16 August 2016

Dana Hobart's Boondoggle

 © Thomas Kohn, 2016
Revised 28 August and 6 September, 2016

Here's this month's word from Rancho Mirage occasional mayor Dana Hobart published in his opinion piece for the Desert Sun in their Valley Voice page. Mr. Hobart has harped on the same complaints before, notably in an online article of 14 July 2016. Hobart is not a lone voice on the Rancho Mirage city council. Member Ted Weill also lends his website to Hobart's criticism.

Hobart's many "misrepresentations" include: 
1. That the CV-Link funding is included in the Transportation Prioritization Plan Study (TPPS) as an "under-the-radar scheme." FALSE.

2. An implied assertion that alternative transportation cannot be funded from Measure A regional budgeting. FALSE.
  • The TPPS (pp. s-1 to s-2) of 25 June 2016 addresses the legal standing to use Measure A funds for "all or a portion of the cost of public facilities" [to include] "transportation purposes including … the construction ... maintenance and operation of streets, roads, highways …” [ellipses in the report].
  • The TPPS also cites CVAG Executive Committee authorization as of 2000 to use regional transportation funds to reimburse costs associated with locating bicycle lanes in the street and with right of way and construction costs incurred to provide a paved bicycle lane adjacent to the motor vehicle travel way.
  • In regard to the Regional Transportation Plan, the TPPS cites state guidelines in preparing the RTP to integrate multimodal transportation network policies into transportation plans and consider accelerating programming for projects that retrofit existing roads to provide safe and convenient travel by all users. The TPPS further cites Assembly Bill 1358 (California Complete Streets Act), Senate Bill 99 (Chapter 359, Statutes of 2013), and Assembly Bill 101 (Chapter 354, Statutes of 2013) to include active modes of transportation, such as biking and walking.

3. An implication that the two negative votes (Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage) regarding the TPPS approval must prevail, while eleven votes in favor must lose. FALSE.
  • How is it that 2 out of 13 votes is a majority? I hear echoes of Donald J. Trump, speaking long in advance of his election: "We was robbed!"
  • What is it about Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage that positions these cities as the voices that should prevail? I believe thsee two cities exhibit a sense of privilege based on affluence—and I don't mean affluence of culture.
  • Let's also examine what the negative votes mean. Since this vote was to approve the entire TPPS, which ranks the priority of more than 500 transportation improvements across the valley, including important improvements in streets of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Were the representatives of Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage truly serving the interests of their communities? For if a majority of representatives had voted not to accept the TPPS, the report would have to be rewritten and priorities reassessed. Would the winning TPPS then have slashed all budgets for transportation projects? Would Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage vote in favor of only the TPPS that sends most construction to their cities?

4. An implication that the Measure A funds are the sole means of funding the CV-Link, and perhaps also the sole funding source for all transportation spending in the region. FALSE.
  • The TPPS states clearly, "CVAG has assembled more than $75 million to pay for CV Link, with much of the funding coming from outside of the Coachella Valley. The diverse funding sources reflect the air quality, public health and transportation benefits of the project."
  • As an example of the source of funding, the CVAG Transportation Committee identified plans for constructing the initial CV Link segment. "The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) awarded CVAG $17,400,000 in Sentinel Mitigation (AB 1318) funds for construction of CV Link. CVAG’s agreement with SCAQMD identifies $2,495,000 for an 'early action segment.' CVAG proposes to allocate the designated early action segment funds for construction of the Cathedral City Bike Path. This project will be built to CV Link standards and will be incorporated into CV Link if constructed. The City will contribute an additional $405,000 of Caltrans BTA grant funds for construction. ... CVAG presented this proposal to the SCAQMD and received preliminary approval."
  • This initial segment of 2.39 miles uses non-Measure A funds that total $2.9M, representing a paid-for cost of $1.21M per mile.

