I’m drafting something up about tonight’s Richardson Grove forum.  I figured others might want to chime in with thoughts before I finished.

By the way, STAA stands for Surface Transportation Assistance Act.  I didn’t know that.

….

So the panel convinced me, or would have had I not already been convinced, that the public process has been wholly deficient, and the EIR probably inadequate.  Ken Miller made a good case for the argument that the PR has only addressed the micro-issue and not taken a more broad approach to policy in terms of alternative means of getting goods in and out of the county, nor discussing the fact that STAA truck projects are in process up and down the coast.

What I’m not convinced of is that the project will have any serious environmental impact, either as far as the trees are concerned, or increased traffic.  I certainly don’t believe that the project will turn 101 into another I-5.  I remain agnostic as to whether small business or big business would be the primary beneficiaries of the larger trucks and associated reduction of costs due to offloading.  Someone asked whether small businesses might actually acquire a “competitive advantage” against big boxes.  The panelists rolled their eyes and Lauren said that the question had already been answered, but I don’t remember the answer.  Their response was that Home Depot and WalMart are pushing the project, so therefor it must be to their advantage rather than small business.

A number of alternatives were offered from the proposed short sea shipping to lights on each end of the grove allowing the larger trucks sole use of the road for certain hours at night.

We didn’t hear from any businesses in favor of the project, though Dr. Miller did address comment from Cypress Grove Cheese who say that the offloading adds over a dollar a pound for their high end cheese.  Dr. Miller responded that the people in Marin County have enough money to pay the higher prices.

Nobody addressed a recent occurrence involving the North Coast Coop in which a refrigerator was broken during an offloading incident.  Of course, an accident like that could happen when unloading at the store itself.  But it’s a story which has been circulating which will probably get some discussion in the future.

When asked about the impact on Eureka traffic, Carol Dyer noted that there is an “STAA choke point” at the intersection of Broadway and 5th Streets, which begs a few questions about how the big boxes in Crescent City will benefit in the absence of some sort of Eureka bypass.  But it wouldn’t be an issue for the Marina Center, nor any big box in Fortuna.  And of course it wouldn’t have solved the Coop’s problem at either location.  Would the trucks be sent down residential streets?  The coastline?

Concern for the roots of the trees was a consistent theme, as we all know that redwoods have shallow roots.  Someone compared the roots to peoples’ toes or something, a point which was lost on me.  There was skepticism about the promises of the technology being used.  There was aesthetic objection to the proposed retaining wall.  The owners of Singing Trees and Bigfoot chimed in not only in opposition to the project, but to what they described as the non-responsiveness of CalTrans in discussing mitigations which might help their businesses during any construction project.

The primary theme however was to “preserve the buffer.”  Right now the trees are preventing big boxes and over-development.  They said that once the access is improved we “can never go back,” although if maintaining a physical buffer or interference is the goal, maybe we shouldn’t depend on the trees.  Maybe we should just tear up the freeway and construct something like Lombard street coming down the Leggett grade.  It would be safer.

Apparently CalTrans has offered nothing in terms of an analysis of exposure to STAA truck accidents.  Jeff Hedin argued the hypocrisy of spending so much money to prevent terrorism when our highways kill so many more people.  I think it was Jeff who brought up the damage the trucks cause to the roads and asked rhetorically who would pay for it.  And actually, I once read that commercial trucks in general, not necessarily just the larger trucks, cause something like 90 percent of the road wear and tear, but between taxes and fees they pay for less than 20 percent of the price – a reality typical of a country which socializes the costs and risks, but privatize the profits.  Yes, we do subsidize the trucking industry.  Perhaps it’s sound economic policy, but the free marketers are never around to protest the socialism.

Another rallying cry tonight – the STAA trucks will “dominate the goods movement industry.”

As someone who is partially supportive of the opposition, but also skeptical about some of the claims, and as I’m getting older, I’m finding less use for “forums” which involve a one-sided panel making the soundbites which generate a Baptist worship style sing-a-long, but where we don’t actually learn much that is new.  It’s not the fault of one side.  I understand that project supporters attended the EPIC forum up north last week, but sat stone faced rather than participate in the discussion.  Everybody prefers to preach to the choir.  What I’d like to see on this issue and other local issues, such as the GPU, Marina Center Proposal, and even national issues like health care, are more debate panel discussions with questions from all sides (very often there are more than two).  The questions tonight weren’t very challenging in my opinion, sometimes mindlessly conflating issues like radioactive waste and military policy.  At least nobody linked medical marijuana or corporate personhood to the issue.  Instead we had cries from the audience, “how about the moths?  How about the salamanders?”

An amusing anecdote from the back of the room.  When Felix stood up and referenced Home Depot and Rob Arkley as culprits in the issue, two women (I know them, but I’ll leave out their names) sitting at the table in front of me looked at each other?  One said, “Arkley?  Who’s that?”  The other one shrugged.  They oppose the straightening/widening, but they obviously don’t follow big box politics.  But as Ambrose Bierce said about war, it’s “God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

The photo comes from photobucket.

The forum tonight was broadcast on KMUD and should be available in the archives.

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