— Those overriding considerations were emergency services. The City “trotted out Fire Chief Tracy Jarman to talk about them,” says Arovas. “And that was interesting, because, first of all, emergency services were not addressed in the first environmental impact report. Second, back when our committee met, improving emergency services was one of the criteria we considered, but they were ranked low. That was before the Cedar Fire, by the way, and it certainly would have been appropriate to rank them higher. Still, the City did nothing until about two weeks before the city council meeting when Chief Jarman made her appearance.”

Jarman presented to the council comparisons of emergency response times to south University City from fire stations in La Jolla, Clairemont, and north University City. Not surprisingly, they showed substantial time improvements when the bridge linked the northern and southern Regents Road sections. Only one problem. “Her numbers were wrong,” says Arovas.

Since Jarman had sent out her numbers before the council hearing, Arovas had been able to check them with his automobile odometer. He also recruited a friend to do the same on his odometer. Finally, Arovas consulted a colleague who is a specialist in “spatial information systems” at the UCSD Supercomputer Center. “So we had the right numbers and knew that Jarman was mistaken,” says Arovas.

“In some cases,” he continues, “the distance that Jarman said the fire engines would cover using the bridge would be shorter than if they flew, that is, shorter than the straight-line distance. Something wasn’t adding up. In fact, all her numbers weren’t adding up. She was basically off by a factor of three.”

At the August 2006 council meeting, Arovas detailed his corrections to the distances Jarman was citing. Toward the close of the bridge discussion that day, Jarman came forward once more and admitted that her numbers were incorrect. She nevertheless recommended building the bridge, saying that it would still offer some improvement in emergency response times in south University City.

“And that’s true with some routes,” admits Arovas. “But the real emergency response problem we have in our community is not poor road connectivity. It’s the lack of a fire station. Recently, information came out about a number of San Diego communities that will soon get new fire stations. But south University City wasn’t one of them. If the City is serious about giving us better emergency response, they could build a fire station. That would do a hell of a lot better than another bridge over the canyon, and it would cost less too.”

And then there are the bridge project’s environmental effects. Proponents like to say that a bridge will only span Rose Canyon, not damage it. To demonstrate why that’s not true, Friends of Rose Canyon president Debbie Knight takes me on a walk. At the terminus of Regents Road on the canyon’s southern edge, we descend a narrow path that has a hill on its right. A Regents Road bridge would need a 700-foot road that lops off the top of that hill. The road would lead to the bridge’s southern jumping-off point overlooking the canyon. From there, an 860-foot bridge is to span Rose Creek and the railroad tracks running north of it.

“There would have to be a lot of cut and fill,” Knight tells me. As we walk farther into the canyon, she gives me a little background on its habitat protection. Currently, Rose Canyon’s habitat would seem to be shielded three times over, first, as a preserve of San Diego County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program. Second, the City in 1998 received a state grant for the canyon’s habitat restoration under the aegis of the California Wildlife Protection Act. The area is especially rich in bird life. And third, the City has dedicated Rose Canyon as an open-space park.

Dedicated open-space parkland is the highest level of protection in San Diego. “But there’s a giant loophole in it,” says Knight. “Normally, to do anything in a dedicated open-space park, you need a vote of the people of San Diego. The exception is that the city council can put a road through dedicated parkland. So how the City approaches this is really a bellwether for whether they care about San Diego’s open-space parks in general.

“In accepting the 1998 state grant for riparian restoration here,” Knight continues, “the City committed to preserve this area in perpetuity.” She points out how, under the program, the banks of a small streambed at the base of the hillside to our right have been cleared of Arundo donax. It resembles bamboo and is an especially pernicious invasive species found in California riparian habitats. “Now, gradually, it is being replaced by these willows you see here below,” says Knight. “And willows are a native species.

“For the bridge,” says Knight, “they would be doing lots of cut and fill, cutting away the hillside, filling in this finger canyon where we are walking, and putting through a major road. The State told the City the only way they can get around their agreement is to get an act of the legislature. With these grants, that’s almost never happened, maybe once in 15 years. The contractor, Project Design Consultants, then got the City to write a letter to the state parks department saying, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to [damage] the area.’ Well, that’s ridiculous. Yes, they are. Project Design Consultants wrote the first environmental impact report, which was so bad that the City had to put it on the shelf and agree to do another one. So having done such horribly bad work for the City, having wasted millions of dollars, who gets the contract to do final design for the bridge? The City is now giving it to Project Design Consultants, in violation of state conflict of interest laws. That also rewards the company for its earlier bad work. I mean, nobody of sound mind would do this in their own life. It’s crazy; they need to have their heads examined.

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Comments

railhead Feb. 21, 2008 @ 7:29 p.m.

My back yard overlooks Regents Rd. and I want a bridge over rose canyon. I've been waiting 35 years and I guess I will be dead before it's built. over thirty trains a day, a major sewer line a access road and bike trails already go up the canyon,what damage could three or four bridge pilings do, GET REAL. It's like all the nitwits who bought condos next to the railroad tracks downtown and complain about the noise. Gordon

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darovas Feb. 25, 2008 @ 1:56 p.m.

Mr. Deegan did an excellent job distilling a large amount of information I presented him into a readable account. Invariably some things wind up on the cutting room floor, so I'd like to use this comment to address some untouched issues and to make some minor corrections and clarifications.

