I-405 Open House/Public Hearing Wrap-up
The "Open House" that was billed as a "Public Hearing" conducted at the Orange Coast College Student Center by the Orange County Transportation Authority last night was a rousing success. Careful... I didn't say everyone liked what they heard, but as a communication device, I think it was successful.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
The meeting played to an overflow house. I'd estimate at least 250 interested parties showed up for what turned out to be a standing room-only event even though extra chairs were brought in. As I looked around the room I saw at least 50 people standing in the back, listening intently.
PLENTY OF "LEADERS", TOO
In addition to interested residents there were plenty of politicians and staffers in the room, too. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and council members Steve Mensinger and Wendy Leece were there. I saw Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy, commissioner Sam Clark and former commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick, too. I saw City CEO Tom Hatch sitting in the back of the room and Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz and Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman were also in attendance. Others may also have been there, but I didn't see them from my front row seat.
The roughly 30 minute presentation, including a nearly 9 minute video clip, was moderated by Kevin Haboian from the Parsons Corporation. The room was also full of OCTA and CalTRANS staffers, ready and eager to answer questions. There were plenty of visual aids available to make it easy to understand most of the options being considered. From my vantage point, both before and after the formal presentation, the posters showing Alternative #3 - the option that included High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and the demolishing of the Fairview Bridge received the most attention. You can visit the OCTA website, HERE, for more details and the video site, HERE, to access two (2) video clips that will be very informative. The first provides a history of the need for this project. The second, almost 9 minutes long, is the one we saw last night. Both are worth viewing.
"DIVIDE AND DIFFUSE" DIDN'T WORK
Following the formal presentation Haboian was all set to disperse the crowd to the 30 "experts" OCTA provided for up-close conversations when long time resident John Feeney jumped to his feet and demanded that they take and answer questions from the crowd. The several others in the crowd responded to Feeney's demand, so Haboian took a deep breath and began fielding questions. He did so for nearly 30 minutes before finally adjourning that segment of the meeting so folks could circulate around the room, view the displays and ask more specific questions. I suspect Feeney was concerned that this meeting might turn out like the "informational meeting" the City sponsored on Jim Righeimer's Charter earlier this year, when Hatch refused to answer any questions and used the same tactic to disburse the crowd into smaller groups. It didn't work this time.
FITZY SPITS OUT THE FIRST QUESTION
The first question out of the box was a belligerent question by former planning commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick who, from his standing position in the rear of the room, observed that the previous meeting (at the City study session a few weeks ago) didn't go very well and wondered what benefit Alternative #3 had for Costa Mesa. The answer, in a nutshell, was basically nothing except to move traffic through our city on the I-405 faster.
ONLY THE "SWELLS" WILL BENEFIT...
Feeney opined that it would only benefit the "swells from Newport Beach", and that Costa Mesa would only get the construction inconvenience. That was the tone for the next half hour, when more than 20 people stood to ask important questions.
MORE MEETINGS SCHEDULED THIS WEEK AND NEXT
We learned a lot at the meeting last night. For example, the chart above (click to enlarge) provides a graphic comparison of how the so-called experts project traffic moving based on each of the four alternatives - including the do-nothing choice. A couple speakers challenged the assumptions on which that chart was based. I think the folks from the OCTA learned a lot, too. They learned that there are a lot of very angry folks here in Costa Mesa who won't simply roll over in this little drama. I suspect more than a few will attend the next meetings on this subject, too. The schedule for those meetings, each of which begins at 6:00 p.m. with the presentation at 6:30, followed by time for questions of the experts, is as follows:
One of the points emphasized by the folks from OCTA last night was that none of the alternatives presently proposed include any "full residence acquisitions", meaning they presently do not plan to throw anyone out of their homes for this project. There was a good deal of tap-dancing when questions were asked about "partial residence acquisitions" and I later saw more than a few nervous residents sitting with "experts" at computers trying to figure just how close new sound walls would come to their properties if the Alternative #3 was chosen.
By the way, one reason given for NOT having to acquire properties for this project was because the landscaping alongside the freeway will be disposed of and that area will be used for roadway. When asked about the loss of the sound-deadening affects of the landscaping, one of the experts shrugged it off, indicating that the landscaping was inconsequential as a sound-deadener. Funny, that's not my personal experience, but then, what do I know?
A CONCERNED PARENT
One young man, relatively new resident David Powers, expressed much concern since he had no clue about this project when he bought his home near the current freeway a couple years ago. He was very concerned about the impact of this construction and proximity of a sound wall close to his home and how it will affect his young family. It was only coincidence that he was sitting between OCTA CEO Will Kempton and OCTA board member Jerry Amante as he fired his questions at Haboian, with whom he later huddled, still searching for answers.
Mesa Consolidated Water District Board member Trudy Ohlig Hall stood up and asked what kind of mitigation the OCTA planned for those residents who suffered serious negative impacts from the construction and the new footprint of the project. She didn't get an answer.
WHY NOT #2, MODIFIED?
One portly older gentleman who had been busily scribbling notes in the front row asked why Alternative #2, which added two new General Purpose lanes, couldn't be modified to make that one General Purpose lane and one new HOV (carpool) lane, making a total of two (2) carpool lanes. It seemed logical that two carpool lanes would move traffic faster than one. I, er, he wasn't satisfied with the answer, so I, er, he sought clarification of "experts" later. I, er, he got two different answers from two different "experts", so it's still not clear why that alternative, modified, wouldn't be a good compromise choice instead of Alternative #3 - nobody's favorite.
It was clear from the mood of the crowd that virtually NOBODY in the room except the folks from the OCTA liked Alternative #3. No matter how Haboian tried to massage it, the combination of noise, dust, congestion, the demolishing of the Fairview Bridge and the fact that very few Costa Mesans would benefit from the HOT lanes, doomed it as a viable option.
The chart above shows the milestones for this project. (click on it to enlarge) The Public meetings will end next week. The OCTA invited comments - at the meeting as dictated to a court reporter - and by mail to:
Branch Chief - Caltrans District 12
"Attn: 405 DEIR/DEIS Comment Period"
2201 Dupont Drive
Suite 200, Irvine, CA 92612
Or by email to Christina Byrne, Manager of Community Outreach, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach her by telephone at 714-560-5717. So, pick up the telephone, sit down at your computer or send a letter letting the folks at the OCTA know how you feel. The clock is ticking...