adequate parking and not assume use of
The proposed project is
anticipating the need for 105 spaces for year 2020. The DEIR should
evaluate why 105 spaces are needed when only 79 riders that will be
originating their trip from this station during peak hours and 6 riders
for the mid-day train. The parking and ridership numbers are further
called into question since Appendix C indicates that the Fireman’s Fund
has over 2000 employees. This is inaccurate given that over the past
several years their employment has dropped to less than 1000. It is
uncertain how the vacant space will be occupied in the future. Depending
on the use, the employment could be significantly less than indicated in
The proposed station plan
(pg 2-44) assumes the future widening of Redwood Blvd. will be constructed
by the City of Novato. At this time, this widening is not proposed by the
City and it is unclear in the DEIR whether the widening of Redwood is a
necessary mitigation measure which would therefore not be implemented.
South Novato Station:
Page 1 in Appendix C indicates that the Albertson’s has recently begun
construction. No application for this site has been submitted to the City
of Novato for consideration. The DEIR should be corrected.
Page 3 of Appendix C
indicates that Marin County Transit is considering this station site for a
new bus transfer center. This proposal has only recently been presented
to the City of Novato which has indicated that other sites should be
evaluated given the site constraints and potential reduction of City
revenue (sales and property taxes). Also, during the November 22, 2005
meeting of MCTD, Agenda Item 1f, Directors stated that the Bel Marin Keys
site was just one of the south Novato sites to be evaluated for a station.
As with the North
Novato station, parking counts for the south station seem inconsistent
with ridership demand. The proposed 102 planned parking spaces seem
excessive given the projected ridership originating from this station.
The City of Novato designated a major site along the rail line in Hamilton
(adjacent to Main Gate Road and the rail line) as a transit site. This
site should be evaluated in the DEIR given that the other two locations
evaluated have constraints as identified in the DEIR.
The Draft EIR states that
shuttle buses will serve stations with multiple routes at six and ten
minute headways during peak hours. It is unclear if this means buses will
depart every 6 minutes (am) and 10 minutes (pm) or only when trains
arrive/depart. The DEIR is also unclear on how many routes each station
has and where the routes go. Given the ridership numbers for the Novato
stations, the number of shuttles seems unrealistic. Because the number
and routing of shuttles is unclear, potential traffic impacts of shuttle
trips around the stations and on city streets is not known.
A cumulative analysis of
both freight and commuter passenger traffic along the entire length of the
track is critical. The NCRA has an easement over 60 miles of the 70 miles
of rail track being considered for commuter rail by SMART. An
Environmental Assessment prepared by Nationwide Infrastructure Support
Technical Assistance Consultants for FEMA on the South End Railroad
Project proposed by NCRA in November 2003 states “While individual actions
taken as part of the South End Railroad project would likely be completed
prior to the earliest anticipated activity of the SMART commuter rail
project (Section 1.2.1), there are likely to be cumulative effects
associated with the development of the SMART project. These impacts would
be described in the environmental documentation for the SMART passenger
rail service. Resource areas in which cumulative impacts may occur include
air quality, biological resources, socioeconomics, transportation, and
The DEIR indicated that
it was uncertain whether freight would continue use of the rail line.
However, according to a recently released Environmental Assessment and
Finding of No Significant Impact by FEMA in April 2004, it appears that
FEMA will be providing funds to NCRA to begin repair of a portion of the
rail line to allow continued freight use. This information further
reinforces the potential of joint use. The DEIR should include a
cumulative analysis of all environmental impacts for both freight and
commuter passenger use of the rail line.
The DEIR mentions
that SMART anticipates entering into a new Operating Agreement with NCRA
prior to implementation of freight or passenger service to address
multiple issues. This operating agreement should be included in this DEIR
since the hours of operation, scheduling priorities and other aspects may
impact the assumptions in the environmental document.
The DEIR (pg 2-66)
indicates that the capital costs are estimated at $340 M with annual O/M
costs at $10-12 M; and, the bicycle/pedestrian pathway cost at $70 M (of
which SMART will fund $40M). It is unclear whether these estimates
include the mitigation measures proposed in the DEIR. The cost analysis
should be updated to reflect the cost of all mitigation measures already
identified and any additional mitigation measures identified to address
comments on the Draft EIR.
The Highway 101 Level of
Service Tables 3.6-7A through 3.6-8B and Tables 4.2-2A through 4.2-3B are
very helpful, however, the city believes there are several questions
raised by those tables. In Table 4.2-2B the HOV lane has a LOS F in
segments 7, 8 & 9 while the mixed flow lanes have a much better LOS; the
City questions this finding as drivers in the HOV lane would seemingly
transfer to the mixed flow lanes in this instance. In Table 3.6-8A,
worsens rather than improves in segments 2 and 9 with completion of the
rail project. Is this correct?
In Tables 3.6-8A & B, the
No Project Alternative LOS meets or exceeds the LOS for the Rail Project
for of all segments except one. In Tables 4.2-2A to 4.2-3B all of the
alternatives appear very similar in LOS levels except for limited freeway
segments. Based on
this limited information it is difficult to understand the impacts or
benefits of the proposed project on Highway 101 traffic. A travel
time analysis which compares all of the project alternatives in a manner
similar to that provided for the Express Bus Alternative (Table 4.4-3)
would be helpful in determining what, if any, benefit the Rail Project
provides in meeting its stated objective of “accommodating a portion of
the projected travel demand” (DEIR pag. 2-1).