(1) I strongly believe that the first thing that the City should do vis-a-vis University City infrastructure is to build a fire station in South University City and two more in North UC. Fire stations should leapfrog either of the bridge or widening projects in the FBA phasing. For the cost of the bridge, we could build and equip more than six new fire stations. It's easy for the city to forego hiring the necessary additional firefighters when there's no money to build the actual stations. The University Community Planning Group should try to force the city's hand by recommending tearly phasing of additional fire stations.

(2) I am not eager to see Genesee Avenue widened. This project would result in a six-lane prime arterial slicing through the center of South UC. There are also several residential complexes along Genesee, and of course UC High School. That being said, the traffic studies rather unambiguously show the widening to be a more effective project in terms of congestion relief on Genesee. The reason is rather easy to apprehend: the widening would provide additional capacity where the demand is greatest. Much of Genesee congestion is due to commuters who use it as an alternate route to the overcrowded 805 freeway, particularly southbound during the PM peak. Regents lies even further to the west, so it would serve as a bypass of a bypass. This is why it is a poor congestion reliever for Genesee; it would do more to attract freeway trips from I-5 onto Regents.

(3) Anyone familiar with North UC would understand why the trip demands are greatest for Genesee Avenue: there is a large density of business and commercial centers along or east of Genesee: Costa Verde, UTC, Renaissance, Executive Office, etc. Regents Rd, on the other hand, is just one condominium complex after another. Well, aside from Doyle Elementary School and Doyle Park and Recreation Center, that is.

(4) 25 year traffic projections are fraught with uncertainty, and previous projections have been off by as much as 100%. If one looks at the City's machine count tables, the actual traffic volume on Genesee (between UCHS and Governor Dr, say) has hardly changed since 1987. The actual numbers: 32,500 ADT in 1987 and 33,750 ADT in 2004. This was a period of enormous growth in North UC, yet the volume on Genesee remained essentially constant. Given this record, I think it premature that we would commit to any large road-building project, given the negative impact to the community of both the bridge and widening projects, and especially when it could serve to facilitate further plan-busting overdevelopment in North UC.

(end of part I)

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darovas Feb. 25, 2008 @ 1:57 p.m.

(continued)

(5) Frank Belock's 1995 recommendation to pursue the Genesee widening and hold off on the Regents bridge was based on two facts. One, as Deegan reports, was that the 1994-5 traffic study projected the widening to provide better service levels. The second was that there was insufficient money in the FBA at the time to pay for the bridge. Had the City gone forward with the Mathis Committee's recommendation for the widening back in 1995, there would be no need for an additional project today.

(6) The "detailed breakdown" for street segment service levels which showed the bridge better in one case and the widening better in 10 cases includes all segments in the study area (31 of them). The data are straight from the city's EIR.

(7) Cases where the bridge has a projected level-of-service C and the widening LOS B are irrelevant, because D or better is acceptable. If one focuses exclusively on failing (E,F) LOS cases, one finds that the bridge does better than the widening at three intersections and zero segments, while the widening does better than the bridge at four intersections and two segments. In addition, among the acceptable LOS rankings, the bridge would result in a degradation to LOS D (just above threshold) at five intersections and three segments; in each of these cases the widening would result in LOS C or better. Bridge proponents have consistently been unwilling to engage the record of the traffic studies, and with results like these, it isn't hard to understand why.(8) Jarman's "factor of three" error was in the average distance savings for her three selected response scenarios via the Regents bridge. Her July 19, 2006 memo reported an average distance savings of 0.95 miles on three routes, whereas the correct figure is 0.37 miles. I first checked the route distances using the Google Earth geocoder, then checked them on my car's odometer, and then had my friend Larry Hogue do the same with his car.

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darovas Feb. 25, 2008 @ 1:57 p.m.

(continued)

(8) Jarman's "factor of three" error was in the average distance savings for her three selected response scenarios via the Regents bridge. Her July 19, 2006 memo reported an average distance savings of 0.95 miles on three routes, whereas the correct figure is 0.37 miles. I first checked the route distances using the Google Earth geocoder, then checked them on my car's odometer, and then had my friend Larry Hogue do the same with his car.

(9) To this day I don't understand how it is that Jarman arrived at her numbers. When she retracted her report during her second appearance before the City Council on August 1, 2006, she claimed that a "segment was left out." But she was wrong on each of three different routes, and by different amounts in each case. Was a different segment left out every time? And why did the errors always significantly favor the bridge alternative?

(10) My colleagues and I did not wish to embarrass Chief Jarman before the Council, and so we had requested a meeting with her beforehand to discuss her findings. Alas, she refused to meet with us. Mayor Sanders had also told us that he was "hard" on this issue and was unwilling to reconsider his position in support of the bridge. I suspect that the mayor unfairly forced Jarman in a very awkward position.

Once again, thanks to Mr. Deegan for such an excellent and informative article.

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Geoffrey March 22, 2008 @ 1:48 p.m.

Kudos to the Friends of Rose Canyon team! Generations from now, the efforts of Debbie and her team may well be forgotten, but their legacy will remain: A beautiful, un-interrupted open space canyon preserve serving as a natural treasure in a city that is defined by its canyon systems. Rose Canyon is part of the paradise that will always be 'temporary' -- if not for the leadership of visionaries like Debbie who understand that paradise is not for paving. May the Rose and Los Penasquitos canyon open space preserves remain just that: Open!

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