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Mendocino County Today: March 12, 2013

SENATOR EVANS SAYS NO BYPASS

TO: Michael Dougherty, Director, California Department of Transportation

1120 N Street, Sacramento, CA 94273-0001

Dear Director Dougherty:

Caltrans is about to begin the construction phase of a project of great importance to my district that was proposed 50 years ago. The Willits Bypass has been promoted as a safe, sensibly sized and environmentally friendly project that will relieve congestion on Highway 101 through Willits. Local residents and their representatives have spent much time working with Caltrans and regulatory agencies to ensure the success of this project. I do not know of anyone who does not support an alternative, including myself.

Unfortunately, as facts about the selected project become more widely known, opposition is mounting. It is disconcerting when after all these years many ranchers, farmers, local businesses, environmental groups and ordinary citizens agree that the Willits Bypass, as it is presently conceived, should not be built.

My office has been contacted by constituents who are feel that concerns about the project have gone unanswered by Caltrans, and that it is being built based on faulty and outdated information. Among the questions and my concerns:

  • • In 2008, the California Transportation Commission, refused to fund a four lane project as proposed by Caltrans. Caltrans quickly redesigned the project for two lanes, with grading to add two additional lanes at some later date. There is no funding for a future expansion and the need to expand is questionable since traffic counts have over the years continued to remain steady or declined. I have been asked why Caltrans is spending millions of dollars to expand the project’s footprint and adding thousands of tons of fill to wetlands, to prepare for what appears to be an unfunded and unneeded future expansion?
  • • Caltrans has clearly stated in its environmental documents that a two lane project does not meet the “purpose and operational need of the project,” yet this is the project that is going forward. Because of Caltrans insistence on a four-lane project, two lane alternatives were summarily rejected and not examined in the EIR/EIS. How can we determine whether the current two-lane project is the superior project?
  • • The two lane Willits Bypass consists of six miles of raised roadbed, including several curves and a mile of viaduct and raising to a maximum height of 30 feet. The Bypass will not have a median barrier and no emergency access. Is this project safer than current conditions? Local officials have asked why Caltrans is building a project that can only be made safer by spending millions more for an additional two lanes that serve no other need?
  • • Local residents say that much of the traffic in the City of Willits could be effectively relieved through traffic management programs at the Highway 20 intersection. Why is this not considered as a partial solution to the problem, especially since about 70% of current Highway 101 traffic through Willits is locally bound?
  • • There is a perception that Caltrans has refused to seriously look at other two lane alternatives. Has the agency thoroughly examined the Baechtel Road-Railroad Avenue Corridor, a route through Willits' eastside industrial area that was initially the focus of a 2004 community-led study funded by Caltrans? Some participants in this study say that the route is a viable alternative for through-town traffic which avoids wetlands. This route has tremendous popular support, avoids environmental problems and could save taxpayers millions of dollars in scarce transportation funds. Are there reasons why it shouldn’t be seriously examined?

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you and your staff to discuss the Willits Bypass, and address these issues that have been raised by my constituents. I understand the need and fully support an alternative transportation solution, and am willing to work with you for a project that addresses the transportation needs of Willits and the region.

Sincerely,

NOREEN EVANS, Senator 2nd District

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A BOLD EDITORIAL in Sunday's Ukiah Daily Journal by editor KC Meadows urges that something be done about the large number of… what? Respectable people down on their luck? Outdoor drunks? Fresh air dopeheads? Petty crooks? Crazy people? Harmless vagabonds, songs in their hearts?

RESPECTABLE PEOPLE down on their luck tend to live in their vehicles while they search for work and a permanent place to live. They are fairly numerous in urban and suburban areas but are generally invisible. The difference between them and the kind of people who alarm or dismay much of the settled part of the population is that the bona fide homeless are trying. They aren't lurching up and down State Street drunk or cranked out of their minds committing misdemeanors and making nuisances of themselves. There are a whole lot of people on the streets who aren't trying, among them full-time criminals of the cruder type, who live out their days with one ambition — to stay loaded. Used to be these people went straight out to Talmage where they were pleasantly housed in separate rehab units for drunks, for drug people, for incompetents, for the criminally insane. They even had a baseball team and a working farm. People unable or unwilling to care for themselves were not permitted to live on the streets, and that's where any meaningful discussion of today's problem should begin.