The DEIR should make it
clear to the public that the estimated 4800 daily riders assume a person
rides both directions; thereby indicating that 2400 people will use the
The DEIR should evaluate
what percentage of the proposed ridership would be ‘new public transit
riders’ versus those switching from buses or vanpools/carpools. Also,
analysis needs to be included in the DEIR on the future impact on current
local and commute services provided by Golden Gate Transit. The
DEIR only mentions potential elimination of Route 75. The projected
ridership of SMART shuttles suggests that more local riders will shift
from MCTD buses to SMART shuttles. However, in order to maintain it
mobility goals, MCTD must continue to operate all routes with convenient
headways. Thus a shift in local riders would result in a loss of revenue,
but no corresponding reduction in operating costs. This analysis in mode
shifts is critical in determining the preferred environmentally superior
alternative and must be included in the DEIR. If bus routes are likely to
be discontinued, it is necessary to estimate how many former bus
passengers shift to traveling by auto because of longer door to door
travel times. Such shifts must then be factored in all elements.
The DEIR should provide
“origination - destination" matrices by station broken out between peak
and non-peak hours from project initiation to year 2025.. Currently, the
Figure 5.4.1 in Appendix I only includes peak hours. In a letter dated
December 7, 2005 from Chair Bob Jehn to Council Member Pat Eklund, the
Chair indicated that “SMART did not request the consultant to prepare an
origin-destination table for the off peak mid-day train since the mid-day
train was included to provide a safety net for those peak period riders
that may need to go home for an emergency in the mid-day”. If this is the
case, then why is the ridership projected to be substantially higher
during the mid-day for San Rafael than for peak hours as appears to be the
case in Figure 5.4.1? Reviewing Figure 5.4.1, it appears that 132 persons
will be riding during peak hours and 175 during mid-day if the total
alightings for San Rafael is 307. This would seem to clearly indicate
that the ridership is not projected accurately and should be re-evaluated.
The City believes that
the range of project alternatives analyzed in the DEIR are inadequate.
The low figures for alighting in Marin County station, especially those in
Novato, raise questions about ridership between Sonoma and Marin
Counties. As stated in the DEIR Appendix I (pg 33) “The Novato stations
have the fewest boardings and alightings..”. Given the limited ridership
at the remaining three Marin stations (Civic Center, San Rafael and
Larkspur), a project alternative which includes train routes within Sonoma
County only should be considered.
The description of the
express bus alternative is unclear and makes it difficult to determine if
it is an appropriately defined alternative. To induce greater bus
ridership it may be necessary to significantly modify the routing and/or
number of express buses to San Francisco from various locations in Sonoma
and Marin. The DEIR discusses additional service to San Francisco but
does not describe what the additional service would entail or why
ridership does not increase significantly with this alternative. This
alternative needs to be clarified and expanded to better address the
potential for express bus service.
Neither the proposed
project nor any of the alternatives evaluated would improve the level of
service south bound in the a.m. along 101 between Route 37 and North San
Pedro Road. The alternatives should be expanded to include one that
improves that level of service on this freeway segment.
The City questions the
designation of the proposed project as the Environmental Superior
Alternative for several reasons:
1) The benefits of the proposed project in the transportation
impact area (pg. 4-40) are not clearly identified as noted in the Traffic
2) The water resources benefits of the proposed project are also
unclear and the project may in fact create negative impacts as addressed
in the Flooding comments above.
3) A continuous north-south pathway along the Highway 101 corridor
is stated to be a benefit of the proposed project. Given the recently
funded bike project, the funding may be available for this project to
proceed with or without the rail project.
4) It is unclear why LU-2 of the
DEIR would be any more beneficial for the proposed project than some of
the other alternatives, specifically the Express Bus Alternative.
5) The proposed project is assuming 4800 passengers in determining
the preferred Environmental Superior Alternative. The City believes these
numbers are questionable and if the ridership projections are in error,
this may affect the preferred environmentally superior alternative.
6) Given the ridership numbers in Marin County, it is unclear
whether the proposed project identified in the DEIR is the Environmentally
Superior Alternative. Since a Sonoma-only train was not evaluated, the
selected Environmentally Superior Alternative may be different especially
given the ridership numbers.
Express Bus Alternative may in fact be the Environmental Superior
Alternative if it were more clearly and beneficially defined.
The City believes there
are many inadequacies in the DEIR and that significant additional analysis
is needed. The analysis of specific project impacts has been omitted, is
inadequate or in places is inaccurate as is discussed throughout this
report. Some of the analyses are confusing and/or do not provide
sufficient information to make an informed decision. Technical reports
referred to in the DEIR and essential to understanding potential impacts
of the project are not included in the DEIR and may not be publicly
available. The ridership numbers are questionable which may affect the
findings of the analyses, the comparison of alternatives and the
designation of the Environmentally Superior Alternative. Lastly,
scope of the project alternatives is inadequate and may also affect
the choice of the Environmentally Superior Alternative
Staff proposes to submit
the above comments to SMART in letter format. Staff requests that the
Commission provide staff with direction on revisions, if any, to the
1. DEIR (previously forwarded to Commissioners)