March 26, 1988
Burch C. Bachtold, District Director
Department of Transportation
San Francisco, California 94120
Re: Proposed Negative Declaration (PND) for I680 in Contra Costa County (Willow Pass Road to Marina Vista Blvd.)
My goal in writing this letter is to clean up the air in the Bay Area. I have attempted for 7 months to influence Caltrans's plans for this area, through logic and common sense, with zero results. With great reluctance, since I believe that reasonable people, supplied with all relevant facts, should be able to reach the best solution to any problem, I now turn to the use of the law and the courts.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has as its purpose to "prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man" (Sec.2). It states that "each person should enjoy a healthful environment and ... each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment" (Sec.101(c)). It emphasizes "the worldwide and long-range character of environmental problems" (Sec.102(2)(F)). (The emphasis, here and throughout, is mine.)
The purpose of the Clean Air Act is "to protect and enhance the quality of the Nation's air resources so as to promote the public health and welfare ... to achieve the prevention and control of air pollution" (Sec.101(b)).
The "legislative intent" of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is "to provide a high-quality environment that at all times is healthful and pleasing to the senses and intellect" (21000(b)). It again affirms that "Every citizen has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment" (e); that "all agencies of the state government which regulate activities ... which are found to affect the quality of the environment, shall regulate such activities so that major consideration is given to preventing environmental damage" (g). "21001 ... it is the policy of the state to: (a) Develop and maintain a high-quality environment now and in the future, and take all action necessary to protect, rehabilitate, and enhance the environmental quality of the state. (b) Take all action necessary to provide the people of this state with clean air and water, enjoyment of aesthetic, natural, scenic, and historic environmental qualities, and freedom from excessive noise. (d) Ensure that the long-term protection of the environment ... shall be the guiding criterion in public decisions. (g) Require governmental agencies at all levels to consider ... long-term benefits and costs, in addition to short-term benefits and costs and to consider alternatives to proposed actions affecting the environment."
"21002. The Legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of the state that public agencies should not approve projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives ... available which would substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of such projects". "CEQA was intended to be interpreted in such manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language." (15003(f))
The first, most obvious, and most serious defect in the above-mentioned PND is the lack of alternatives. Perhaps because Caltrans is the "lead agency" (and this is a good reason to switch the lead to the MTC or another agency that is not so biased towards freeways), freeway widening is the only option mentioned. In particular, the creation/expansion of public transit in the I680 corridor is not mentioned as an option, even though Caltrans was involved in the San Ramon Branchline/I680 Corridor Transportation Study, prepared for the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County, 1/87: you were on the Policy Steering Committee. That study found that "Existing highway and arterial capacity is inadequate even with the improvements currently programmed and further expansion to provide sufficient capacity to meet projected demand is not practical or possible" (p.1). It went on to recommend either light rail or busway in the corridor.
BART extensions to the Pittsburg/Antioch area and the Dublin/Pleasanton area (connecting with the proposed transit in the I680 corridor) have also been planned for a long time, and are in the MTC Regional Transportation Improvement Program, which Caltrans helped create.
On p.4 of the PND you mention that the largest present and future demand is in commute traffic in the I680 (north-south) corridor and the Route 4 (east-west) corridor. Thus, a reasonable conclusion is that rapid transit would satisfy that need. It would also be far superior environmentally:
"We utilize a tremendous amount of energy for transportation in the least efficient way conceivable: ... passenger cars, often carrying a single individual. These cars are not only inefficient and polluting, they are also killing thousands of people every year in traffic accidents. New, less polluting technology for the private car is therefore only a small part of the answer. When many people are moving in the same direction at the same time, mass transit could do the job far more efficiently, safely, and with a small fraction of the pollution." (Air Pollution, Virginia Brodine, pp.176-7)
CEQA requires Caltrans not only to describe all feasible alternatives in their environmental documents, but to choose the least polluting one (unless it describes, IN WRITING, overriding considerations: "Each ... project alternative must be explicitly rejected as infeasible if it is not adopted.... Findings must be accompanied by supporting facts." (Mandate Proceedings Under the California Environmental Quality Act, John D. Hoffman et al, 10-11/87, p.42)). "CEQA establishes a duty for public agencies to avoid or minimize environmental damage where feasible." (Guidelines, 15021) The very existence of BART through the area proves that transit is feasible, as do the above-mentioned planning documents. For example, the I680 corridor study states "The San Ramon Branchline right-of-way produces the least costly transit corridor, has the most service and access potential, and is the most cost-effective alignment option." (p.1) It is also demonstrated by Caltrans's Route 85 FEIS (7/87), which explicitly sets aside a 46' median for "future mass transportation" (46' is also the size of the I680 median). (See also CEQA 21002.)
