Novato's Opinion of SMART DEIR 

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THE CITY OF

NOVATO

CALIFORNIA

Community Development Dept.

Planning Division

75 Rowland way

Novato, CA  94945

(415) 899-8989

            FAX (415) 899-8216

www.ci.novato.ca.us

 

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Community Development Dept.
Planning Division
75 Rowland way
Novato, CA  94945
(415) 899-8989
            FAX (415) 899-8216
www.ci.novato.ca.us
 

 

IA

Planning Division

Novato, CA  94945

(415) 899-8989

            FAX (415) 899-8216

www.ci.novato.ca.us

 

 

PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF REPORT

MEETING

DATE:             January 17, 2006

 

STAFF:            David Wallace, Community Development Director

415-899-8938

SUBJECT:       PUBLIC HEARING TO CONSIDER COMMENTS ON THE

SMART DRAFT EIR

REQUESTED ACTION

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.

STAFF ANALYSIS

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:

1) Adequacy of the analysis of specific environmental impacts,

2)  An assessment of  the interrelationship of ridership figures and the environmental impacts,

3)  The adequacy of the range of alternatives analyzed in the DEIR,

4) An 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.

Hazardous Wastes:

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. 

Noise:

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 project.

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.

Public Facilities and Safety:

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.

Air Quality:

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.

Vibration:

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.

Flooding:

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.

Geotechnical Analysis:

Several mitigation 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.

Barrier Impacts:

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.

 Rail Stations:

 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 pubic roads.

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 DEIR. 

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.

 Other potential stations:  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.

Shuttle Buses: 

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.

 Freight Service:

 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 noise.” 

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. 

 Project Costs

 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.

Traffic:

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, the LOS 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).

Ridership:

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 train.

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, an 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.

 Project Alternatives:

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. 

Environmentally Superior Alternative:

                                                                       

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 comments above.

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.

7)         The Express Bus Alternative may in fact be the Environmental Superior Alternative if it were more clearly and beneficially defined.  

Summary:

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, the scope of the project alternatives is inadequate and may also affect the choice of the Environmentally Superior Alternative

RECOMMENDATION

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 comments.

ATTACHMENTS

1.         DEIR (previously forwarded to Commissioners)

 

 
   

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