5. A presumption that the current mish-mash of Class II bikeways (a completely separated right of way for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflow by motorists minimized), Class III bikeways (shared use with pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic), and bike use of unmarked streets, feeders, arterials, and major throughfares is NOT deserving of a ranking "in order of greatest public danger." FALSE.
  • The California Office of Traffic Safety lists 637 pedestrians and cyclists killed or injured in Riverside County in 2013. Of these, 165 deaths or injuries occurred in the Coachella Valley.
  • 32 in Cathedral City,
  • 8 in Coachella,
  • 14 in Desert Hot Springs,
  • 3 in Indian Wells,
  • 33 in Indio,
  • 4 in La Quinta,
  • 30 in Palm Desert,
  • 34 in Palm Springs,
  • 7 in Rancho Mirage.
  • A cross-valley dedicated (Class I) path for pedestrians, cyclists, and NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) could vastly improve the odds of surviving a trip using alternative transportation.
  • Ameliorating the deaths and injuries of 165 pedestrians and cyclists should be a higher priority than "[the improvement of] dangerous roads and unfilled potholes" that Hobart prefers.
  • Apparently the legal system agrees that the cities in the Coachella Valley are responsible for pedestrian and cyclist safety, and one can cite the judgment against Indian Wells for $5.8M in the death of cyclist Dr. Gerald Brett Weiss. Although the judgment may have been paid from a liability pool, in which numerous California cities lump their finances together to protect each other from costly lawsuits, Indian Wells will be responsible for re-paying the pool over time.
  • The numbers reveal something in the favor of Indian Wells, La Quinta, and Rancho Mirage, by the way.  Something deserving of study. Either the low numbers in their statistics indicate some positive steps the cities have taken that other cities might emulate, or the numbers are a fluke tied to the relatively affluent lifestyles available to the residents.

6. A citation of two proposed costs for the CV-Link. The first ($99.4 million) is true; the second ($193.6 million) is FALSE.

The actual CV-Link estimated cost is $99.4 million.
  • The TPPS estimates $99.4 million for building the 50-mile route from Desert Hot Springs to Mecca and the Salton Sea. This amount is less than 3% of the total budge of $3.433 billion for all transportation improvements planned for the next 5 to 10 years.
  • The estimated cost for CV-Link is $1.98 million per mile. Let's compare this estimate to building city streets. Smart Growth America estimates the cost of implementing Complete Streets to be "as little as $6 million per mile or double that" [page 13], while "new arterials can cost the city $5 million per mile or up to twice that amount." Though his figures are presented in cost per foot, Andrew Alexander Price cites an equivalent cost of $5 million per mile. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association agrees with these estimates generally. Their FAQ says that to construct a "new 2-lane undivided road [costs] about $2 million to $3 million per mile in rural areas, about $3 million to $5 million [per mile] in urban areas."
  • It's more difficult to find similar information for building mult-iuse paths similar to CV-Link. The largest part of the problem is in the use of the term "multi-use paths," which can cover anything from a cinder path to a highly designed and landscaped system of paths, bridges, and interchanges. The City of Detroit planned to spend a total of about $35.4M to build a 25-mile path ($1.41M per mile). Jefferson County WI planned to spend $5.1M to build 10.76 miles of multiuse trail ($0.47M per mile). Los Angeles plans to develop a 51-mile multiuse path in the Los Angeles River, and is beginning feasibility studies and design (no cost estimate published).
It is the Regional Active Transportation Projects that have an estimated cost is $193.6 million.
  • The Regional Active Transportation Projects identified in the TPPS are not part of the CV-Link, except for three Indio projects that total $225,509. (These are a connector along Golf Center Pkwy from Indio Springs Dr to I-10 at $15,840 [PDF p 30]; buffered bike lanes along Monroe St from Ave 40 to I-10 at $150,480 [PDF p 36]; and buffered bike lanes along Monroe St from the Whitewater River to Fred Waring Dr at $59,189 [PDF p 36]
  • The Active Transportation program was established by the state legislature through the Complete Streets Act. The program "plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan."
  • The TPPS lists 384 projects that meet the requirements of the Complete Streets Act. None of these projects are part of the CV-Link route. Instead, the projects are improvements to existing streets that promote pedestrian, NEV, and cyclist safety on the city streets.
  • The estimated cost of all the RAT projects is indeed a total of $193.6 million. But these projects do not include CV Link itself.

