Friday, December 21, 2007

Marc Salomon: "This cycling for my health is killing me"

Marc Salomon posted this comment (below in italics) to the editorial in the current Bay Guardian on the city's delay in producing an EIR on the Bicycle Plan.

Salomon's sour rant of dissatisfaction with what he calls "the current advocacy team" that led to the Bicycle Plan fiasco is both out of focus and lacks candor, since he doesn't name a single individual on that team. Like all SF bicycle advocates, Salomon's comments on the litigation are uninformed:

Advocates and staff agreed to ignore CEQA even though they'd been told that the LOS[Level of Service] matter is a potential impact under the current rules. This happened under pressure from advocates backed by supervisors. Thus, issuing a negative declaration for the Bike Plan which under CEQA says no EIR is needed, landed them in court with the plaintiffs having to make the easy case to the judge that there was a "fair argument" that an EIR was needed.

In fact, the city didn't issue a negative declaration on the Bicycle Plan. It was worse than that: they declared it entirely exempt from CEQA review under 15061(b)(3): "Where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment, the activity is not subject to CEQA." (Certificate of Determination of Exemption/Exclusion from Environmental Review, Jan. 11, 2005, SF Planning Dept.)

The Level of Service (LOS) issue is an important part of the Bicycle Plan, but that had nothing to do with the court's injunction and Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to do an environmental review of the Plan. As Salomon implies, Judge Busch simply concluded that it was entirely possible that the 527-page Bicycle Plan "may have a significant effect on the environment" and that therefore an environmental review was necessary.

Salomon muddies the waters even more with this:

This dynamic is already having an impact on moving the Bike Plan forward, as staff have gone polar on us, from proposing no EIR to insisting that we have a full-blown EIR. Of course, a full-blown EIR will take years to produce and that is where we are now. Staff argues that we need to plan for a bicycle utopia. Given that we currently cycle in a dystopia, can't we just settle for a plain old bicycle topia for now, by producing a simple conformant EIR that lays out the potential significant impacts and allows the decision makers to ignore them?

City staff responsible for the EIR on the Bicycle Plan, unlike Salomon and the SF Bicycle Coalition, seem to now understand that they are still under Judge Busch's jurisdiction. He is ultimately the one who will determine whether the EIR is adequate, since he ordered the city to do an environmental review of the whole Bicycle Plan---both the Framework Document and the Network Document and everything in those two volumes. The city's "decision makers" can try to run an inadequate EIR by Judge Busch, but the successful litigants---including yours truly---will be very much interested in the quality of the EIR the city produces. If we think it's not good enough, we'll call that to Judge Busch's attention, and he's the one who will ultimately have to make that judgment. It's too late to pretend that the Bicycle Plan is not an ambitious project that's going to affect the way the city deals with traffic on many of its streets.

The LOS issue Salomon mentions is an important part of the Bicycle Plan, and if the city wants to eliminate LOS---and it does, with Supervisor Mirkarimi taking the lead---they will also have to justify that in the EIR.

Judge Busch's decision had nothing to do with the contents of the Bicycle Plan, only with the illegal manner in which the city pushed the Plan through the process and continued implementing it even as the litigation was taking place, which is why both he and Judge Warren approved the injunction against the city. We were able to show the judges two things: that we were likely to prevail on the merits of the case, and that the city was implementing the Plan before the hearing on the merits could even take place. If the city was allowed to continue implementing the Plan, it would have rendered the litigation more or less moot before the hearing:

Under the auspices of our current advocacy team, we have been losing ground steadily over the past five years. I know that I will be held accountable for writing this, derided as divisive and mean, but the crashes I've had over the past few years lead me to conclude that this cycling for my health is killing me. The stakes here are not access to staff, but reducing the chances of disfiguring and fatal crashes for thousands of cyclists. Will the professional, paid advocates be held accountable, pay any price at all for the swath of ineffectiveness they've cut through bike policy since 2002, or will we continue to fall further behind faster than we could have imagined?

Why doesn't the ultra-left Salomon tell the Guardian's readers exactly who among "the current advocacy team" is responsible for the Bicycle Plan fiasco? He doesn't have to tell me: the SF Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum and Andy Thornley head up the list, since they have aggressively pushed the Plan through the system, mischaracterizing and/or misunderstanding the city's legal situation since the first injunction issued by Judge Warren.

