Rockridge Soundwalls

Approval process: Influence

Councilmember Brunner's City Attorney campaign has received many donations from craft labor unions (whose members would benefit from construction projects such as soundwalls), as well as from a construction supply company and from contractors. The value of the soundwall construction projects (more than $5 million) would be much greater than that of the soundwall studies which are presently funded under the Caldecott Settlement Agreement. Despite their claims to the contrary, the actions of former Councilmember Brunner and her staff tilted the playing field in favor of approving the soundwall studies.

The September 27, 2012 public meeting at the Rockridge Library for public discussion of the soundwall issue was organized by Victoria Eisen, Principal, Eisen|Letunic Transportation, Environmental and Urban Planning, Berkeley. That firm was hired by the City of Oakland to oversee the projects being funded under the Caldecott Settlement Agreement. Ms. Eisen was told by Councilmember Brunner's staff that "they were taking charge" of this meeting. This was originally interpreted by Ms. Eisen to mean that Councilmember Brunner's staff would actually organize and schedule the meeting, so that Ms. Eisen did not work on scheduling it until late May. Per the instructions of Councilmember Brunner's staff, the format of the meeting was to be informational about the soundwall approval process only; no meeting time was to be allocated for discussion of the pros and cons of building soundwalls. When I complained to Ms. Eisen and to Councilmember Brunner's staff that this was unfair to opponents of soundwall construction, the meeting format was expanded to allow for a full discussion of the issues. But in order to allow the proponents of soundwalls to prepare a presentation, the tentative meeting date was postponed from late June to late September.

When the September 27 meeting finally took place, it was chaired by Zach Wald, District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner's Chief of Staff. Mr. Wald's opening statement was to the effect that Councilmember Brunner had no personal interest in whether the soundwall studies were approved or not. [Later, in an interview for the Montclarion for an article titled Rockridge residents hear, discuss sound walls plan, Councilmember Brunner said "It is a community decision, not my decision. I don't have a position one way or another."]

Mr. Wald then proceeded to run the September 27 meeting in a way that made it virtually impossible to voice the issues that this website has raised. The presenters (from the City of Oakland, Caltrans, and Wilson, Ihrig and Associates) did not mention that the measured noise along Highway 24 is mostly below the required threshold, or the "bait and switch" of approval policies. When members of the audience were allowed to speak, it was only for two minutes each - barely long enough for me to just ask about two points. I mentioned that the measured noise levels along Highway 24 through Rockridge were mostly below the threshold required to justify soundwalls; and I asked who made the decision to cut ACTC out of the approval process and why was this done.

Pablo Daroux, who represented Wilson, Ihrig and Associates at the meeting, acknowledged that "It is true that many of the receiver locations fall below the threshold." Actually, most of the measured noise levels were below the threshold. And there was no response by anyone present at the meeting as to why ACTC was no longer participating in the approval process.

For the way in which the September 27 meeting was designed to minimize criticism of both the Pre-NBSSR Noise Study and the approval process, and for the way in which the approval process has been stacked, it appears that the most credit is due to former Councilmember Brunner.

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