BUT IT DOESN'T start there because there's no real strategy, let alone the leadership that would be required to do something about the pure numbers of free range Thanatoids roaming our fading republic. That strategy would have to come from the top, at the federal level. Anybody see the possibility of that happening any time soon?

THERE ISN'T a state hospital system in California, thanks to Ronald Reagan, and there won't be a restoration of a state hospital system thanks to the bipartisan servants of the oligarchy presently defunding all the civilized amenities we used to take for granted, a state hospital among them.

SIMPLY ROUSTING street people only propels them to some other undeserving community. And rousting them, as a glance at Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg makes clear, would require a couple of full-time cops in all three communities who would do nothing but rousting. Yes, there's that many Thanatoids. But for now, it would be a giant step towards clarity if we stop describing lifestyle derelicts as “homeless.”

A SAN FRANCISCAN OBSERVES: “After years of observation, I've concluded there's a whole lot of reasons why the homeless are homeless and it goes beyond addictions, laziness and indifference. In the long run it has a lot more to do with a lack of common sense, not considering the ramifications of one's actions, failing to take personal responsibility for oneself and being just plain stupid. All of the above is the difference between getting oneself off the street or making the streets one's permanent address. The enablers in this city are an additional factor. They have created an industry.”

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UNSAFE, DESTRUCTIVE, WASTEFUL

Editor,

Phase 1 Willits Bypass is Unsafe, Destructive and Wasteful

The Willits Bypass route, in my opinion, that would best support our local economy — and be the most cost-effective, least environmentally damaging and safer route — is an at-grade two-lane bypass route along the existing railroad right-of-way. This viable bypass route could maintain both the railroad, provide a new north/south highway route through town, and directly connect with Hwy 20. It would cost much less than the current design that is increasing each year: last year the total cost was estimated to be over $357 million and growing. Matter of fact, over the past decades, Willits, Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Point Arena, and the County have politically and financially supported the proposed “Caltrans Bypass” through the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) to the tune of $36 million. These funds could have paid for a substantial amount of the cost of an at-grade two-lane bypass route, or for other local transportation needs in the county. I sincerely doubt that the citizens of these cities and the county approve of these millions of dollars of their local transportation funds being squandered on the Willits Bypass.

Astonishingly, millions of dollars of these local funds were used by Caltrans to purchase over 2,000 acres of private land in the Little Lake Valley for mitigation of the Willits Bypass project. This is a substantial land conversion, from private to public ownership that was never anticipated and so never evaluated in the environmental review process. For example, the Caltrans environmental reports and mitigation plan claimed there would be no significant impact to farmland. However, of the lands purchased by Caltrans, 1,264 acres are agricultural lands in the Little Lake Valley. The majority of this agricultural land was protected by the Agricultural Preserve Program, but has now been converted out of the protection of the Williamson Act. Caltrans’ conversion of private agricultural land for public ownership at this grand a scale was not considered in the environmental evaluation of the proposed project. This is one reason why the California Farm Bureau joined the Federal lawsuit to stop the Willits Bypass.

Furthermore, the Willits Bypass is required to meet the following Federal safety standard: “An important goal of the Federal Highway Administration is to provide the highest practical and feasible level of safety for people and property associated with the Nation's highway transportation systems and to reduce highway hazards and the resulting number and severity of accidents on all the Nation's highways.”

However, the proposed two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass design appears to be unsafe along the six miles (with one mile of viaduct) primarily because of the following two elements: freeway speeds with no median barrier or parkway; and no emergency access. A “Typical Cross Section” design for the Willits Bypass Phase 1 that is available on the project website (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/willits) shows the paved two-lane two-way Phase 1 (shaded area) and the unpaved Phase 2 in the drawing below.

