Rockridge Soundwalls

Approval process: RCPC's role

The Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) has done some good things for Rockridge during its more than 25 year history. I served as an RCPC Board member from 2008-2012. However, RCPC is a non-profit corporation - not a government body. RCPC Board members are elected; anyone residing within the geographical boundaries of Rockridge is eligible to vote. Typically, out of the approximately 5,000 households and 10,000 people living in Rockridge, 50 turn out for RCPC Board elections. In 2011, fewer than 25 turned out for the April election meeting, so that a quorum was not present and the election had to be redone a month later. With so few residents bothering to vote in Board elections, one might well ask how representative of Rockridge the RCPC Board is.

According to its website, www.Rockridge.org, one of the purposes of RCPC is to "Furnish a forum for community involvement". So far, that forum has been used to promote a questionable project, publicize the wrong approval processes, and prevent the residents of Rockridge from fully expressing their opinions. There has been a persistent bias by RCPC's monthly newsletter, The Rockridge News (RN), which is distributed free throughout Rockridge. Starting in May, 2011, the RN has run a series of articles favorable to soundwall construction.

As detailed in Approval: II. Deception, the RN repeatedly publicized the ACTC soundwall approval policy, which was never initiated by the City of Oakland. It has refused to publish articles that I wrote unless key information critical of soundwall construction was removed. The first refusal led me to create www.RockridgeSoundwalls.org. In October, 2011, the RN did publish a four sentence letter from me that gave a link to this website; the rest of that page in the RN was filled with a rebuttal to the points made here (but without actually printing those points).

At the April 23, 2013 meeting of the RCPC Transportation Committee, held at the Rockridge Branch Library, Co-Chairs Andrew Charmin and Ronnie Spitzer spoke on the topic of the soundwall study approval process. Both Co-Chairs stated that RCPC is officially neutral regarding this process, being neither for nor against the soundwall studies being approved. The reason given for this was that the RCPC Board has never voted to take a position for or against the soundwall studies. Yet The Rockridge News has not only refused to print any information critical of the proposed soundwalls; it also refused to report on the error in the City's March 12, 2013 letter to those eligible to sign soundwall study approval petitions. RCPC is a member of the Fourth Bore Coalition and the City of Oakland has used The Rockridge News as an official conduit for information regarding Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Projects.

Under ACTC's soundwall approval policy, those property owners not eligible to sign approval petitions include soundwall proponents Ms. Spitzer and Stuart Flashman, both former RCPC Board members. Each previously served as RCPC Board Chair and Vice-Chair. I believe that it was Mr. Flashman's wish to have the noise at his residence reduced - even though that reduction would be less than 5 decibels, according to the Pre-NBSSR - that drove RCPC's actions. Mr. Flashman was the leader in the effort to obtain signatures on the soundwall study petitions. He has stated that "his involvement with the sound wall petition effort is as a private citizen, not as a representative of any organization". Is it coincidental that while Mr. Flashman was RCPC Board Chair, The Rockridge News provided coverage strongly biased in favor of approving the soundwall studies - despite RCPC's supposedly neutral position?

RCPC has a history of questionable use of The Rockridge News during Mr. Flashman's tenure as Board Chair. In early October, 2009, I discovered that from May, 2009 until October, 2009, Ms. Spitzer's name had been completely removed from The Rockridge News. Not only was she no longer mentioned in any articles - her name was also removed from the masthead listing of RCPC Board members which appears on page 2 of every issue. I wondered why; and then I remembered that Ms. Spitzer had provided a Berkeley address - as her residence - to the City of Berkeley, so that her son could attend Berkeley High School during the 2009-2010 school year. I had learned of this from comments made by Ms. Spitzer at a special RCPC Board meeting that was held on April 23, 2009 at the residence of Mr. Flashman, who was in attendance. I quickly brought this matter before the RCPC Board during a retreat held on October 11, 2009. After we all listened to a lecture from RCPC's attorney, John Gussman, on the ethics of serving as a non-profit board member, I mentioned the disappearance of Ms. Spitzer's name from the RN and stated that the involvement of RCPC in fraud was not beneficial to the organization. Board member Joan Martin let out a whistle and said, "Good oversight, Jon". Board Chair Flashman said, "Well, Ronnie's trying to keep a low profile". Atty. Gussman and the other Board members in attendance said nothing. Ms. Spitzer's name reappeared on the page 2 masthead listing of RCPC Board members in the November, 2009 issue of the RN. I heard no further mention of this topic from anyone on the RCPC Board. Note: according to the RCPC By-Laws, Ms. Spitzer would not have been eligible to run for election to the RCPC Board unless her primary residence was in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.

At one time, RCPC's website, Rockridge.org, had an extensive archive containing complete back issues of The Rockridge News. The issues with Ronnie Spitzer's name missing have been removed from that website, as have all of the issues that had articles touting ACTC's approval process for the soundwalls. And the articles on soundwalls that are now collected in a special section of Rockridge.org have been edited to remove references to the ACTC approval process.

Soundwall coverage in the Rockridge News been deceptive in other ways. Here are three examples:

In July, 2011, the RN published an article titled, "Freeway Sound: Pervasive, Possibly Harmful if Unmanaged". It contains the following statement: "Given what we know about the present noise levels from SR 24, the freeway could not have been built in its current configuration, at least not without noise barriers or other mitigating measures." But according to Glenn Kinoshita of Caltrans, this is not true. Had SR 24 been built recently, noise issues would have had to be considered as part of the design process; but there is no absolute requirement for noise mitigations.

In May, 2012, the RN published photographs of existing transparent soundwalls to illustrate how the proposed soundwalls might look. However, most soundwalls in California are not transparent but instead are constructed from brick and/or concrete. CalTrans' decision on which type to construct is based on cost considerations alone. Transparent materials are used only when the highway structure cannot support the weight of additional concrete without expensive modification. Since funding is presently available only for soundwall studies and not for actual designs, there is no way of knowing what type of soundwalls could eventually be built. Residents will be asked for approval sight unseen. The RN has neglected to mention any of this.

And in March, 2014, the RN published a letter from former RCPC Board Chair Theresa Nelson titled, "Soundwall Process Excludes Many". Who was being excluded from signing soundwall study petitions? People living more than two blocks from the freeway - but who would see a 5-7 decibel noise reduction. Of course, none of the people living this far from the freeway would see this much noise reduction.

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