Subject: Can you help me with professional advice about Caltrans
From: vtaylor <>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 10:12:47 -0800
To: Mark Massara <>

Dear Mark,

Today (Thursday), I was at a meeting between Caltrans and the Commission "Railing Subcommittee," which consists of Chris Desser and Shirley Detloff, with Peter Douglas in attendance. Caltrans position and behavior in this meeting went beyond my limits of tolerance, and I would like to find a lawyer who could advise me the extent to which Caltrans must conform to some kind of legal process in setting safety "standards," whether it has any responsibility to balance environmental considerations against engineering considerations, or whether it is free to make up whatever "standards" it chooses, without any need to justify empirically the basis of its choices. Can it just say, "In our engineering judgment, this is required," and that's that?

In this meeting, I showed that the Wyoming Rail conformed to the FHWA standards, the Report 350 crash-test standards, and the AASHTO LFRD standards -- all of the criteria that Caltrans had previously cited. In a letter to Peter Douglas that was faxed to arrive on Tuesday, December 12, the head of Engineering (Acting), John Allison stated that the AASTHO LFRD standards of acceptability were not sufficient for Caltrans (contrary to previous statements to the Commission), but that the designs needed to fall in the "preferred" region of a particular figure, not within the region set out in the standards document as the requirement. So, once again, Caltrans has simply upped the ante when it has lost a technical argument. In this case, they appear to have absolutely no empirical grounds on which to stand. In the meeting, when pressed to provide an empirical justification, all 3 Caltrans attendees started a chorus of "It's our engineering judgment," as though this were irrefutable justification.

I am concerned that Peter said that Caltrans has the right to set whatever safety standards they want, regardless of the impact on scenic values. As you may remember, he completely undercut my request to revoke the Noyo Bridge permit, by ordering the staff to make negative findings on all of my contentions. I don't fully understand where Peter is coming from, but it seems clear that he can't be relied upon to support a strong Commission position vis a vis Caltrans.

I am hoping that because you have had long experience with the Coastal Commission that you might know a lawyer familiar with Caltrans that could be of help. Alternatively, do you know of anyone who could act as a lobbyist connection to the higher levels within Caltrans. Since there seems to be no real safety issues behind Caltrans rejection of the Wyoming Rail, there must be another factor at work. The best way to solve this problem would be political rather than legal. Do you have any suggestions on that score?

Failing the political approach, I'm thinking about making a public information request and would like to have someone advise me on how to do this in the most effective way: How to phrase the requests, how specific to be, ask for everything at once, or in phases, etc. Any suggestions on who could help.