This was also stated by Clarence Yee, Chief of Project Development for Caltrans in Contra Costa County, in his 3/10/88 letter to me: "public transit ... is certainly one view of and solution for the present and expected future population growth and traffic increase in Contra Costa County". If Caltrans knows that public transit is one possible solution, why wasn't it described and evaluated in the PND/Initial Study, as required by CEQA? The purpose of CEQA is to ensure that decision-makers are presented with a complete listing and evaluation of all feasible alternatives, so that they can make the most-informed decision possible and provide what is best for the people of California. "The Courts have repeatedly stressed this 'informing' function of CEQA and its primary instrument, the EIR. The purposes of the EIR are not only to inform the decision-makers themselves, but 'to demonstrate to an apprehensive citizenry that the agency has in fact analyzed and considered the ecological implications of its action' ..., and to enable the public 'to determine the environmental and economic values of their elected and appointed officials, thus allowing for appropriate action come election day should a majority of the voters disagree.'" (Mandate Proceedings, p.5)
"An EIR should be prepared with a sufficient degree of analysis to provide decision-makers with information which enables them to make a decision which intelligently takes account of environmental consequences. An evaluation of the environmental effects of a proposed project need not be exhaustive, but the sufficiency of an EIR is to be reviewed in the light of what is reasonably feasible. Disagreement among experts does not make an EIR inadequate, but the EIR should summarize the main points of disagreement among the experts. The courts have looked not for perfection but for adequacy, completeness, and a good faith effort at full disclosure." (Guidelines, 15151)
Common sense and knowledge about air pollution (e.g., see Brodine, or Vanishing Air, John C. Esposito) would tell you that a 50% increase in the capacity of a freeway would have a significant effect on the environment, but CEQA requires us to be more specific. Appendix G of CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act. Statutes and Guidelines, June, 1986 states: "A project will normally have a significant effect on the environment if it will: ... (k) Induce substantial growth or concentration of population; (l) Cause an increase in traffic which is substantial in relation to the existing traffic load and capacity of the street system".
Ron Olson, Senior Environmental Engineer, of Caltrans, said in his 1/27/88 letter to me, "there will be considerably more traffic using the widened freeway under the Build Alternative". That sounds like growth inducement. On p.15 of the PND you say that traffic congestion causes motorists to "change their mode of travel, or not make the trip at all". This implies that adding lanes to the freeway would cause more trips to be taken. In other words, it is growth-inducing. In the Air Quality Analysis Supplement to the 1987-91 Transportation Improvement Program, 9/24/86, p.17, the MTC states, "Potential Negative Effect - D* ... Projects so indicated will ameliorate air quality impacts [this is only partly true] by eliminating or reducing traffic congestion. They have, however, a growth inducing potential which may, in time, override the initial benefit." The I680 project is listed as one of those "D*" projects, on p.27. This flatly contradicts the "Determination" on p.39 of the PND, that "The proposal could not have a significant effect on the environment." The MTC, in their comment on this project (2/10/88 letter to George Gray of Caltrans), requested that you address "growth-inducing impacts from the freeway widening". The MTC, apparently, believes the project to be growth-inducing.
