For a little while this week, the City Council appeared poised to spend $5 million to design the Regents Road Bridge linking University City North and South, even though no environmental review has been done for the project. The bridge has been the subject of heated debate between proponents, who want it to help relieve traffic on Genesee Avenue, and opponents, who argue that it's plenty easy to use I-5, I-805 or Genesee. Also, they say the bridge would cause irreparable harm to the natural beauty of Rose Canyon below it.
A nonprofit organization, Friends of Rose Canyon, formed around the cause. The group sued to stop the bridge last year. The lawsuit alleged numerous problems with the environmental study that picked the bridge as the best way to solve traffic problems in the area. The City Council conceded there were problems when it gutted the original study and agreed to consider the alternative of widening Genesee Avenue. It also required a new, project-specific study for the bridge.
Funding the design 'is just moving the project forward,' said Pam Hardy, spokesperson for City Council President Scott Peters, in whose district the bridge would be built.
Jaymie Bradford, a policy advisor to Mayor Jerry Sanders, told CityBeat that the bridge has to be partially designed before an environmental study can be completed. But Bradford also said the $5 million would pay for a complete bridge design, not just a partial one.
'If they were to go ahead with a final design, then how seriously would they take the environmental review that proposes alternatives?' countered Rachel Hooper, an attorney for the anti-bridge group. 'We're very surprised the city would even consider this.'
Hooper said some government agencies, notably Caltrans, have policies that forbid completing designs until studies are finished.
The firm selected to complete the design, Project Design Consultants (PDC), is the same one that did the original, flawed study. City Attorney Mike Aguirre opined in a memo that that PDC should not get the contract because it had undue influence in selecting the bridge option. He also noted that e-mails uncovered by Friends of Rose Canyon suggested that city officials knew PDC would be up for a big contract if the bridge was chosen. Outside attorneys retained by the City Council in January said in a separate memo that PDC would be a legally acceptable vendor.
Hardy told CityBeat that the item had been postponed because these hired lawyers could not attend Tuesday's City Council meeting. The item will be heard at the council's Sept. 4 meeting.