Letter from ECOS to Caltrans re HOV lane settlement

April 30, 2018

Amarjeet Benipal, District Director
California Department of Transportation, District 3
703 B Street, Marysville, CA 95901

Re: Support for reprogramming funds from the Sacramento-Folsom Limited Stop Service and Hazel Frequency Enhancement Project settlement

Dear Director Benipal:

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) supports Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (SacRT) proposal for late night service on their light rail Gold Line to Folsom.

On November 16, 2009, following settlement of a lawsuit between Caltrans and the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS), SacRT and Caltrans entered into an agreement to provide funding for the Sacramento-Folsom Limited Stop Service to operate 15-minute frequency service between Hazel and Sunrise light rail stations after completion of the double-tracking project.

Due to financial limitations, SacRT has yet to complete enhancements that would allow for 15-minute service and no construction is imminent. The last train to Folsom departs downtown Sacramento at 6:18 p.m. Because of this limited evening service, many residents along the Highway 50 corridor do not use light rail service for fear of being stranded after work without a transit option. Later service would benefit residents of the eastern part of the county, while reducing congestion and airborne pollutants.

Therefore, ECOS supports reprogramming the 2009 settlement funds to allow SacRT to provide late night service. We ask Caltrans and SacRT to sign the concurrence letter that would allow for this money to be used for that purpose.

Sincerely,

Ralph Propper, President
Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS)

Highway 50 drivers, your daily commute is in for a big change. Light rail users, you too

By Tony Bizjak

April 30, 2018

The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento Regional Transit, for its part, will upgrade its light rail service along that corridor in several ways.

Beginning in June, SacRT will expand night-time service to Folsom until midnight. Currently, Folsom service stops at about 7 p.m. making the rail system unusable for late-hour workers and people going to the downtown arena or other evening events.The agency plans to follow that by adding 15-minute service to and from Folsom instead of the current 30-minute arrivals.

The most notable transit change, though, will be the introduction as early as 2020 of limited-stop express trains during morning and afternoon commute hours on the Gold Line, potentially cutting 10 or more minutes off the trip between Folsom and downtown.

That service is not likely to begin until 2020 or 2021, SacRT officials said.

The plan came together last week when local environmentalists and Caltrans resolved a years-long dispute over the state’s efforts to expand Highway 50, an environmental representative said on Friday.

Initially, the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and the city of Sacramento opposed adding carpool lanes on Highway 50 in downtown, contending it was a narrow, car-focused and ultimately unsatisfactory solution to east county congestion.

The Sacramento City Council in 2002 voted nearly unanimously against funding to even study the idea. Several council members at the time said HOV lanes – which become regular all-user lanes during non-commute hours – would just encourage more suburban sprawl and more traffic.

More recently, city officials have looked more favorably on the plan, and have cooperated with Caltrans to use some related project money to make improvements to city streets near Highway 50 in the downtown area.

That includes money to turn 14 blocks of Broadway, near the Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters, into a more pedestrian and bicycle friendly street, and build a new block-long street just east of 28th Street between X Street and Broadway, allowing drivers to use X Street instead of Broadway to access the Highway 99 southbound on-ramp..

For its part, ECOS twice sued Caltrans to stop Highway 50 carpool lane plans. The most recent of those lawsuits became the fulcrum for last week’s negotiated deal.

Click here to read the full article.

Hearing on Elk Grove’s Latest Attempt to Sprawl – February 7, 2018

January 16, 2017

Below, two updates from our partners at the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter, a member organization of ECOS, from their recent newsletter.


Chapter Chair’s Column

By Andy Sawyer

Fighting urban sprawl has long been a priority for the Sierra Club Mother Lode Chapter. Sprawl consumes important wildlife habitat and agricultural land. It increases costs of providing urban services. It undermines efforts to provide the compact, transit- and pedestrian-oriented development needed to serve a population that is becoming increasingly transit dependent. The Chapter has been particularly concerned about effects on air quality. Low density urban sprawl increases automobile dependency, requiring driving for commutes and errands that could otherwise rely on walking, bicycling or transit, and the driving distances are greater, resulting in increased vehicle miles traveled and automobile emissions.

Climate change heightens the urgency of stopping sprawl. The transportation sector accounts for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. Reducing automobile use is essential to reducing those emissions. In 2008, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 375, providing for the preparation of sustainable communities with plans designed to reduce greenhouse gasses, and providing incentives for development consistent with those plans. A package of bills enacted in 2017 provides incentives for housing in existing urbanized areas. These incentives will not have much effect, however, so long as our local governments make cheap land available for urban sprawl by rezoning agricultural and open space lands, and state and local governments continue to build highway projects designed to open up new areas to development.

