Claremont Insider: Affordable Housing Traffic Study Available

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Affordable Housing Traffic Study Available

Those of you interested in the affordable housing issue may want to review the traffic study commissioned by the city of Claremont for the project at the old Claremont Courier site on College Ave.

The report is posted on the City's website, with the following information:

College Avenue Affordable Housing Traffic Study Completed

The City has completed a traffic analysis for the proposed affordable housing project at 111 S. College Avenue. Click on the links below to view the Traffic Study and Appendices.

For further information or questions, please contact the City's Engineering Division at (909) 399-5465.

If you have any experience with these sorts of reports and studies, you know that the science associated with them is highly dubious. For instance, when the City of Claremont ordered its Environmental Impact Report for the soon-to-be-open Padua Ave. Park, the City's EIR consultant employed a biology expert who listed a Ph.D credential in his report that he purchased from the online Universal Life Church (true story!). And it wasn't even a Ph.D in biology. The doctoral title Claremont's consultant listed when he signed his report was a Ph.D in theology. The City Council nonetheless approved the EIR unanimously.

The EIR process counts on an independent review by the agency holding jurisdiction over the project. Usually, when the developer is a private party, the system works. However, when a city is both the proponent and the agency responsible for the EIR review, conflicts inevitably arise because the municipality is acting as both advocate and judge.

Having municipal approval of an EIR also makes it difficult to challenge in court because judges typically prefer to defer to legislative bodies, and this gives local governments a great deal of latitude. Courts seem to be slow to recognize when cities acting as project proponents have conflicts of interest that affect the integrity of the EIR process.

The EIRs and the supporting studies that accompany them sound very rational because they have professionals who are trained to bullet-proof the documents while at the same time pushing the science to the limit (and past) when necessary to get a project approved. For this, the really good consultants are well-compensated - well into the six-figures for the Padua Ave. Park EIR, for instance.

Once the projects are built, when one actually looks at how they affect things like traffic, the reality is usually much different - and much worse - than what the city-hired traffic engineers promised in their studies. Just look at the traffic on Indian Hill Blvd. on any given weekday afternoon, especially when a Metrolink station is passing through. The traffic studies for the Village Expansion promised no significant impacts. Yet, now if you want to make a right turn onto Indian Hill Blvd. from westbound 1st St. after 3pm? Fuggedaboutit!

It's a shame that the City and other municipalities stoop again and again to gaming the system in ways that they would not tolerate from a commercial developer working on a private project. But that is why regional urban planning in Southern California has been such an utter failure. It's exactly what you saw in any episode of the HBO series "The Wire." Everyone involved in the decision-making has their own selfish self-interests in mind, no one wants to deal honestly with the data, and the pseudo-scientific reports are, in the final analysis, nothing more than political tracts designed to move the project along to its preordained outcome.

So, the traffic study for the College Ave. affordable housing project has the inevitable conclusion on its first page: "...there are no significant project impacts, and no mitigation measures are required." Once the project is built, though, we should expect a very different reality, just as in every city-sponsored project. That much is written.