October 17, 1991
California Transportation Commission
Attn: William Leonard, Chairman
1120 N Street
Sacramento, California 95814
Re: I880/Cypress Replacement Final EIR/EIS
The purpose of an EIR or EIS is to provide decision-makers with accurate information on the potential environmental impacts of a project, so that they can make the best decision. The I880/Cypress EIR/EIS is, instead, a fabric of lies whose aim is to deceive the public and rationalize the alternative desired by Caltrans. It continues to promote, for example, the myths that freeway expansion improves air quality, that it helps the economy, and, in general, that it benefits the community. As I explained in earlier comments, these are simply myths.
Its most serious defect is that it fails to seriously consider any alternative that does not include freeway construction (which, by coincidence, is what Caltrans thinks of as its business; a more honest title would be the "Department of Freeways"). In particular, the "Clean Air Alternative", a 6-lane expressway built along Middle Harbor Road and Maritime Street by adding one lane to the existing five, was never considered. This is a blatant violation of CEQA. All feasible alternatives, however unattractive they are to the lead agency, must be given equal attention.
In combination with the 5 transit improvements proposed by the Clean Air Alternative Coalition (A/C Transit, BART, intercity rail, commuter rail, and light rail), and in addition improvements to freight rail, all of the transportation needs that the "Preferred Alternative" addresses could be met. We must not forget that the goal is to provide access for people and goods, not simply to move a certain number of metal boxes from one place to another! The truck and automobile are not the only way of accomplishing that, nor the most efficient.
Not only is the Clean Air Alternative feasible, it is also a far more cost-effective means of achieving our transportation goals. (By the way, it is the community's goals that are important, not Caltrans's.) It has been shown many times (and it is also intuitively obvious) that public transit provides passenger miles much more cheaply than the private car.
There are other good arguments. The Clean Air Alternative would provide better access to the Port of Oakland. It would cause less disruption to the Port and also to rail operations in the area. Obviously, since it would involve less pavement, it would cause less inducement for people to drive more, less air pollution, less noise, less displacement of homes and businesses, and, in general, less disruption to the community.
It is clear from the Final EIR/EIS that the project has significantly changed since the Draft EIR/EIS, and significant new information has been introduced. The "Preferred Alternative" was not even one of the original alternatives! Therefore, according to CEQA, Caltrans is obligated to re-circulate it as a new Draft EIR/EIS, with a new comment period.
I would also like to see the documentation of Caltrans's "Findings", and its "Mitigation Monitoring Program", both of which are required by CEQA. It appears, for example, that Caltrans has no intention of developing the transit projects included in the "Preferred Alternative", upon which its environmental analysis rests. That is "somebody else's responsibility"! Of course, that is illegal and unacceptable.
Caltrans was obligated to respond to all comments. In many cases, it chose to ignore the comments. In no case did it respond "head on" to the point being made. Usually the comment was dismissed with a simple assertion and no to-the-point explanation. This is a clear violation of CEQA, and an insult to the many people (most of them opposed to the "Preferred Alternative", by the way) who commented. For example, they completely ignored Charles Siegel's second paragraph, where he questioned their "Highway expansion cleans the air" myth. And they ignored the third paragraph in my January 13 letter, where I questioned the validity of their modeling.
MTC, in its September, 1991 Final EIR for the Regional Transportation Plan, admitted possible "significant, unavoidable" negative impacts in the areas of energy resources, seismicity (earthquakes), water, biological resources, visual resources, noise, social environment, population growth, and land use (pp.85-8). (They didn't admit air quality impacts, simply because that would trigger Clean Air Act prohibitions against their highway projects!) How could they avoid noticing those effects? In fact, on pp.66-81, they explicitly ascribed those impacts to the I880/Cypress project! There seems to be an honesty gap here. For example, how could a freeway section 90 feet in the air (see Exh. 12-2.5) avoid earthquake effects?!
Most experts agree that supplies of oil will run out in the U.S. in just 30 years. Probably at 20 years, only the rich will be able to, and want to, spend their money driving a private car. The highways that we are building now will be almost empty. The majority, who won't use them, won't want to pay to maintain them. Instead, the cry will be to tear them down. Think ahead a little. In today's economy, can we afford to continue throwing money down that rat hole?
Please don't let the existence of funds and deadlines cause you to approve a $1.2 billion fiasco, when a much cheaper, quicker, more cost-effective, more environmentally sound alternative exists.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.