Capdiamont\’s Weblog


Rail and Trail around Humboldt Bay

I admit being nervous how the committee process would go.  As I told NCRA at their last meeting, what they came up with was very smart. Now we have a rail with trail process around the bay. This gives our area the political capital and economic benefits we need to implement the plan a single way could not. I knew that not all the ties needed to be replaced, and the rail did not need to be replaced, yet you naysayers would not listen. We can finally move forward now that the “squeeze” folks have quieted down. For those who continue to doubt normal maintenance can raise the rail-bed effectively for sea level rise, please understand NCRA already has done this as part of the rebuilding process. They raised the trestle down in Novato. On either side the track needed to  be raised to match the bridge.

I am a part of this process. I do not have a problem with putting a trail along side the rail. I do have a problem with removing the rail for a trail in these vital areas. We need the tourist train. The tourist train is about diversification of our economy.

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MIJ Dick Spotswood: Either keep the dump, or run garbage trains though Novato
Sunday 27 Apr 2008, 09:39
Filed under: Marin, NCRA, Novato, Railroad | Tags:

ODDS & ENDS: The Marin County Planning Commission soon will consider approving an environmental impact report that keeps North Novato’s Redwood Landfill open until 2024. While no one likes garbage dumps, the reality is that the North Bay generates huge amounts of waste and it must go somewhere. That “somewhere” is just north of Novato along Highway 101 adjacent to the Petaluma River. If Marin doesn’t want a dump, it has two choices: either ship the stuff out of the area by the now-unused Northwestern Pacific Railroad or cut back on waste. The latter goal, while ideal, is unlikely in a still growing region. That leaves either running garbage-loaded freight trains through Novato or keeping the dump.

Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley shares his views on local politics every Sunday in the IJ. His e-mail address is spotswood@comcast.net

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MIJ: Dire times forecast for Novato
Sunday 27 Apr 2008, 09:32
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

#1 suggestion to save money, quit spending money on lawsuits to block stuff that will actually help people.

John Dugan
Article Launched: 04/25/2008 11:30:01 PM PDT

“Dark clouds” hang over Novato’s city treasury, a top official said Friday.

City Manager Dan Keen gave a gloomy financial forecast, saying the outlook is bleak amid financial turmoil and plummeting home sales.

Real estate tax revenue that fuels city coffers has been curbed by declining home sales. In addition, Novato has posted the most properties in various states of foreclosure trouble in Marin. Novato also tops the list of homeowners asking the county to reduce property taxes in light of declining real estate values.

Keen said a nearly 6 percent drop in sales tax revenue from last year is among a number of Novato’s growing budget woes, adding the city will close the 2007-08 fiscal year in July with a deficit of more than $1 million.

Estimates from staff indicate that deficit could grow to $4 million by 2011-12.

“That deficit is significant, but it’s not going to kill us,” Keen said to an audience of about 50 people gathered at the Hilltop Cafe for a “state of the city” forum sponsored by the Novato Chamber of Commerce. “What’s alarming is the signs for the future.

“Looking forward, we see some very dark clouds.”

The city budget crunch is not directly related to Novato’s strong retail business, said Keen, but the fortunes of the two soon will be tied closely. Plans to renovate the Mall at Northgate in San Rafael and create almost 3 million square feet of retail shopping in Petaluma could draw significant sales tax money out of Novato, he said.

Novato
is expected to begin planning its own major retail renovations in the north Redwood Highway area this fall.

“I don’t think the business community realizes the effect these new shopping options could have on Novato,” Novato Chamber of Commerce chief Coy Smith said. If San Rafael and Petaluma “continue to move forward quickly and we don’t, it could be an issue.”

Novato officials had projected about $6.4 million in sales tax revenue this year, which they hoped would balance out the slowdown in property tax revenue. Instead, sales tax revenue fell to $5.9 million, while secured property taxes merely met expectations. A loss of $500,000 in property transfer taxes leaves Novato operating at a deficit.

City officials are projecting $5.9 million in sales tax revenue again next year, but Keen said another dip is possible.

The Redwood Highway corridor has been discussed as an area ripe for development. Keen said the area could provide a huge boost to the city’s sales tax revenue.

“Whatever comes here, whether it’s housing, retail or both, (residents) need to agree on what we want to see here,” Keen said.

“I think what’s going on in the economy right now is going to affect businesses more than the city budget,” Smith said. “Any businesses we know of right now that are struggling (are) directly related to the economy. That affects sales tax for the city, but it’s a much bigger problem for the businesses themselves.”

Despite the gloomy outlook, Keen did note progress in the city’s development projects. The new Whole Foods Market downtown is set to open within the year, and Hamilton Marketplace construction will take less than a year to finish.

The Costco at Vintage Oaks has almost finished its renovation at a cost the company usually spends to construct new stores from the ground up.

Two long-vacant buildings in the heart of downtown – a former office building at 999 Grant Ave. on the corner of Redwood Boulevard, and the old Pini Hardware site at Grant and Second Street – have both been sold, and plans involving new tenants are in the works. The building at 999 Grant will be razed to make way for a new retail store.