A key element of our efforts to combat urban sprawl is involvement in Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) decisions. Changes in the boundaries and spheres of influence of cities and special districts, which require approval by county LAFCOs, determine which areas are planned for urban development. By statute, the purposes of the LAFCOs include “discouraging urban sprawl” and “preserving open-space and prime agricultural lands.” Too often, however, county LAFCOs ignore this direction, rubber stamping local applications for sprawl and leapfrog development. Four years ago we won an important victory when the Sacramento County LAFCO turned down the City of Elk Grove’s application to sprawl into important agricultural land and habitat in the Delta. But now Elk Grove is back, hoping that changes in LAFCO membership will yield a different result. The Sierra Club has commented extensively on the proposal, and is gearing up for the February 7 hearing on the project, where we will need a large turnout. Mother Lode Chapter Conservation Chair Sean Wirth provides additional information on this below.

We are also working to shift transportation funding from highway expansion to transit. The Mother Lode Chapter is supporting litigation challenging Caltrans’ failure to consider and provide mitigation for the increase in vehicle miles travelled when it approved additional lanes on Highway 50, and is preparing comments on the proposed expansion of Highway 65. We are also working on proposed local transportation sales taxes, seeking to eliminate funds for sprawl supporting highway expansions and increase funding for transit.

Sprawl hurts us all. Fighting sprawl is critical to our success in protecting our environment, both regionally and globally.


Elk Grove and the ecological health of the north Delta

By Sean Wirth

As Elk Grove aggressively continues to try and realize its growth ambitions to the south of its existing city’s footprint, it is important to take stock of what is at stake for the ecology of the north Delta. Elk Grove has made it clear that it wants to grow right down to the edge of the 100 year floodplain, and then mitigate for the destruction of habitat of listed species, such as the Swainson’s Hawk, that resulted from that development by conserving habitat within the floodplain. The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the loss of upland habitat south of Elk Grove because the Consumnes River floodplain is an active floodplain that is inundated cyclically every seven to ten years, like it did dramatically last winter season.

The land conservation for the majority of north Delta species, especially the Greater Sandhill Crane, has been done within floodplains. When the cyclical flooding of the Consumnes River occurs, many of these species need to seek higher ground for their survival. For the Greater Sandhill Crane, it needs nearby upland areas for foraging and feeding when those floods occur. Though the Greater Sandhill Crane roosts in shallow wetlands at night, and though it will also forage in freshly flooded fields, the vast majority of the calories that this bird relies upon in our region comes from the grains that escaped agricultural harvest, such as corn, rice and wheat.

Sandhill Cranes are unusually loyal to their specific wintering geography and rarely travel more than two miles from their selected roost sites. When the cyclical flooding occurs, these birds look for the closest upland forage opportunities to their roost sites. All of the unincorporated lands south of Elk Grove serve this important purpose and the prospect of all of those lands being developed down to the floodplain would be catastrophic to the Crane and many other species that rely on un-flooded terrestrial habitat for their survival.

What complicates this problem even further is that the most conservative modeling for the impacts of global sea level rise in the north Delta indicate that basically all of the current lands set aside for the Greater Sandhill Cranes, and hundreds of other terrestrial species, are going to be threatened with permanent inundation as the symptoms of climate change accrue. This reality elevates the importance of the lands south of Elk Grove as a critical pathway to get our North Delta species over to the higher ground in the east. And clearly, this pathway is not going to be effective if it is paved over for low density sprawl neighborhoods and their associated malls.

Voicing these concerns is going to be an important part of convincing LAFCO that allowing Elk Grove to pave over this critically important geography is not in the interest of our region. Please join us on February 7th to demonstrate your concern at the hearing. The hearing starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be held at the Board of Supervisor’s chamber at 700 H Street in downtown Sacramento.

2017 ECOS Accomplishments

We want to take a moment to highlight some the Environmental Council of Sacramento’s (ECOS) accomplishments this year and inform you about current activities and challenges moving into the New Year. We know these are challenging times but we hope you can find some encouragement in how our local advocacy makes a difference throughout the Sacramento Region.

For the countless number of Californians affected the horrendous wildfires or threatened by too little or too much water, this year has not been a happy one. ECOS usually focuses on guarding against environmental assaults unique to Sacramento County, but climate change is increasingly impacting everyone, whether local residents or not. Over the past year, ECOS has been increasingly proactive in building our relationships with, and holding accountable, our local elected officials, while educating them about environmental problems and effective solutions.

2017 began with ECOS’s participation and advocacy in support of a package of ethics reform ordinances that the City Council adopted on March 21. The reforms include the creation of an independent Ethics Commission, adoption of an Ethics Code and Sunshine Ordinance to increase the accountability of elected and appointed City officials.