EVERY freeway building or widening, apparently, is growth-inducing. Every environmental document from Caltrans that I have seen admits that, except this PND: The FEIS for the I680/SR24 project (7/87), on page Summary-6, says "The project can be considered Growth Inducing to the extent that the proposed I-680 improvements would facilitate new development and to the extent that the full potential for expansion within the study area might not be realized without the project." The FEIS for the Route 85 project, on p.VII-1, states "The construction of the project alternative will be growth-inducing. This is because of the decrease in travel time between the primarily residential south and east portions of the valley and the commercial and industrial areas in the north and west and extreme southeast portions of the valley." A decrease in travel time is listed on p.14 of the PND as one of the benefits of this project.
An important admission in the Route 85 FEIS, p.VII-1, is: "There are limits to the total amount of growth that can be accommodated by environmental and constructed systems without creating serious problems. The problems we are currently facing in Santa Clara strongly suggest that we are already at or rapidly approaching the limits of those systems we are dependent upon for our comfort, convenience, health and general well-being." The same could be said about the current project area. Also appropriate, from California Transit, Oct-Dec 1986, p.9: "People decide where they will work and live, in part, based on what transportation facilities exist. ... Travel time, not distance, is what people use in evaluating whether a commute is worthwhile." And Jul-Sep 1986, on p.11: "'traffic generation was no longer a theory but a proven fact: the more highways were built to alleviate congestion, the more automobiles would pour onto them and congest them and thus force the building of more highways - which would generate more traffic and become congested in their turn in an inexorably widening spiral that contained the most awesome implications for the future of New York and all urban areas.' This prophetic view has already been realized in New York and Los Angeles; it is fast becoming a reality in the San Francisco Bay Area".
Growth inducement is important because (Guidelines 15064(d)): "In evaluating the significance of the environmental effect of a project, the Lead Agency shall [must] consider both primary or direct and secondary or indirect consequences. (1) Primary consequences are immediately related to the project such as the dust, noise, and traffic of heavy equipment that would result from construction of a sewage treatment plant and possible odors from the plant. (2) Secondary consequences are related more to effects of the primary consequences than to the project itself.... For example, the construction of a new sewage treatment plant may facilitate population growth in the service area due to the increase in sewage treatment capacity and may lead to an increase in air pollution."
Also relevant to growth inducement, from "Evaluating Highway Environmental Impacts: Two Reports", James B. Sullivan, Ph.D., from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1973, pp.11-12: "Urban highways only temporarily speed up and smooth out the flow of traffic as compared to traffic flows without the new highway. In the long run [the PND is about the year 2010], they induce a larger number of people to buy and use automobiles as their major mode of travel. This increases congestion and stop-and-go traffic.... It should be noted that new highways not only induce new traffic but this traffic is also associated with longer trips."
"An agency cannot avoid the EIR requirement by chopping one project into several smaller projects and issuing separate negative declarations.... CEQA does not permit an individual project to be considered in a vacuum. The statute specifically directs OPR [State Office of Planning & Research] to develop guidelines for consideration of the possible significant effects of a project in conjunction with the effects of past projects, other current projects and probable future projects" (Mandate Proceedings, p.35)(see CEQA 21083(b)). Or "reasonably foreseeable probable future projects" (op cit, p.37). Under "Mandatory Findings of Significance", the Guidelines (15065) state: "A Lead Agency shall [must] find that a project may have a significant effect on the environment and thereby require an EIR to be prepared for the project where any of the following conditions occur: ... (c) The project has possible environmental effects which are individually limited but cumulatively considerable."
Note also: "The Court rejected respondents [sic] contentions that the excluded projects were not 'probable future projects' because some of the projects might never be built or that the projects had not received all regulatory approvals. The Court noted that the potential for the projects to be built triggered the EIR requirement." (EIR Monitor, Feb. 15, 1985, p.6)
While the PND contains a list of "Other Projects in the Area", there is no mention of cumulative effects. However, on p.1 is the sentence: "The benefits of the freeway widening to the south and the bridge widening to the north will be severely compromised if route 680 between Willow Pass Road and Marina Vista Boulevard is also not widened." In other words, the full I680 project (from San Jose to Benecia) has a much more significant effect when considered as a whole, than when the individual pieces are analyzed separately. The piece immediately south of the current project, the I680/SR24 project, has already been acknowledged (with an FEIS) to have a significant effect on the environment, so the complete project must have one also, and must be analyzed with an overall EIR/EIS.