Judy Arnold: SMART urged to kill freight.
Wednesday 26 Mar 2008, 07:08
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad, SMART | Tags: , ,

Marin County supervisor Judy Arnold shows her true colors. She will only support SMART if it helps to KILL freight/NCRA. All gloves are off now.

MIJ: Judy Arnold: SMART urged to fight freight
Staff Report
Article Launched: 03/26/2008 12:03:53 AM PDT

Judy Arnold

THE REVISED cumulative impacts report by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit has some new facts that are critically important to the northern part of Novato and all of Sonoma County.

It strikes me after reading the report that freight is preventing SMART from providing superior passenger rail service for Marin and Sonoma.

The most important point is that if SMART wants to run the light Diesel Multiple Units that it proposes for passenger service, it must obtain a Federal Rail Authority waiver. It would also be subject to California Public Utilities Commission approval.

A federal waiver is required because SMART is running on the same track as freight service (up to 32 trains a week).

Waivers historically have been granted “only under the condition of time separation, which limits freight operations to hours during which passenger trains are not in operation, precluding passenger-freight meets.” A “meet” is when two trains running in opposite directions move by each other, with one on a siding.

The report goes on to state that the Federal Rail Authority would likely only consider a waiver with the application of time separation or a new technology known as positive train control.

A PTC system is a computer-based information and braking control system using a Global Positioning System. This is especially important on single-track systems like that proposed for Novato. However, the Federal Rail Authority has not yet authorized the use of positive train control systems.

If SMART wants to use light DMUs it must either:

- Obtain a federal waiver to run light DMUs with strict time separation, which would likely mean the elimination of a midday train allowing time for midday freight service between the SMART morning and evening peak periods.

- Or hope the Federal Rail Authority will authorize the use of positive train control, which hasn’t happened yet.

Residents now are faced with heavy diesel freight trains, some as long as 60 cars, with loud horns running through their neighborhoods into the night. Many residents have grave concerns about the impact of freight.

In the last SMART election, 56 percent of Novato voters supported the passenger rail system because of the ever-increasing traffic congestion on Highway 101. I hear from more and more Novatans who can’t get in and out of town. Business owners tell me their customers can’t get to them easily. The impact on the environment from cars idling in freeway traffic jams also is of great concern.

Because of these facts, I have decided that I will support SMART, but only if the SMART board takes a public stand against the resumption of freight service. I am not willing to turn my back on Novato residents north of Highway 37.

If we did not have to accommodate freight, which already has failed repeatedly under past operators, SMART could run light diesel units, which are environmentally superior and quieter.

It is possible to stop the North Coast Rail Authority and its operator, NWP. We elect the policy makers who grant the rail authority its funding, such as our North Bay state legislators and federal congressional representatives. We can tell them we don’t want our public dollars to subsidize a private company. If the state and federal money dries up, the NCRA can’t survive.

I call on the SMART board to join with me in this effort and end the strained “arranged marriage” it has with the North Coast Rail Authority.

If this happens, I ask Novato to join me in embracing the SMART ballot measure in November with a light diesel system that will add another mode of travel in the Highway 101 corridor of Marin and Sonoma.

And in two years (after a demonstration project is up and running), we can supplement the light rail system with the addition of personalized rapid transit and really put a dent in our oil dependence.

Judy Arnold represents the Novato area on the Marin Board of Supervisors.



SR Democrat: This is rich: Marin sues to block rail repairs, then complains about line’s upkeep
Saturday 2 Feb 2008, 08:59
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad | Tags: , ,

This is the kind of thing, that has to piss off NCJ.

First, Marin County endorses a Novato lawsuit that seeks to block repair work on railroad tracks through the North Coast. Now, at least one Marin County supervisor is blaming the North Coast Railroad Authority, which oversees the rail line, for creating a flooding problem in Novato last week. Why? Because the rail line and a trestle in the area weren’t properly maintained.

This would qualify as one of those “only in Marin” items.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold this week blamed poor maintenance of the NCRA’s bridge over Novato Creek for creating a dam that caused the creek to back up and flood parts of Novato.

According to NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner, the NCRA, which sent out crews and equipment to resolve the flooding problem last week, has been wanting to raise that 100-foot bridge as part of its $25 million track improvement plan. But that project is being blocked — by Novato’s lawsuit.

“If we can ever get out there and fix it, we will raise (the bridge) and reduce the propensity for flooding,” Stogner said.

This just points out the absurdity of this lawsuit which is preventing king an upgrade of the 62 miles of track through Sonoma County. How, exactly, is this helping the environment?

Novato’s main contention is that the NCRA should have to do a full environmental impact report on the entire stretch of the rail all the way to Eureka before freight service could begin in just Sonoma County. If the judge agrees, it could delay rail service for years. A trial on that issue is set to begin later this month.