Whitney1Caltrans admits that improved safety would not occur until the Phase 2 four-lane Willits Bypass is built, sometime in the future:

“The purpose and need of the project, including improved safety, will be met when the four-lane bypass is constructed. Right of way has been purchased for the four-lane project, the four-lane project is being mitigated for, and fill for the four-lane project is being placed in phase one.”

However, Caltrans has previously asserted that a two-lane bypass was unsafe:

“Further, we discussed the need to build a facility that was safe for the motoring public. Our projections indicate a two-lane facility would result in twice the number of accidents that would occur on a four-lane freeway. You suggested a two-lane facility with a median barrier. As I indicated at our meeting, there is no way Caltrans would consider such a facility.”

“In addition, considering that the statewide average collision rates for four-lane divided facilities are substantially lower (0.45 accidents per million vehicle miles) than the collision rates for two-lane conventional highways (1.17 accidents per million vehicle miles), the matter of improved safety (which is also a component of the project’s purpose and need) must be balanced with environmental considerations.”

The “Viaduct Cross Section” design for over one mile of the proposed six-mile two-way two-lane Willits Bypass Phase 1 available on the project website is provided below.

ViaductsketchIronically, now Caltrans is planning to build a two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass project without a median barrier, which is expected to almost triple accidents, as well the severity of those accidents, with head-on collisions, which will endanger public health and safety. Caltrans justifies the lack of a median barrier by stating that it is not normally considered for two-lane undivided highways, it is an obstacle, it inhibits emergency vehicle access, and it may have other issues to consider such as traffic handling during routine maintenance work. Caltrans plans to have a soft barrier, like a “rumble strip” instead. Remember the decades of carnage on the Ridgewood Grade until the median barrier was installed. Imagine being trapped for hours in a serious traffic accident on the viaduct, with no emergency access.

In spite of this, Caltrans fails to provide an analysis that demonstrates the currently designed two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass with a soft-barrier rumble strip will improve safety over and above the existing State Highway 101/20 through Willits. In fact Caltrans has only analyzed the four-lane Phase 2 design for safety, and relies on that analysis instead of providing any evidence to support the proposed two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass project. Unfortunately, there is no demonstration that the proposed two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass will provide the highest practical and feasible level of safety for people and property or will reduce highway hazards and the resulting number and severity of accidents.

Caltrans admits that Phase 2 funding may occur at some unknown date in the future. Yet Caltrans seems to rely on Phase 2 to correct the expected safety problems of Phase 1. It is my understanding that compliance with Federal highway safety regulations cannot rely on unknown future events that may in fact not occur. Reliance on some future planned project will not lower the increased traffic collisions, and the consequent increase in accident injuries and death, resulting from the lack of safety design in the current proposed project. Caltrans is aware of this inconsistency with the Purpose and Need: that the proposed two-way two-lane Bypass will not improve safety, and will most probably significantly degrade safety. In fact, compared to existing conditions, the proposed project appears to provide just the opposite of public health and safety. The two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass, through increased freeway speeds, no median barrier and lack of emergency access along six miles of highway (including over one mile of raised viaduct), should be expected to cause a significant degradation to highway safety.

Indeed let us all look forward to the possibility of finding A Better Way around Willits. Most citizens are open to being part of a community dialogue on a new transportation future to appropriately meet our local traffic needs, as well as inter-regional traffic, balanced with the interests of the local economy, agriculture of Little Lake Valley, our shared natural environment, and public health and safety. I respectfully request that the City Councils of the four cities in the county and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors conduct public meetings to discuss the current design of the two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass weigh its consequences. And to consider rescinding their support of the current design of the two-way two-lane Phase 1 Willits Bypass and direct the their representatives on MCOG to ask for a reconsideration of MCOG support for the current design; in addition, to ask Caltrans to redesign the Willits Bypass to be the best for our local economy, the most cost-effective, the least environmentally damaging, and the safest route; and to consider an at-grade two-lane bypass route along the existing railroad right-of-way with a direct connection to Highway 20. And to get the approximately $20 million in MCOG funds that have not yet been spent by Caltrans returned to MCOG for our local transportation needs.

Sincerely, Bob Whitney, Willits

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GOOD QUESTION!

