The approval process for the construction of sound walls along Highway 24 through Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood is getting under way, starting with a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Rockridge Library at 5366 College Ave. in Oakland.
But the official publicity does not begin to tell the whole story. To see what the City of Oakland and The Rockridge News are not telling the public, please take a look online at my website, www.RockridgeSoundwalls.org.
There are several issues. Sound walls in Rockridge are mostly unnecessary and would be a waste of taxpayer money; the process has been manipulated in favor of approving soundwalls; and there are ethics issues including deception and conflict of interest.
Sound wall studies were tentatively funded under the Caldecott Tunnel Settlement Agreement between Caltrans and the City of Oakland. But the "State Route 24 Oakland, CA Pre-NBSSR Noise Study Final Report December 2009" shows that measured noise levels don't justify soundwall construction in most of Rockridge. The funds allocated for sound wall studies could be used instead for other local traffic improvements that are on the Settlement Project List. There is a detailed analysis of the noise study on my website.
The City of Oakland never initiated Alameda County's sound wall approval process, which had been publicly advertised for two years as the guiding policy for
The person with the most influence on the approval process is Oakland District 1 City Councilmember Jane Brunner, who is running for City Attorney in the November election and not for re-election to her council seat. District 1 is where the proposed soundwalls would be located. Here's what Councilmember Brunner said about her opponent, incumbent City Attorney Barbara Parker:
"My opponent's campaign for City Attorney has received over 28 percent of her campaign contributions from attorneys at law firms that are receiving contracts from the City of Oakland! That's 'Pay to Play,' and it's wrong!"
But Councilmember Brunner has accepted campaign contributions from craft unions, contractors and a building supply company, which could benefit from local construction projects such as sound walls. This appears to be a conflict of interest.
The proposed sound walls are comparable to the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska, which came to be known as the "Bridge to Nowhere." That bridge project was abandoned due to public pressure against unnecessary and wasteful spending. I urge the public to carefully consider the Highway 24 sound wall proposals and let the City of Oakland know where you want your tax dollars to go.
Jon Gabel is a 37-year Rockridge resident, former Rockridge Community Planning Council Board member and founder of the Rockridge DVD Project.