In response to the national debate on the role of science in federal actions, ECOS joined a coalition to organize the April 22 Sacramento March for Science that had over 15,000 participants advocating for the value of the scientific method and the need to act upon the science of climate change to accelerate the pace of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

On the implementation side, ECOS advanced our climate protection commitment by:

  • Successfully advocating as part of a local government, business, and nonprofit coalition for the award of $44 million from the Volkswagen settlement agreement to the City of Sacramento for the construction of electric vehicle charging stations and acquisition of EV fleets to be stationed in disadvantaged neighborhoods and managed by local nonprofits in car sharing programs;
  • Participated in the planning and production, led by 350 Sacramento, of the “Leading the Way to Carbon Zero Community Forum” on May 13; and
  • Tracked and provided testimony on the development and updating of climate action plans by the County of Sacramento and local cities.

With the economy continuing to improve, land use projects of increasing size and adverse environmental impact were proposed within the county in 2017. Some are new – such as the Natomas North Precinct community proposal (5,700 acres, 55,000 proposed new residents) – and some are novel configurations of previously defeated proposals, such as the latest Elk Grove Sphere of Influence application. With the increasing need to accommodate new residents in ways that will limit increases in greenhouse gas emissions, these business-as-usual land use designs undercut the gains made by a growing number of residents who are investing in climate change solutions through the retrofitting of residences with solar panels and the replacement of fossil fueled vehicles with electric cars.

In addition to highlighting the adverse environmental impacts of these proposals, ECOS is working hard to protect high value lands before they become targets for development. We have played a major role in pushing adoption of the South Sacramento County Habitat Conservation Plan to the finish line after more than a decade in development. Furthermore, in conjunction with our member partners, we protected the Greenbriar settlement agreement through tough negotiations to ensure that the integrity of the Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan was preserved.

Via our settlement agreement that protects against leap-frog development along the proposed Elk Grove – Folsom Connector, we acquired funding for the mapping of important habitat and open space lands in Sacramento County. To further this effort, we have partnered with UC Davis through a U.S. EPA grant in the development of a habitat inventory and health benefit assessment project. When the regional natural resources data inventory and modeling project is complete, and as funds become available, it will facilitate the identification of critically important lands to protect through future acquisition or conservation easements.

In the transportation arena, ECOS is similarly working proactively to increase mobility while reducing environmental impacts. When Caltrans failed to correct deficiencies in its review of impacts from the construction and operation of additional lanes on Highway 50 between I-5 and Watt Avenue (despite our repeated comments), we challenged the project’s environmental impact report in court.

The above matters represent only a portion of our 2017 activities. We remain engaged on many fronts including issues such as future transportation funding options, Phase 2 hearings on the California WaterFix, and engagement on local implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and many more.

Our annual events like Sacramento Earth Day, Environmentalist of the Year and the Wild and Scenic Film Festival represent the core of our annual funding but we need your help to bridge the final budget gap. Although dedicated volunteers complete much of our work, we are significantly enhanced by the logistical support provided by two part-time paid staff. Our work is made possible by your generous commitment to our region and a desire to make it a healthier and more sustainable.

Help Us Defeat Plans to Widen US-50!

Do You Want More Traffic, Noise, and Pollution in Your Neighborhood?

Local Sacramento residents are taking action on a serious threat to our neighborhoods – CalTrans intends to WIDEN Sacramento’s US-50 through Downtown Sacramento from I-5 to Watt Boulevard. We must act now! Our quality of life and our climate are at stake.

WHY NOT WIDEN THE HIGHWAY?
As concerned citizens, we want Sacramento to be a Green City and a Livable City.
Widening highways makes us just another dirty city because it:
1. Increases noise and air pollution (including greenhouse gases)
2. Induces demand (encourages people to drive more who wouldn’t otherwise). Expanding our freeways won’t decrease congestion.
3. Other local needs should take financial priority.

WHAT ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING?
Bigger freeways and more cars increase our emissions, making it impossible to do our part to halt global warming. Fact: we cannot meet our regional goals for GHG reductions unless we develop real alternatives to driving.

ISN’T THIS A CARPOOL LANE?
CalTrans is disingenuously calling this project “green” under the guise of a carpool lane. Carpool lanes have been shown to not significantly increase the number of people who carpool or the throughput of people. We support turning an existing lane into a carpool lane, or even turning this proposed lane into a transit only lane.

WE’RE CHALLENGING CALTRANS
With this lawsuit we are demanding that CalTrans acknowledge and compensate for the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and traffic impacts that will result from more cars and more car trips on a wider freeway. We want to stop these projects in our area and have the money spent on transportation that keeps our streets livable and unclogged, gives us transit that gets us where we need to go, and helps reverse climate change.

WE NEED MONEY TO WIN
We must raise $11,000 to take this stand to cover our legal fees. You can take the stand with us by contributing online on our “gofundme” page, or by donating to ECOS directly via our website (www.ecosacramento.net) by clicking the donate button. (Just be sure to mark your donation for “Highway 50 litigation” – donations are tax deductible.)

WITH YOUR HELP – WE CAN WIN!

Click here to read more about the project on the Caltrans website

Click here to read our July 2017 press release.

Click here to read the article published by the Sacramento Bee about this lawsuit.