I recently attended a meeting organized by citizens and the Sierra Club regarding proposed expansions to the 5 freeway. I am embarrassed to say that, before this meeting, I was largely unaware of this project. It was no secret. This publication has run a few stories. The city councils have been mulling it over for a while now. And, of course, citizens groups have already organized an opposition! Yet, even though I live less than a mile west of the freeway in Oceanside, I had no idea about the monstronsity Caltrans is planning.
A recent transplant from the East Coast, I like to joke that the state of California finds itself in such a mess because the weather and the views are so lovely that people just don’t care about politics. I’m beginning to see that there is some truth to that, and I fell into the trap. I volunteer, but it occurs to me now that I only get involved with feel-good projects. Like so many people, I’m turned off by the tenor of local politics and exhausted by what seems to be a wildly inefficient process. Like so many other people, I’ve been leaving the work, the oversight and the standing up to someone else.
Well, not any longer. After listening to the presentation and doing some thinking and research of my own, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
First, the Sierra Club, like Caltrans, has a bias. It also seems clear that some of the citizens organizing the meeting are something shy of moderate. I strongly support conservationist causes, too. All fine, but this is not merely an environmental issue; it is a community issue. One need not be an environmentalist to acknowledge the aesthetic value of the coastal and lagoon views. Obscuring those assets with concrete sound walls is a bad idea. One need not be an environmentalist to be concerned about construction over the lagoons, especially given the 40-year completion horizon. And, one need not be an environmentalist to realize that a freeway the size of the 15 will bring noise and traffic that will forever transform the beach cities.
Second, everything I read and my own intuition suggests that more lanes only encourage more people to drive. And, once the congestion returns (if you’re not convinced that it returns, take a trip up to L.A.), we have the same traffic and the same poor public transit system — with no money for improvements. A $4.1 billion freeway project surely saps resources and removes the immediate incentive to develop transit and/or explore innovative alternatives to congestion problems, like getting freight off the freeway or re-routing trucks during rush hour. Right now, we have a fantastic train that is almost entirely useless, and prohibitively expensive, for commuting. Perhaps, we could use a fraction of these dollars to work on that?
Finally, we cannot rely on our elected officials to handle this for us. Since the meeting took place in Carlsbad, two Carlsbad mayoral candidates, both of whom presently serve as
councilmen, attended. Keith Blackburn said he had yet to take a position on the expansion. There is a lot of information, he said, and he just hadn’t made up his mind. Initially, Matt Hall was similarly noncommittal. But, as he explained that this was very complicated, that council had been reviewing this for years, I leapt to my feet with the obvious follow-up. “How, then, can you have no position?” Ultimately, he said he supported some expansion, though not the whole enchilada. I wondered if he held back because the election was so close or because he sensed that it was a tough room.
I’m sure these are good men. But their job is to juggle interests, and the citizens’ are just one among many. The bottom line is that we cannot assume that our representatives know what we want or share our views. We have to tell them, demand action and go around them when necessary.
Join your neighbors Citizens Against Freeway Expansion on Facebook and I-5 Plague website at www.i-5plague.com/. Both have instructions to submit comments/questions. The deadline in Nov. 22.
Mindy Martin is an Oceanside resident.