Devil's Slide, Credibility & November 2000 Ballot Measure

Date: August 1, 2000
To: Honorable San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
From: Oscar Braun, Save Our Bay Foundation
Re: Devil's Slide, Credibility & November 2000 Ballot Measure

As environmentalists, we are proud of the higher standard we set for ourselves and others, especially landowners and public officials.  But lately, too many of us are walking away from too many promises. Too many people can no longer take our word. The long-term consequences of people losing faith in us as environmentalists are devastating. It's almost as if telling the truth and living up to our word was nothing more than a tactic that we can use and discard , as convenient. Let's look at the Devil's Slide Bypass Project here in San Mateo County for the clearest example of how some environmental organizations have squandered their credibility with the public in pursuit of their special interest agendas.

Devil's Slide, located within one of the most seismically active regions of the United States, is an actively eroding ocean-facing cliff which is sliding into the sea.  The operation of Route 1 has suffered from frequent closures caused by slip-outs and landslides .  The California Department of Transportation pursued a solution to this for approximately 30 years. The purpose and need of the project is to provide a safe, dependable and stable State highway route that avoids the geologically unstable Devil's Slide area. The instability of Devil's Slide and the problems with the existing roadway, including landslides and rock falls through that area, remain the same today as set forth in the Final Environmental Impact Statement approved on April 16, 1986.

On April 9, 1986 the California Coastal Commission voted to grant Consistency Certification No. CC-45-85. "The Commission hereby concurs with the consistency certification made by the California Department of Transportation for the proposed project, finding that the project is consistent with the policies and objectives of the California Coastal Management Program. Where conflicts occur between one or more polices, the Commission must resolve such conflicts in a manner which is most protective of significant coastal resources (Section 30007.5)  The Commission finds that the selection of the Martini Creek Alignment is the alternative most protective of coastal resources and least environmentally damaging.  The  Commission finds that the construction of the Martini Creek Alignment will assure the balanced utilization of coastal resources while meeting the social and economic needs of the people of the State. The Commission finds that the provisions of a safe and reliable Highway 1, for all the citizens of the State of California, sensitively designed and adequately mitigated, will enhance and protect for future generations the overall quality of the Coastal Zone."

Caltrans reviewed a number of other alternatives, but withdrew these alternatives from active consideration for various reasons. The other alternatives were Sierra Club's proposed Marine Disposal Alternative (MDA) Freeway Option, No Project Alternative, Modified LH Alignment, Widening Existing Highway 1 from Two to Four Lane, and a Tunnel Alternative.  "This Tunnel Alternative would entail a tunnel through San Pedro Mountain, and was suggested by the Sierra Club in 1973.  This alternative was withdrawn from active consideration because the tunnel would cost an estimated $100 million.  In addition, a tunnel would have to be  two lanes in each direction to provide access for emergency vehicles in the event of an accident or stalled vehicles"  Note: Scenic Highway 1 by State law can have only two lanes in rural areas in the coastal zone. Note: (Quotations from 1986 CCC Consistency Certification)

In 1986 the Sierra Club filed suit in U.S. District Court over the issue of deficiencies in the FIES with regards to "noise" and it's environmental consequences and mitigation measures. "In March 1995, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in cooperation with the California Departments of Transportation (Caltrans), issued a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (SEIS).  The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was originally approved  on April 16, 1986 , for a proposal to improve State Route 1 in San Mateo County, California. The preferred alternative, identified in the FEIS and selected in the FHWA Record of Decision signed on May 30, 1986, is known as the Martini Creek Alignment."

"As indicated in the Draft Supplement, the purpose of the document is to comply with the Order and subsequent Judgement of the U.S. District Court following litigation regarding the project.  The Supplement is limited to addressing the deficiencies in the FEIS determined in the litigation, and therefore, only addresses noise issues.  A tunnel alternative was considered and rejected as part of the CEQA/NEPA environmental review process in 1986.  The U.S. District Court subsequently determined that the treatment of alternatives in the 1986 FEIS was proper.  Although only noise-related issues were addressed in the 1995 Draft SEIS, comments were received indication a tunnel alternative would avoid project noise impacts. This issue has been reviewed, and it is determined that the tunnel is not a reasonable alternative because of its inconsistency with current planning policies, the lack of funding, and various safety and cost issues." (Quotation from SEIS June 1995 Tunnel Investigation)