But what about the uncritical, irresponsible support the SFBC and the Bicycle Plan got from the start from the Board of Supervisors? The BOS passed the Bicycle Plan unanimously, with no dissent and no discussion, making the Framework Document part of the General Plan, even though the large project had had no environmental review. Before that the Planning Commission also passed the Plan unanimously, treating those of us who dissented at that hearing with contempt in the bargain. And what about Mayor Newsom? He too supported the Bicycle Plan the whole way, issuing press releases in support of the misguided, doomed city legal strategy even as the fiasco unfolded.

Special notice for all-around obtuseness and unprincipled political behavior should go to Supervisors Mirkarimi, Dufty, Ammiano, and Sandoval, since they dutifully showed up at the Bicycle Coalition's demonstration last week calling for fast-tracking the EIR on the Bicycle Plan, as if the city departments have been derelict in their duty by not quickly producing an EIR on a major project that will affect streets and traffic all over the city.

And what about Salomon's claim of avoiding "disfiguring and fatal crashes for thousands of cyclists" in San Francisco? Where does he get the information to support that estimate of disaster? There's no reliable data base that provides information on the number of cycling accidents in SF. And there was only one fatal cycling accident that I know of in the city in the last year. It would be interesting too if Salomon would publicly discuss his cycling accidents, what happened and who was at fault. Were other vehicles involved? Road conditions? How would the Bicycle Plan, if implemented, have helped prevent those accidents?

Judge Busch's decision

My analysis of the decision

If CEQA is our preeminent environmental law, then we're all in trouble. Like NEPA, the federal version, California's Environmental Quality Act does nothing to protect the environment. It is merely a law that requires that a project sponsor disclose potential significant environmental impact to decision makers who are free to ignore them. Of recent, it has served a proxy to oppose projects more so than to protect the environment.

As far as the Bike Plan goes, it is a tragic comedy of errors on the part of staff and advocates. Much of this has to do with the unwritten rule that advocates only get access to city staff if they play ball with city staff. If advocates cross staff, they are blackballed and fear losing their effectiveness. This is what happened with the 2002 Bike Plan. Advocates and staff agreed to ignore CEQA even though they'd been told that the LOS[Level of Service] matter is a potential impact under the current rules. This happened under pressure from advocates backed by supervisors. Thus, issuing a negative declaration for the Bike Plan which under CEQA says no EIR is needed, landed them in court with the plaintiffs having to make the easy case to the judge that there was a "fair argument" that an EIR was needed. Staff took a risk at the behest of advocates and got bit. This dynamic is already having an impact on moving the Bike Plan forward, as staff have gone polar on us, from proposing no EIR to insisting that we have a full-blown EIR. Of course, a full-blown EIR will take years to produce and that is where we are now. Staff argues that we need to plan for a bicycle utopia. Given that we currently cycle in a dystopia, can't we just settle for a plain old bicycle topia for now, by producing a simple conformant EIR that lays out the potential significant impacts and allows the decision makers to ignore them? Contrast this with the earlier efforts to ignore disclosing significant impact altogether. This approach would not stop the full-blown EIR, rather be put on the fast track in parallel to elicit a faster outcome.

Once staff gets bucks for an EIR, that becomes part of their domain, and prestige amongst staff is determined by the number of dollars doled out, not by effectiveness. As far as the effectiveness of the advocates go, the story really tells itself. There are absolutely no consequences for horrific episodes of ineffectiveness on the part of our advocates who have made serial terrible decisions that increase the danger for cyclists rather than reduce it. So advocates are complicit with staff in empire building which leads to stasis and ineffectiveness, but they all get paid irrespective.

Absent from the discussion of the Bike Plan and Bike Lane Network is the matter of safety on the other 2000 miles of roadway in San Francisco which are not part of the bicycle network but which carry at least as much bike traffic as the network. Pavement is decrepit and dangerous, traffic control is designed exclusively for autos, the City maintains complex death traps of intersections that, to my knowledge, have been removed from the Bike Plan EIR (Polk, 10th and Market as well as 13th/Division/South Van Ness), and advocates have studiously refused to pressure the notoriously suburbanite SFPD to enforce the California Vehicle Code to make SF streets safe in accordance with SF values. Bicycling ceases to be a chic habit once safety evaporates.

Under the auspices of our current advocacy team, we have been losing ground steadily over the past five years. I know that I will be held accountable for writing this, derided as divisive and mean, but the crashes I've had over the past few years lead me to conclude that this cycling for my health is killing me. The stakes here are not access to staff, but reducing the chances of disfiguring and fatal crashes for thousands of cyclists. Will the professional, paid advocates be held accountable, pay any price at all for the swath of ineffectiveness they've cut through bike policy since 2002, or will we continue to fall further behind faster than we could have imagined?

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