Rockridge Soundwalls

Approval process: More lies

In a March 12 letter, City of Oakland Transportation Division Manager Wlad Wlassowsky notified the owners of some properties located close to Highway 24 that they are eligible to sign petitions in favor of carrying out soundwall studies. His letter states

"A 2009 study entitled 'State Route 24,Oakland, CA Pre-Noise Barrier Scope Summary Report (NBSSR)' found that your property is one of 481 that could experience a minimum of 5 decibel noise reduction if soundwalls were constructed...."

There's just one problem: this statement is false. According to the State Route 24 Oakland, CA Pre-NBSSR Noise Study Final Report December 2009 only 133, or 28% of those 481 properties, would experience a minimum of 5 decibel noise reduction if soundwalls were constructed. Here is what the Pre-NBSSR Noise Study actually says:

Page 6: "Study Methods and Procedures Locations for potential soundwalls were identified and soundwall effectiveness was estimated using the noise prediction model. As part of the cost estimating process, the approximate number of residences that are affected by traffic noise levels 65 dBA or greater and where the noise can be mitigated by 5 dB with a potential soundwall was identified."

Page 23: "Soundwall EB#3: Eastbound between Vincent Way and Broadway Approximate 89 residences are affected by sound levels approaching or exceeding an exterior noise level of 67 dBA and benefited by minimum 5 dB reduction due to a potential soundwall."

Page 25: "Soundwall WB#3: Westbound between Ross Street and Ayala Avenue Approximately 44 residences are affected by sound levels approaching or exceeding an exterior noise level of 67 dBA and benefited by minimum 5 dB reduction due to a potential soundwall."

Soundwalls have one advantage: the promise of reduced noise. The City's March 12 letter has had the effect of tilting the playing field in favor of approval by exaggerating the amount of noise reduction that most eligible property owners would obtain.

I sent a letter to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, and City Attorney Barbara Parker demanding that the City suspend the soundwall study approval process, publicly correct the information that was disseminated, and invalidate any signatures obtained under false pretenses. City Attorney Parker replied in a letter dated June 20, stating that, "While the City understands that you disagree with the way the soundwall study process has been conducted, the City nevertheless believes that it is abiding by the terms and conditions of the Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Agreement."

The City Attorney's response did not mention the false information published in Mr. Wlassowsky's March 12 letter. The City did not inform the public about this problem; and The Rockridge News refused to publish the story.


Victoria Eisen, the consultant handling Caldecott Settlement Projects, is on the record saying that it is "highly unlikely that a sound wall will ever be constructed in the Rockridge area". Wlad Wlassowsky, Transportation Services Division Manager, City of Oakland, has stated, "These studies do not guarantee construction, and construction funding will be extremely difficult to impossible to come by". So why did the City stonewall on the issue of the March 12 letter; and why was the unfair and biased soundwall study approval process allowed to continue?

I have striven to provide 100% accurate information on this website. But in order to try to answer these questions, I must depart from the realm of fully documented facts and make some conjectures. These are supported by considerable fact, however, and I believe that the conclusions that I have reached are the most logical ones.

Consider the City's options regarding its March 12, 2013 letter. If the City told the truth to the 348 property owners who would not see at least a 5 decibel noise reduction from the proposed soundwalls, then how would it justify allowing them to still be eligible to sign soundwall study approval petitions? This would open the door to looking at outside influence on Mr. Wlassowsky.

More than a year later (in April 2014), the influence on the approval process was exposed. The soundwall study proponents, led by Stuart Flashman, did not accept the City's decision not to fund the studies - even though the petition process had failed. They wrote a letter of appeal to the City claiming that there was "substantial support" for the project, and that there were irregularities in the peition process. The City responded, denying this appeal. But appended to the City's response was an e-mail from Mr. Flashman to Victoria Eisen dated January 17, 2013. It appears that this e-mail was the catalyst that led to the expansion of the number of eligible petition signers from 140 to 481. None of those added properties would see even a 5 decibel noise reduction, according to the Pre-NBSSR. We now know from the results of the petition that only 54% of the originally eligible 140 owners signed, while 65% of those added to the eligible list signed. The net result was a 62% total approval percentage (but still below the required 67%). This policy change, which was never debated publicly, had the effect of inflating the percentage of those in favor of the studies. Many of those added to the list thought that they would see at least a 5 decibel noise reduction because they believed the March 13, 2013 letter from Mr. Wlassowsky.

The approval process situation was, I believe, the result of reaction by the Oakland City Council to the recent brouhaha concerning Councilmember Desley Brooks. Councilmember Brooks was criticized by some Councilmembers for givening direction to City Staff in violation of the Oakland City Charter. A vote by the Council to censure Councilmember Brooks failed. Some Councilmembers said that all of them were doing what Councilmember Brooks had been doing, so that it would be unfair to single her out. As to how this affected the soundwall study approval process, read on...

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