Oral Testimony on the
Proposed Noyo Bridge to the California Coastal Commission
(Notes on testimony revised April 6, 1999)
In the present
case, you Coastal Commissioners face a fundamental challenge to your
authority. Caltrans has from the beginning of this project exhibited
complete contempt for the provisions of California Coastal Act. When you
vote on this matter, you will decide whether an agency of the state of
California can use its own internal regulations to thwart the intent of
the California Coastal Act.
The Noyo Harbor is
a coastal resource of exceptional value. Caltrans draft EIR said, “Views
of the ocean are spectacular while driving over the bridge.” Views of the
harbor from the bridge are equally striking. Yet, Caltrans initial design
for its proposed bridge adhered strictly to its statewide “Design
Standards Manual,” which sets the standards for urban freeways freeways.
It made absolutely no deviations from those standards in order to
better protect and preserve the Noyo coastal treasures.
You will hear from
Caltrans about how responsive they have been to public concerns, but
don’t be fooled. The only substantive change they’ve made is
to substitute for the solid concrete railing initially proposed what they
misleadingly term a “see-through” railing. As Figure 2 of my written
testimony shows, it should be termed a see-almost-nothing railing.
problem with the bridge is its excessive width, which causes it to crowd
up against surrounding buildings and makes it impossible to preserve the
present views. Its design had, and still has, not just four traffic lanes
and two sidewalks, but an unused 12’ center median and two eight foot
shoulders. Including sidewalks, the proposed bridge is 87 feet wide,
wider than the Golden Gate Bridge,
almost completely filling its right of way and coming within 10 feet of a
restaurant and motel on the seaward side of the bridge.
adamantly resisted all requests to consider narrowing the bridge,
including those made by the Fort Bragg Planning Commission and your own
staff. It has given one reason after another for its refusal to lessen
the width. As each of these has been shown to be false, it always has a
final reason: “Caltrans Requirements.”
Can we do away with the 8-foot shoulders,
which make it impossible to maintain the views of the harbor and ocean?
“No, eight foot shoulders are a Caltrans requirement for all new bridges.”
Can we eliminate the center 12’ median,
which would not used at all?
“No, it maintains the alignment of the roads on either end.”
Can we have an iron railing?
“No, it doesn’t meet our standards.”
The refrain of “It
doesn’t meet Caltrans Requirements” has been used to beat down any effort
to get a bridge that better preserves coastal values.
however, didn’t work with the Fort Bragg Planning Commission, which voted
last December 4 to 1 to deny Caltrans a permit for the bridge because of
its gross violations of Fort Bragg’s Local Coastal Program.
Then, rather than
beginning a dialogue with the Planning Commission, Caltrans appealed the
permit to the City Council and threatened the city with of loss of the
new bridge if the Caltrans design was not immediately approved. Rick
Knapp, Caltrans District Director, made this threat very explicit in a
letter to the Mayor of Fort Bragg dated January 13, 1999:
If we cannot get the necessary permits to
build this project, we will have to reconsider retrofit of the existing
bridge… If we expend $8 million on the existing bridge, you cannot expect
the bridge to be replaced or improved in the next 20 years. If it is ever
replaced in the future, it is conceivable that only a two-lane bridge
would be provided…
The Caltrans threat
was quickly spread throughout Fort Bragg in newspaper articles and letters
and in a door-to-door petition campaign. The message was clear,
“Support Caltrans or lose the new bridge!” Almost everyone in Fort
Bragg wants an earthquake-safe bridge with more traffic capacity; thus
Caltrans’s fear campaign was very effective in marshalling political
support for its bridge design.
Today you from many
people who were influenced by Caltrans’s campaign. I plea with you
Commissioners: “Don’t be taken in by the results of Caltrans’s fear
campaign.” Caltrans’s threats are false. It very much wants to build a
new bridge. Eighty percent of a new bridge will be paid from federal
funds; whereas it would need to pay out of its own budget for the entire
cost of a retrofit and future maintenance. A new bridge is Caltrans most
cost-effective solution. But, they want to build it their way, not the
way that would best meet the mandate of the California Coastal Act.
October, and detailed in my written testimony here, I proposed to Caltrans
an alternative design that would narrow the bridge to four traffic lanes
and two eight foot sidewalks. The main vehicle safety barrier would be
placed next to the vehicle lanes, as on the Golden Gate Bridge, protecting
the pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk and permitting use of an
outside iron railing of the type used on the Golden Gate.
design would give a more traditional feeling to the bridge. It would
completely preserve the existing views, as shown in Figure 1 of my written
testimony to the Commission. (Verticals are omitted because they would
be invisible to moving drivers.) It would double the space between the
bridge and the North Cliff Motel and Cliff House Restaurant, thereby
greatly reducing the impact of the bridge on its setting.
As I detail in my
written testimony, Caltrans has no substantive grounds for refusing to
consider this alternative design: It is fully safe for vehicles, safer for
pedestrians and cyclists, allows two-way traffic to be maintained during
construction, and meets future traffic needs as well as the Caltrans
proposal. The only reasons for denying this much superior design are
Caltrans internal regulations!
Commisioners need to understand is that all of the Caltrans Design
Requirements embedded in the Noyo Bridge can be changed at the will of
Caltrans. The Caltrans Design
Manual documents the straightforward process for requesting design
exceptions. For the Noyo Bridge, design exceptions require only the
signatures of the Caltrans Project Manager and the Caltrans Project
Development Coordinator for the district.
argues that it can’t change the bridge design to meet Coastal Act
requirements, what it is really saying is that it values its own internal
rules and regulations more than it does the requirements of the Coastal
time has come serve notice to Caltrans that you will not allow them to
ignore the requirements of the Coastal Act.
For the sake of the
north coast and all of California, please deny this permit.