Posted 4/28/16: Umbrella Group Monthly Meeting Notes from April 27, 2016

The Coalition meets monthly with the City of San Rafael along with two other umbrella groups (Federation of Neighborhoods and Coalition of North San Rafael) to discuss activities, concerns and/or issues that are not readily addressed directly with the appropriate City agencies or where there is concern about the City’s approach. Items are placed on the agenda by the City and/or the three umbrella groups. This provides the Coalition with an opportunity to raise issues of particular interest to residents of our area. If you have any suggestions regarding potential topics for these meetings, we urge you to let us know via the Coalition Board contact form. Following is a summary of the most recent meeting:

Item 1: SMART Update and Traffic Impacts:  Kevin McGowan, Acting Director of the Department of Public Works, presented a slide show focused on work being done to prepare for the SMART train. Systems are being tested and the train is sometimes in town for his work.  The City often has little notice of when work will be carried out, so letting the public know of possible delays has been challenging.

Traffic lights leading into areas where arms come down to block off the rails are being coordinated so that cars will not queue up onto the tracks or in the areas where the arms lower.  Communications are being set up through a radio tower so that problems with signal systems can be remedied from the DPW building rather than requiring trips out to each signal location.

The City is ready to submit the Federal paperwork for the Quiet Zones.  Once the Quiet Zones are established the train will not have to blow its whistle at each crossing, but there will still be bells and lights at the intersections and the train will still be required to blow its whistle each time it proceeds after a full stop.

The City is looking into establishing more multiuser pathways to the train.  The County is doing some improvements by the Civic Center train stop. The Anderson Drive Crossing is a problem and the City is trying to get permission for an at-grade crossing there.  If this permission is not obtained Anderson Drive will have to be closed since rail has priority over car/truck traffic. The City hopes to realign Francisco Boulevard to keep the train on one side rather than the train crossing the road twice as would be the present case.  There are constraints from a drainage ditch that is considered important habitat and lack of right-of-way rights.

Forty million dollars has been obtained for the Larkspur extension and work is proceeding.  This extension may require additional quiet zones in San Rafael. Work on the extension will send the the rail line right through the transit center.  If it is not possible to get funding to permanently relocate the bus services before work on the rail extension begins in the summer of 2017, it may be necessary to relocate the bus services temporarily until a permanent relocation can be done. This is likely to have a very negative impact on traffic.  The City feels it is important to guard against any interim relocation becoming permanent.

Item 2: Canal Dredging – Concerns and Watershed Issues:  Richard Landis, Administrative Manager, presented information on Canal dredging. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) has been responsible for maintenance dredging since 1919, when the 2.5 mile long Canal was declared a federal waterway. There have been 13 dredging cycles since 1930, the most recent during the winter of 2011-2012. At that time, it cost $1,400,000 to dredge the Inner Channel (Grand Avenue Bridge to  Pickelweed Park) and Outer Channel/Across the Flats (Pickleweed Park to Marin Islands) to a depth of 5 feet. The maximum depth of both channels is 6 feet. The project was 100% federally funded, utilizing “ear mark” funding that is no longer available. This 2011-2012 project did not remove what the ACOE refers to as 17,500 cubic yards of “challenged” (that is, toxic) material that is concentrated in the so-called “turning basin” just east of the Grand Avenue Bridge. To do so at that time would have added approximately $3,360,000 to the cost.

The ACOE plans to conduct a condition survey in 2016 that should indicate the extent that siltation has occurred since the 2011-2012 project and the status of the “challenged” material.  It was suggested that spot checks be done to see how deep the layer of challenged material is. The canal is steadily silting up and will fill in if not dredged. Shallow draft canals such as the one in San Rafael are not a high priority for the national government.

The City is now working on efforts to get the canal dredged. Businesses along the canal, which bring in $10 million in revenue, are dependent on it and it has recreational value as well as use by the police boat. The City needs to work out a financial model to show the ACOE. The City is exploring partnerships with other cities that have shallow draft canals such as the City of Petaluma, the City of Vallejo, Marin County, Napa County and the Sonoma Water Agency.  If joint efforts with these other agencies do not bring in enough funds, then  self-taxing districts will have to be explored.   The City is working closely with community groups in the efforts to get the Canal dredged.  The steps that are currently being worked on are as follows:  identify the partners to apply for grants, present a draft letter of agreement to the City Attorney, present the agreement to the City Council, and meet with the stakeholders.

Item 3:  Community Pipeline Safety Initiative Program:  Gregory Gillis, Senior Customer Outreach Specialist at PG&E, explained that PG&E has begun work on a program in San Rafael to do safety checks of their large pipes using hydro pressure test and “pigs.”  PG&E is first going to check those lines that are in easements through private property. Property owners will be notified and there will be discussions of what kind of vegetation can be used in these easements to assure that both PG&E crews and emergency services can easily access the areas. Mr. Gillis said that PG&E is sometimes using low flying helicopter flights as part of this work. The company is also working with the City to set up a schedule for checking the lines that run through public property.