Rockridge Soundwalls


A letter from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (ACCMA) to the City of Oakland dated July 19, 2005 acknowledged requests received by ACCMA for eight different soundwalls in Oakland. (ACCMA later changed its name to the Alameda County Transportation Commission, ACTC.) In a letter dated July 14, 2006 from the City of Oakland to ACCMA, Joe Wang of the Transportation Services Division wrote “Please find, enclosed, qualifying petitions for two out of the eight proposed locations for freeway soundwalls in Oakland. Unfortunately, we have not received the required percentage of signatures for the remaining six locations…” Six of the eight requests were for locations adjacent to Highway 580. Two were for locations next to Highway 24, and neither of those met the signatory requirements. One of the Highway 24 requests was described in the first letter as “Highway 24 between Claremont Ave. and Broadway Ave. – Westbound traffic side”. This location is identical to that of one of the recently proposed soundwalls for Highway 24.

The two Highway 580 soundwalls requested in 2005 that met the signatory requirements were true grassroots efforts by affected residents. The soundwalls requests made at that time for Highway 24 were not and those requests died from lack of community support. Nevertheless, one would later be resurrected as part of the Caldecott Settlement Agreement.

On March 23, 2011, the City of Oakland announced the Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Agreement Final Project List of 37 projects to be funded under its $8 million settlement with Caltrans. Of these 37 projects, 21 were "above the line" on this ordered List, meaning that they were likely to be funded, with 3 of those being soundwall studies. Of the 16 projects "below the line" and thus unlikely to be funded, 7 were soundwall studies. See the Final Caldecott Project Fact Sheets for detailed descriptions, location maps, and photos of these projects.

The settlement was the result of work by the Fourth Bore Coalition. The project list was created by the Coalition and the City of Oakland with the aid of input from the public. Should some projects not be undertaken, other projects below them on the list would move up accordingly and become more likely to be funded. The highest ranking soundwall projects were numbers seven and eight.

A public meeting on the topic of the Settlement projects was held in North Oakland on November 8, 2010. Within Rockridge, publicity for these projects has been mainly via The Rockridge News (RN), a monthly newsletter published by the Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC), a member of the Fourth Bore Coalition. At both the public meeting and in many articles published in the RN, the basis of the approval process for the soundwall studies was stated to be the Alameda CTC Freeway Soundwall Policy. On August 21, 2012, ACTC declared that "The City of Oakland has not requested any Alameda CTC assistance with the development of the proposed soundwalls. Therefore, the Alameda CTC Freeway Soundwall Policy is not applicable". This means that ACTC is not a participant in the current soundwall study approval process. The City of Oakland created its own freeway soundwall study approval policy, which was not published, publicly vetted, or approved by the Oakland City Council.

Another public meeting, this time on the topic of the soundwall studies, was held in the Rockridge Library on September 27, 2012. The City tentatively proposed that if 67% of affected property owners signed petitions, the soundwall studies would go forward. This contrasts with ACTC's signatory requirements: 100% of owners of properties adjacent to the freeway and 75% of owners of other properties that would see at least a 5 decibel reduction in freeway noise. The City's proposal lowered the bar to approval in these ways:

- A lower percentage of property owners would be required to sign.

- Added weight would not be given to the wishes of those living adjacent to the freeway, whose property values would be most affected by the aesthetics of a soundwall.

Yet another public meeting was held at the Rockridge Library on January 17, 2013. Prior to the meeting, on January 11, Victoria Eisen, Principal, Eisen|Letunic Transportation, Environmental and Urban Planning, Berkeley, who is coordinating the Caldecott Settlement Agreement projects for the City of Oakland, e-mailed me a list of properties whose owners would be eligible to sign soundwall study approval petitions. This list was consistent with the story, "The Soundwall Study Process", in the January 5, 2013 Rockridge News, which advertised the upcoming meeting. The article stated that "135 properties in close proximity to SR24 … meet state and local agencies' criteria for soundwall construction funding". These properties were selected according to criteria in Alameda CTC Freeway Soundwall Policy.

The key requirement is that "A reduction of at least 5 decibels resulting from the installation of a soundwall can be achieved" (Page 4). The calculations in the State Route 24 Oakland, CA Pre-NBSSR Noise Study Final Report December 2009 indicate that 133 properties near Highway 24 meet this 5 decibel noise reduction requirement. 140 properties were listed on January 11 by the City as the ones whose owners would be eligible to sign the petitions. So the number of eligible owners was somewhere between 133 and 140.