USPSStickerSubject: The Ugly Stick. Why must they whomp everything with it? Why must they do it where you address the envelope?— East Bay Fred

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AB PRESERVATION

Editor,

Help preserve our abalone!

300 Abalone Taken Every Day. It's true. During minus tides last year in April, Glass Beach had many days of 300 divers showing up to rock pick this precious resource. Even without the element of poaching, more than 900 abalone were legally taken within just hours. With back up from the Fort Bragg Police Department, Mendocino Abalone Watch set up an inspection table to insure nobody was leaving with an undersized or overlimit take of abalone.

The abalone need Y-O-U for a minimal commitment of just 3 hours a month with Mendo Ab Watch. Season opens April1 and there are 13 days in that month alone with minus tides. If it matters to you, come and assist. Our annual training is Saturday, March 23 at 9:30 at the Botanical Gardens meeting room. Contact for information or to RSVP.

www.mendoabwatch.com, Rodney Jones, Mendocino

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A MEETING WITH THE JUNGLE BOOK BEAR at the next Wildlife Film Festival

A feature-length film on India's sloth bear and a short film on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are the next offerings of the The International Wildlife Film Festival, at 7 pm on Friday, March 15 at the Ukiah Civic Center.

Sloth_Bear_Washington_DC-1All ages will enjoy "Jungle Book Bear" (60 min.). The Jungle Book's bear character, Baloo, is based on the secretive sloth bear that lives in India's wildest places. The real Baloo does chase fancy ants, but his life is a lot tougher than that of his fictional friend. Narrated by David Attenborough, this is the first film ever made of these shy creatures. Over a period of more than 200 days in the field, Oliver Goetzl and Ivo Norenberg film these elusive creatures and capture behavior unknown to scientists before.

Also showing is "Living Legacy: The National Wildlife Refuges of Alaska" (15 min.). This "tour" of Alaska's 80 million acres of wildlife refuges takes us through the history of their conservation, culminating in the fight to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Doors open at 6:20 pm with mellow, bluesy rock by Kim Monroe. Tickets are available at the Mendocino Book Company or at the door. This Post-Festival Tour is sponsored by the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project (RVOEP). A community-supported outdoor environmental education program of the Ukiah Unified School District, the RVOEP serves over 2,000 students each year.

To learn more about the RVOEP and see a full film schedule, visit www.rvoep.org, or contact Helen Menasian, Education Coordinator, at 472-5258. (— Roberta Werdinger)

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SPRING ARTS, POETRY, AND MUSIC at the Museum

Haiku, origami, and spring rolls all part of Family Fun activities

A variety of Asian-flavored activities to usher in the spring for kids and adults will be available at the next Family Fun at the Museum event at the Grace Hudson Museum, on Sunday, March 17, from 1 to 3:30 pm. Armand Brint, former Poet Laureate of Ukiah, will offer a haiku poetry class. (Haiku is an ancient Japanese three-line form employing seasonal images, perfect for the advent of spring.) Family Fun coordinator Surya O'Shea will head up a variety of spring art projects, including origami, a Japanese paper-folding art producing whimsical creatures. After a musical performance, the fun concludes with a "whodunit" clue game in the Museum and the making of (edible) spring rolls. Space at the workshop is limited and pre-registration is required, so interested parties are encouraged to sign up as early as possible by calling the Museum at 467-2836.

This afternoon event is free after admission to the Museum, which is currently showing a new exhibit, "Natinixwe: The Hupa People," featuring ceremonial regalia by Hupa tribal member Bradley Marshall and historic photos by his grandfather, Ernie Marshall Jr., of life and culture on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in northeastern Humboldt County.

The Family Fun at the Museum program is made possible with a Community Enrichment Grant to the Museum’s Sun House Guild by the Community Foundation of Mendocino County through support provided by the Jonathan Gibbs Memorial Fund.

The Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House is at 431 S. Main St. in Ukiah. The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm and from 12 to 4:30 pm on Sunday. General admission is $4, $10 per family, $3 for students and seniors, and free to members or on the first Friday of the month. For more information please go to www.gracehudsonmuseum.org. (— Roberta Werdinger)

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