Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dave Snyder: Bike guy

In one of those essentially symbolic battles city progressives love so much, Dave Snyder---who was executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition for 11 years---was chosen by the Board of Supervisors over a labor representative to sit on the Golden Gate Bridge district board. Snyder was touted as "a transportation expert" by his supporters, but he's really just a bike guy. Snyder's previous claim to fame: he was the author of the unsuccessful strategy the city followed when it illegally pushed the 500-page plan to redesign city streets on behalf of the bike people.

In an April, 2004, email message Snyder laid out the deceptive strategy the city adopted to get the Bicycle Plan through the process without environmental review---split the two-volume Bicycle Plan into two pieces, then pretend it's only the Framework Doc., while hiding the Network Doc. over at San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) as nothing but a funding document:

We've deliberately bifurcated the bike planning process into two sections: the "bicycle policy plan" and the "bicycle network plan." The "policy plan" refers to bicycle parking requirements, education and enforcement policies, etc. In terms of changes to the street network, it says, only very generally, "we need to make improvements to the streets that connect every neighborhood to every other neighborhood with safe streets for people on bicycles." However, it makes no specific references to what kinds of changes we will make on which streets, and therefore, by itself, cannot by its nature have an environmental impact and is exempt from CEQA. In CEQA parlance, it's a "plan" not a "project." Nobody will contest this...The "network plan" on the other hand, could have an environmental impact. At some time this year, a complete network plan will be developed that contemplates hundreds of new bicycle lanes and paths throughout the city...It is this document, the "bicycle network plan," which is subject to CEQA review...However, as each of its pieces goes for approval, the Planning Department's MEA[Major Environmenal Analysis] office can review those changes on their own and in the context of the whole plan. The first set of projects you'll get will have little or no traffic impact and therefore could either be categorically exempt from environmental review or clearly subject to a neg. dec. (Administrative Record, Volume 5, pages 941-942)

And so it came to pass that Snyder's deceptive strategy was adopted by the city. Unfortunately for the bike people and their enablers in City Hall, we challenged the city in court, and the court agreed that this approach was clearly illegal. It's called "piece-mealing" in CEQA parlance when a developer or project sponsor divides a project into pieces just to avoid complying with the law that requires environmental review of a whole project. 

The biggest problem with Snyder's failed strategy was that every single previous city document described the Bicycle Plan as consisting of two volumes, the Framework Document and the Network Document.

Back in 2006, in one of the earliest hearings in the Bicycle Plan litigation, Judge Warren asked the Deputy City Attorney, "How do you get around that?" It was a pleasure to watch her squirm and blather for several minutes as she tried---and failed---to provide a sensible answer. Even though it was obvious from then on that insisting that the Plan was only the one volume was untenable, the city clung to that falsehood in all its filings to the bitter end, when Judge Busch, like Judge Warren, brushed it aside in his decision ordering the city to do an environmental review of both volumes of the Bicycle Plan.

City progs have now transformed a seat that traditionally went to labor into one that goes to the bike people, a pyrrhic victory that might have some interesting political consequences down the road, so to speak.

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