continued 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.