However, between January 11 and January 17 this all changed. On January 17, it was announced (verbally) at the meeting that property owners within 3 rows of houses of the freeway (and in some cases even farther away) would be eligible to sign petitions. Instead of 133-140 properties, 400-500 properties would qualify. If the full NBSSR Noise Study were carried out and was consistent with the Pre-NBSSR Noise Study, the vast majority of the property owners eligible to sign the petition for soundwall studies would not be eligible to sign the petition for soundwall construction under ACTC rules.

Documents released in April, 2014 show that this policy change was made immediately after Stuart Flashman, the main organizer of pro-soundwall study petitions, e-mailed Victoria Eisen asking for changes to the process. The effect of these changes (confirmed by the petition results) were:

- To give people known to favor soundwalls, but who didn't live close to the freeway, the opportunity to sign petitions.

- To make eligible lots of property owners who lived far enough away from Highway 24 that the visual impact of soundwalls would not bother them as it would for many who reside right next to the freeway.

And what explanation was given for the City's latest approval policy change? The larger pool of eligible property owners was justified by City staff by claiming that this would make the process "more inclusive". That is true. It would include people who would not see a noise reduction of even 5 decibels at their property, and who would not be eligible to sign petitions required for soundwall construction.

The 2/3 approval percentage was justified by City staff by saying that the soundwall study petition process is equivalent to other petition processes already in place and that the 2/3 approval percentage already applies to them. The examples mentioned at the January 17 meeting were Residential Permit Parking (RPP) and Speed Bumps.

RPP petitions require that 51% of eligible residents sign petitions, not 2/3. The rules for creating RPP zones were not simply mandated by City staff - they were voted on and approved by the City Council. And every RPP zone that is petition approved must still be approved by a separate vote of the City Council. See Oakland, California, Code of Ordinances >> Title 10 - VEHICLES AND TRAFFIC >> Chapter 10.44 - RESIDENTIAL PERMIT PARKING PROGRAM.

Speed bumps are currently not funded, so no speed bump petitions are being issued or accepted by the City of Oakland.

Any uncertainty was later clarified by a letter from Wlad Wlassowsky, Transportaion Services Division Manager, City of Oakland, dated March 12, 2013, which notified the owners of some properties located close to Highway 24 in Rockridge that they are eligible to sign soundwall study approval petitions; and that the last date that the City would accept signed petitions would be March 15, 2014. This letter stated:

"…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...."

But this statement is false. According to the Pre-NBSSR only 133, or 28% of those 481 properties, would experience a minimum of 5 decibel noise reduction if soundwalls were constructed. For a detailed analysis of this letter, see Approval: VII. More lies. The 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.

There was another public meeting held on October 17, 2013 at the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library. As reported in The Montclarion "Rockridge: Residents sound off on sound walls", Victoria Eisen released the (then) latest version of the Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Agreement Final Project List. Due to cost increases on projects near the top of the list, the funding line moved up. Only 11 projects were "above the line". If the soundwall studies (Projects #7 and #8) were approved, funding for intersection improvements on Broadway would disappear. And Ms. Eisen also stated that it was questionable when or even if actual soundwall construction would be funded if the soundwall studies go forward, due to competition for limited funds among many transportation projects within Alameda County.

This all changed again with the release of yet another Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Agreement Final Project List. Six more projects were now expected to be funded as a result of cost reductions and grant funding. Projects #19-23 on this List (more intersection improvements and pedestrian lighting) would not be funded if the soundwall studies were.

When the period for submitting soundwall study approval petitions expired on March 15, 2014, the City had received petitions containing 300 signatures out of 485 eligible owners (62%), less than the 67% needed. Therefore, soundwall studies #7 and #8 were removed from the Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Project List and the $1.482 million that might have been used for the studies will be allocated to projects further down the Project List.

Proponents appealed to the Public Works department to approve the studies anyway based on "substantial support" for them and a "flawed process". The appeal asked for more time to collect signatures, that the percentage of signatures required for approval be reduced, and that eligibility requirements for signing be weakened. Public Works Assistant Director Michael J. Neary denied this appeal, saying that one year was sufficient time and that the approval requirements had been in place for more than a yearwithout any complaint from the group making the appeal.

The City also released the names and addresses of the property owners who signed the petition. A comparison of this list with the list of 140 properties that would have had noise reduced by at least 5 decibels if the soundwalls had been built shows that only 76, or 54%, of these 140 property owners signed the petition. This same group of 140 would later have been eligible to sign approval petitions for the actual construction of the soundwalls (assuming that the results of the full Noise Study would have been similar to those of the Pre-NBSSR). 52% of first row owners and 56% of remaining owners signed - far below the 100% and 75%, respectively, that ACTC would have required later for construction approval.