There is another way in which the effects of the overall project are greater than the sum of the individual parts: the CO emissions modeling for each individual project was greatly affected by the fact that the traffic projections used were lowered by "upstream and downstream constraints". For example, the fact that the second Benecia Bridge has not been built (even though Caltrans plans to build it - this is called a "probable future project" - see the PND, p.15) constrains traffic on the current project below ABAG's projected level. (I was told this by both Bill Shoemaker and Clarence Yee, of Caltrans.) Had the whole project been modeled, it is likely that projected CO levels would have exceeded federal standards, due to the large increase in traffic, again underscoring the need for an EIR on this project, not a Negative Declaration.
A third way that a finding of significant effects was avoided was to ignore "The ultimate geometric proposal for this freeway ... eight lanes" (PND, p.15). Is the widening to 8 lanes to be considered two "insignificant" widenings, or one significant one? The MTC, in their 2/10/88 comments, recommended addressing "the cumulative construction period impacts of the I-680 widening projects that will be built during the next 5 years".
"'Cumulative impacts' refers to two or more individual effects which, when considered together, are considerable or which compound or increase other environmental impacts." (Guidelines, 15355) "Guideline Section 15065(c) requires a mandatory finding by a public agency that a project may have a significant effect on the environment if the project will possibly result in cumulative impacts. Of course, such a finding will require the preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR)." (EIR Monitor, Feb. 15, 1985, p.4)
"Where individual projects are, or a phased project is, to be undertaken and where the total undertaking comprises a project with significant environmental effect, the Lead Agency shall prepare a single program EIR for the ultimate project as described in Section 15168 [and, presumably, not proceed with any part of the project until this program EIR is approved].... the agency ... shall ... comment upon the cumulative effect." (Guidelines, 15165) In this case, since at least one part is federally financed, it must be an EIS, per 15220. "The lead agency cannot avoid entirely the consideration of cumulative air quality impacts [e.g as done in the above-mentioned Air Quality Analysis, p.14] because it is too time consuming or costly. The agency must use its best efforts to find out and disclose all that it reasonably can." (Mandate Proceedings, p.38)
LONG-TERM VS. SHORT-TERM
Also under "Mandatory Findings of Significance", a finding of significance and an EIR are required when "The project has the potential to achieve short-term environmental goals to the disadvantage of long-term environmental goals." (15065(b)) This applies to this project, and probably all freeway building/widening projects, since any short-term CO lowering due to reducing congestion will be more than offset by the long-term growth-inducement and resulting (50%) LARGER congestion possible in a 50% larger freeway. CEQA 21083 requires "a finding that a project may have a 'significant effect on the environment' if ...: (a) A proposed project has the potential to degrade the quality of the environment". There is no question that automobile pollution degrades the environment (see Brodine and Esposito, as well as The Automobile and the Regulation of its Impact on the Environment, Frank P. Grad, et al). And the expected increase in traffic discussed above under GROWTH INDUCEMENT supplies the "potential". (Maps of the area show considerable open space where growth could take place.) This degradation of the environment should also be weighed against the potential ENHANCEMENT of the environment that would result from public transit REMOVING cars from the road.
ADVERSE EFFECTS ON HUMAN BEINGS
Also under "Mandatory Findings of Significance", a finding of significance and an EIR are required when "The environmental effects of a project will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings. either directly or indirectly." (CEQA 21083) As discussed under GROWTH INDUCEMENT, traffic can be expected to increase as a result (directly and indirectly) of the project. As to the adverse effects on human beings, they are amply covered in Brodine, Esposito, and Grad, mentioned above: for example, cancer, emphysema, and mental dulling (by CO) leading to fatal accidents. "Universally acknowledged as the polluter's polluter, the automobile is the largest single source of atmospheric contamination in the country." (Esposito, p.52)
INCREASE IN NOISE
The above-mentioned Appendix G states: "A project will normally have a significant effect on the environment if it will: ... (p) Increase substantially the ambient noise levels for adjoining areas". Note that this does not specify whether the area is inhabited. The PND says that the area already has noise levels around, and even above, federal and state noise guidelines, and that the project will increase it up to 4 dBA. I was informed by an expert that each 2.5 dBA represent a DOUBLING of noise intensity, so this increase is indeed "substantial". At least it is enough that "mitigation measures must be considered" (PND, p.31), and that Caltrans is planning to build expensive sound walls along part of the route (but not all -- hence the significant effect).
DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN EXPERTS
"In marginal cases where it is not clear whether there is substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, the Lead Agency shall [must] be guided by the following factors: ... If there is disagreement between experts over the significance of an effect on the environment, the Lead Agency shall treat the effect as significant and shall prepare an EIR." (Guidelines, 15064(h)) There are, indeed, experts who disagree with Caltrans's judgment on the effect of freeways on air pollution:
"Politicians argue, incorrectly, that freeways relieve traffic congestion thereby reducing air pollution. They argue that freeways speed traffic flow which reduces the emission of pollutants. They are wrong on both counts: freeways generate more, not less, traffic and they produce more, not less, air pollution. This is fact, not speculation; it is based on historical evidence from every major urban area from New York to Los Angeles that has built massive freeway systems." ("Freeways Mean More, Not Less, Air Pollution", Richard S. Gaines, California Transit, Jul-Sep, 1986, p.11) Mr. Gaines's expert credentials are listed at the end of that article. For example, he served on the National Air Conservation Commission, 1969-72 and was Executive Director of the American Lung Association of Santa Clara County, 1970-78. And Milton Feldstein, Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, in his 2/4/88 comments on this project, said "Unfortunately, traffic congestion and high carbon monoxide concentrations can persist or shift to other locations after roadway improvements have been installed."
My expertise is in mathematics (M.A., Harvard University, 1968), scientific methodology (Ph.D., UCLA, 1973), and computer programming (25 years of experience). I judge the air pollution modeling to be faulty: it is based on invalid traffic assumptions, as described above under CUMULATIVE EFFECTS. (E.g., the CO analysis in the I680/SR24 FEIS was based on traffic levels predicted for the year 2010, some of which were surpassed in 1985!) This was echoed by the MTC in their 2/10/88 comments: "the projections probably underestimate future congestion in the project area, and the environmental document should note the potential inaccuracy." Since Caltrans doesn't list their assumptions, there is no way for a decision-maker to judge the validity of their conclusions.
CONFORMITY WITH THE SIP
Appendix G of CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act. Statutes and Guidelines states: "A project will normally have a significant effect on the environment if it will: (a) Conflict with adopted environmental plans and goals of the community where it is located".
The Clean Air Act requires conformity with the State Implementation Plan, which in our case is the ABAG/MTC Air Quality Plan of 1982. The latter includes the requirement to "Continue to Support HOV Lanes, Where Justified". The PND rejected the use of HOV lanes on the basis of vehicle delays. More appropriate would have been a comparison of passengers per hour and air pollution impacts. Neither were discussed. The MTC, in its 2/10/88 comments on the project, said "The environmental document does not provide sufficient information or analysis to determine whether or not HOV lanes are warranted." BAAQMD also recommended the inclusion of HOV lanes, and complained that "The Negative Declaration does not describe the assumptions upon which this conclusion [the rejection of HOV lanes] is based." Thus, there is no evidence of conformity with the SIP.
Appendix G of CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act. Statutes and Guidelines states: "A project will normally have a significant effect on the environment if it will: ... (n) Encourage activities which result in the use of large amounts of fuel, water, or energy; (o) Use fuel, water, or energy in a wasteful manner".