In the Spring of 1996, the Sierra Club proposed and asked the residents of San Mateo County to pass Measure T, the Devil's Side Tunnel Initiative which was placed on the November 5, 1996 ballot. They promised the electorate on the Measure T ballot that: " A tunnel (singular) will protect the environment. A tunnel would have virtually no harmful effects on the environment. It would be consistent with coastal laws . It would avoid serious damage to the watersheds, wildlife habitats and parks of Montara and San Pedro Mountain that would be caused by a surface bypass. A tunnel would be cost effective. A tunnel would be built for less money than the proposed by-pass. A tunnel is a safe and reliable solution. No dangerous bridges or fill for the Sierra Club two lane tunnel" Their campaign slogan was " Tunnel: Sooner, Safer, Cheaper! Measure T was passed by a wide margin by the voters.  The County of San Mateo change their LCP selecting the "tunnel alternative" . The California Coastal Commission certified the County's LCP revisions. The FHWA, in cooperation with Caltrans, issued a draft Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (SEIS) in April of 1999 for public review and comment.  The Tunnel alternative was compared for the third time with the  CEQA/NEPA certified  Martini Creek Alignment.
·By letter dated May 11, 1999, Paul Koenig, Director of Environmental Services for the County of San Mateo, advised Caltrans that the County could not find that the proposed tunnel design complies with the Local Coastal Program. Reason given was the filling of wetlands and destruction of sensitive habitat.
·San Mateo County Senior Planner/Biologist Roman Gankin conducted a field investigation of the nature of two wetland areas that were a point of concern with staff of the Coastal Commission, CalTrans and the County on July 30, 1999. In his letter to Paul Koenig dated August 11, 1999 Mr. Gankin concluded that the area of concern does contain "wetlands". Under the Coastal Act, wetlands are protected by specific limitations with respect to uses which may occur in the wetland and by the requirement that there be no feasible less environmentally damaging alternative to the filling of wetlands and where feasible mitigation measures have been provided to adverse environmental effect.  Indeed, the Commission's guidelines provide that "of all the environmentally sensitive habitat areas mentioned specifically in the Coastal Act, wetlands and estuaries are afforded the most stringent protection."
·Safety: Tunnels have potential for catastrophic accidents with confined space of long tunnels and also have a higher actual rate of accidents within the local Bay Area tunnels than on comparable open air roadways.  Tunnels are built only when there are no other alternatives.
·Two Lanes: The 1996 Sierra Club sponsored Tunnel alternative has two, mile long tunnels and two, thousand foot bridges with two lanes in each direction to provide emergency vehicle access. Currently the Coastal Act only allows total of two lanes on rural Scenic Hwy 1.
·Costs: The Tunnel 1999 projected costs exceeds $180 million versus $112 for the Martini Creek Alignment.  The Tunnel annual maintenance is estimated $2.26 million versus $340,000 for the open air Martini Creek bypass.

In light of the County's response to the Second Supplemental Environmental Statement/Environmental Impact Report as well as the concerns expressed by the Coastal commission staff, Caltrans and the FHWA are not able to approve the Second Supplemental Environmental Statement/Environmental Impact Report or issue a new Record of Decision for the Tunnel alternative. A tunnel alternative was considered and rejected as part of the CEQA/NEPA environmental review process in 1986. The Coastal Commission found that the selection of the Martini Creek Alignment was the alternative most protective of coastal resources and least environmentally damaging.  The U.S. District Court subsequently determined that the treatment of alternatives in the 1986 FEIS was proper. The Tunnel alternative has been reviewed a third time by the County of San Mateo, the Coastal Commission, Caltrans and the FHWA and it is determined that the tunnel is not a reasonable alternative because it is not the most protective of coastal resources,  it is inconsistent with current Local Coastal Program policies, various safety and cost issues.

Resolution: The Half Moon Bay Coastside Foundation (dba Save Our Bay) request the Board of Supervisors, County of San Mateo, State of California to co-sponsor and adopt a resolution approving submission of a measure to the electorate to amend policy of the land use plan of the Local Coastal Program relating to the construction of the Martini Creek Alignment alternative for the Devil's Slide Bypass on State Route 1.

Purpose of This Measure: The purpose of this measure is to provide the citizens of California a permanent  solution to the Devil's Slide Route 1 Bypass that complies with the NEPA/CEQA and Coastal Act environmental review process,  Record of Decision and qualifies for Federal funding.

 Findings: On April 9, 1986 the California Coastal Commission voted to grant Consistency Certification No. CC-45-85. "The Commission hereby concurs with the consistency certification made by the California Department of Transportation for the proposed project, finding that the project is consistent with the policies and objectives of the California Coastal Management Program. Where conflicts occur between one or more polices, the Commission must resolve such conflicts in a manner which is most protective of significant coastal resources (Section 30007.5)  The Commission finds that the selection of the Martini Creek Alignment is the alternative most protective of coastal resources and least environmentally damaging.  The  Commission finds that the construction of the Martini Creek Alignment will assure the balanced utilization of coastal resources while meeting the social and economic needs of the people of the State. The Commission finds that the provisions of a safe and reliable Highway 1, for all the citizens of the State of California, sensitively designed and adequately mitigated, will enhance and protect for future generations the overall quality of the Coastal Zone."

The goal of the Measure T's proponents was never to build a tunnel; they simply wanted to stop the Martini Creek bypass and maintain limited access to the coast. The Tunnel Initiative has proved to be a fiasco . San Mateo County cannot afford an environmental movement that cannot be trusted. Think of all the work left to do: The endangered species protection; smart growth to prevent urban sprawl and the preservation of wetlands and other sensitive habitats. If environmentalist cannot be trusted at the table, then soon we will no longer be invited. And that would be a tragedy, not just for environmentalists, but the environment itself. Much as we would work to protect our environment, so we must protect our honor. Or neither will survive.

CC
Honorable Grey Davis, Governor, State of California
Edwin Pang, California Department of Transportation
Ging P. Bill Wong, U.S. Department of Transportation
Peter Douglas, California Coastal Commission
San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
Sierra Club Tunnel Task Force
City of Half Moon Bay
City of Pacifica
Released to Media

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