7. His statement, "there are only 286 of these NEVs/LSEVs registered in the Coachella Valley – and unlike golf carts (which are ineligible on CV Link), these vehicles must have a capacity of 25 MPH, be registered, carry insurance and driven only by licensed drivers." CONFUSED at least, but essentially FALSE.

  • California Department of Vehicles defines Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) as vehicles that must be registered to operate on streets at speeds up to 25 mph.
  • The DOV does not require registration of golf carts or NEVs that operate at or below 15 mph.
  • The CV Link Conceptual Master Plan succinctly defines the link: "CV Link will initially connect eight of the nine cities in the Coachella Valley and three tribal land reservations. Bicycles, pedestrians, and low-speed electric vehicles (LSEVs) will use the corridor to access employment, shopping, schools, friends, and recreational opportunities. LSEVs include golf carts and Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) that can travel up to 25 mph." 
  • The actual number of registered NEVs is immaterial, then, to arguments for or against building CV Link. 
  • Truly material is that state and federal law mandate that transportation planning should include alternative transportation, including cyclists and pedestrians.

9. Cherrypicking the opinion of a favored lawyer, city counsel Steve Quintanilla against use of Measure A funds and representing the opinion as a legal certainty. FALSE.
  • Hobart quotes Steve Quintanilla, city counsel for Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, and Moreno Valley, who opines: “…after thoroughly reviewing the plain language of Measure A, the Preamble to Ordinance No. 02-001 … is that the voters who approved Measure A did not intend that the special tax revenue produced by Measure A could be or would be used for any aspect, part, portion or component of CV Link…”
  • In point of fact, the preamble refers generally to "transportation" and makes no stipulation to focus funding on motorized traffic. The preamble does, however, cite a need for "improvements to relieve congestion." Providing alternative routing for pedestrians, cyclists, and electric vehicles creates such an improvement.
  • Citing a preferred attorney's reading, not a court ruling, has no actionable merit, though. Only rulings by the court system can define the intent and effect of law, if in dispute. 
  • Hobart also attempts to set the case as one of normal transportation. To do so, he quotes CVAG attorneys Best, Best and Krieger: “Although CV Link is not a typical regional road improvement, a strong argument can be made that its LSEV Component qualifies as a regional road improvement under Measure A  because the LSEV lane is a roadway that would connect eight cities in the Coachella Valley…”
  • In point of fact, CV Link is part of Alternative Transportation Planning, Regional Active Transportation, and Complete Streets programs that are required by state and federal law.

Finally, after raising so many erroneous assertions, Hobart suggests a valley-wide vote as an alternative to accepting the majority (11 of 13) vote, and he threatens legal action in Superior Court.

Perhaps Hobart expects to use a contentious valley-wide vote as a stalling tactic to derail CV Link in endless processes. And yet, a county-wide vote could also favor CV Link, especially if its future is to join the Coachella Valley to Banning Pass and the Riverside superpolis. Of course, costs are involved here as well. Estimates for preparing ballot issues rise to $500,000 for a county, not including persuasion activities on each side of a yes/no proposition.

A judicial decision could, I believe, strengthen the case for CV Link. The question to be answered, then, is whether the citizens of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells want their city taxes to be spent in litigation that could cost more than building the CV Link through their communities? (Their combined paths amount to about 7.5 miles, with an estimated cost of $15.5 million.) If their residents support such use of funds, perhaps the real issue is that Hobart believes the Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage residents just don't want cyclists or pedestrians or NEVs anywhere near their communities? We could expect lawn placards there reading, "Not In My Back Yard!"

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