Under the heading "ENERGY CONSERVATION", Appendix F "requires that EIRs include a discussion of the potential energy impacts of proposed projects, with particular emphasis on avoiding or reducing inefficient, wasteful and unnecessary consumption of energy." As noted above under ALTERNATIVES, the automobile is extremely wasteful, in comparison to other alternatives, such as mass transit. If transit were more wasteful, then Route 85 would not contain a 46' median "for future mass transportation". Appendix F continues: "For many projects, lifetime costs may be determined more by energy efficiency than by initial dollar costs." Again, as noted above, this is true for freeway building/widening projects such as this one, due to the inherently greater efficiency of mass transit. More of Appendix F: "Potentially significant energy implications of a project should be considered in an EIR. ... Alternatives should be compared in terms of overall energy consumption and in terms of reducing wasteful, inefficient and unnecessary consumption of energy. ... Short-Term Gains versus Long-Term Impacts can be compared by calculating the energy costs over the lifetime of the project." This analysis was not done, because mass transit was not considered as an alternative. It is obvious that for most car commuters (who are the initial cause behind this project), their mode of transportation is inefficient (see Brodine, pp.176-7), wasteful (time spent driving is almost totally wasted, whereas time on public transit can be used for reading, napping, etc.), and unnecessary (most people drive simply to get to work and back; they can do this via public transit; in Contra Costa County, especially, the bus system is so eager to help that they even provide free downtown shuttles).
Again from Appendix F: "The goal of conserving energy implies the wise and efficient use of energy. The means of achieving this goal include: (1) decreasing overall per capita energy consumption, (2) decreasing reliance on natural gas and oil, and (3) increasing reliance on renewable energy sources." Electric mass transit (that uses at least some "clean" power, such as hydroelectric) satisfies this goal; freeways do not.
"The Lead Agency shall provide a public review period for a proposed Negative Declaration. The noticed public review period shall be long enough to provide members of the public with sufficient time to respond to the proposed finding before the Negative Declaration is approved.... not less than 30 days" (Guidelines, 15073) "[The EIR] shall also be available for inspection by any member of the general public, who may secure a copy thereof by paying for the actual cost of such a copy." (CEQA, 21105) "Information ... shall be made available as soon as possible by lead agencies ..." (CEQA, 21003.1(b)).
Twice I telephoned Caltrans and asked to have a copy of the Air, Noise and Energy Technical Reports, 1/87, mailed to me (of course offering to pay for it). This report is referred to in the PND. Both times, I was told by Ron Olson that I would have to go to the Information Office at 3333 California Street, San Francisco and xerox it myself. I told him that this was very inconvenient for me, since I work about 30 miles from there, but he still refused to send me a copy. This effectively prevented me from reviewing this document within the required period. While I can't find an explicit reference to this in the law or guidelines, it clearly violates the spirit of CEQA, which emphasizes the importance of public review and full disclosure. For example, under the heading "Information Disclosure Provisions": "The Legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of the state that noncompliance with the information disclosure provisions of this division ... may constitute a prejudicial abuse of discretion ..." (CEQA, 21005).
USE OF A NEGATIVE DECLARATION IS NOT APPROPRIATE
As stated in the MTC's 2/10/88 comments, "Use of a Negative Declaration is not the most appropriate environmental docement for analyzing a project that has significantly different operational alternatives (HOV lanes versus mixed flow lanes [versus mass transit]), significant short-term construction-period impacts, and, together with the other expansions of Route 680, cumulative and growth-inducing impacts. An EIR would be more appropriate." Actually, for the above-mentioned and many other reasons which could be listed, an EIR is REQUIRED by CEQA.
"These pollutants can result in disease and death. It is time to make a choice. It is time to say NO to more freeways, more traffic, and more air pollution. It is time to recognize that our health is our most precious resource and that we and our children can no longer tolerate the growing threat from air pollution. We have become angry that industry and government have allowed our drinking water to become contaminated with toxic chemicals that can produce cancer and birth defects; isn't it time to become angry about dangerous chemicals in the air we must breathe?" (Gaines, pp.11-12)
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
cc: Attorney General, State of California
Bay Area Air Quality Management District
California Air Resources Board
Environmental Protection Agency
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
People for Open Space
Planning And Conservation League