Such a twisted interpretation of state environmental laws is akin to demanding that an EIR be done on Highway 101, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, for a highway expansion in Sonoma County.

But let’s be clear. This is not about Novato’s concern about the environment. This is about Novato’s concern about Novato and its real estate values. The city hasn’t had freight trains coming through town for seven years, and it wants to pretend they never existed. So some officials want the court system to make the NCRA go away — except, of course, when they need help with flood problems.

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MIJ: Political sparks fly over Novato trestle’s role in flooding
Friday 1 Feb 2008, 12:15
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad | Tags: ,

Ummm replacing the trestle with another “new trestle” won’t help. Replacing it with a bridge as well as raising it will help, which Novato likes to block just so it can complain about the railroad. Wait a minute, another Novato public works claims dredging doesn’t help because of high tides, but if you look below,one of the suggests doing the same thing for this one. Which is it? On no, here you have the very same thing NCJ loves to complain the NCRA of doing, telling one group one thing, and another group another.

Marin County dredges the creek roughly every four years, and it planning to do so this summer, said Bob Beaumont, Chief Assistant Public Works Director for Marin County.

“The problem there is not the dredging. You get a slight amount of additional capacity with dredging,” he said. The benefit of lowering the creek bottom by dredging is negated during high tide, he said.

Origional article.

Brad Breithaupt

The North Coast Railroad Authority says crews risked their lives to clear debris from the Novato Creek trestle. Bristling about being blamed for flooding in Novato, North Coast Railroad Authority officials fired back Wednesday, claiming their crews risked their lives to try to reduce damage during Friday’s deluge. Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold on Tuesday blamed the rail authority’s bridge over Novato Creek for creating a dam that backed up the creek, flooding city roads.

“This is the continuing problem because of the bridge,” she said, saying Friday’s flooding “was the highest I’ve ever seen.”

“We have to come in to break the levee. Otherwise, all of Novato gets flooded,” said Arnold, who has been critical of the agency’s plans to revive freight service in town.

But the rail agency contends it saved the day, adding that a city lawsuit against the agency is holding up its plans to raise the bridge.

Many of the homes in the Nave Gardens neighborhood, an area between Novato Boulevard and Novato Creek, were flooded in Friday’s deluge. Since then, political sparks have been flying.

Rail authority General Manager Mitch Stogner said Arnold and other politicians are pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

Novato’s lawsuit, which the county has endorsed, is stopping the regional rail agency from raising the 100-foot-long

bridge. “We could greatly reduce these sorts of incidents and that’s a fact,” said Stogner, head of the Ukiah-based agency.

The agency began work to lift the bridge by about a foot, but the job was stopped by Novato’s lawsuit.

Stogner said county workers on the scene Friday were appreciative that the rail crew was on hand with equipment to breach the levee, which let flood water recede.

“The Marin public works guys were very, very grateful for what we did,” he said. “It’s really unfair

A small amount of debris sits Wednesday under a railroad crossing over Novato Creek. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)

for anyone to suggest we weren’t Johnny-on-the-spot,” he said. “The City Council and the Board of Supervisors have an agenda.”

“They are so full of it,” responded county Public Works Director Farhad Mansourian.

He said the county has asked the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit district and the rail agency to do a better job of maintaining clearance under the bridge.

“This has been going on for years,” he said. “The problem is that trestle acts like a big, giant trash rack.”

Novato City Manager Dan Keen called NCRA’s contention “absolutely preposterous.” He said the rail agency has known of the problem the trestle poses for years and has had ample time to remedy the hazard. He added that replacing the span with a new trestle, not raising the old one by about a foot, would help remove the blockage it creates.

David Anderson, an engineering consultant working for the agency, said the flooding problem is caused by a narrowing of the creek, just downstream from the trestle.

Even when debris collects under the bridge, water continues to flow, until the lower reach of the creek can’t handle any more, he said. Then, water starts backing up, causing flooding.

Rail crews, Anderson said, had equipment on the scene and breached the levee on the north side of the creek, just east of the bridge, to relieve the flooding.

“These guys risked their freaking lives out there,” Anderson said. “That mitigated the flooding.”

Novato’s lawsuit contends that NCRA did not conduct a comprehensive environmental study on its plans for freight service which could send up to 32 trains, each pulling up to 60 cars, through Novato every week at speeds up to 40 mph.

“Novato wants to stop all repairs and maintenance between Lombard and Windsor,” Stogner said. “Somebody’s got to understand the irony of that.”

Freight plans call for starting service between Windsor in Sonoma County and Lombard in Napa County. Trains would cross through Novato and turn east near Highway 37.

Bill Long, chairman of the Novato flood advisory board, said the trestle has been a problem for years.

“The trestle is known to be a trash collector and known to slow the water,” he said.

Upstream, Sally Stokes has lived on Garden Court for more than 20 years. On Friday water backed up and flooded the street, her yard and her garage.

“We had maybe a foot to go before it got into the house,” she said. “I blame the rain more than anything.”

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