In a letter dated August 2nd, Daniel Woldesenbet, Alameda County’s Director of Public Works, refuted claims made by the City of Alameda about the negative affects of the County’s proposal to reduce staffing on the bridges between Alameda and Oakland.
It began last summer, with a proposal from Alameda County to leave the bridges in the “up” position in the evenings. According to Ruben Briones, Deputy Chief of Staff for Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, “On June 29, 2009 the Supervisor met with [Alameda] Mayor Beverly Johnson and Alameda Public Works Director Matt Naclerio to discuss the potential of having the bridges closed (in the up position) due to the State proposal to grab local funds used to operate the bridges. There was agreement that rather than close the bridges the County should pursue reducing staffing hours.”
A few days later, according to Mr. Briones, Mr.Woldesenbet sent a letter dated July 2, 2009 (reproduced below) to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has authority over the operation of the bridges, asking that the County be permitted to make a “permanent modification” in the operating hours for the Park Street, Fruitvale Avenue, High Street, and Fruitvale railway bridges. The proposal would leave the bridges “down” in the evenings, but would place bridge tenders on call; boaters wanting to go under the bridges in off-hours would have to plan for it 4 hours in advance.
On April 1st of this year, Supervisor Lai-Bitker’s office held a meeting at the Aeolian Yacht Club in Alameda to discuss the proposals. On August 1st, in an article about the current proposal, an article published by Action Alameda News erroneously implied that the current proposal would negatively impact ground-based medical emergency response to some Alameda residents; the concerns expressed by the City, and some residents, is about water-based access by public safety agencies, such as the Coast Guard, and local fire and police agencies, to shoreline fires or other emergency events.
In Woldesenbet’s August 2nd, 2010, letter, he writes, “Even if there was some merit to the City’s legal theories, they are based on false allegations. The City of Oakland does not currently operate a fire boat, though it owns a deactivated fire boat. While the City of Alameda does operate a fire boat, it can pass under the bridge without incident. The same is true of most of the first responder vessels operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Further, Woldesenbet asserts that the City of Alameda Police and Fire Departments were invited to the April 1st, 2010 meeting at the yacht club, and representative from only the police department, and not the fire department, attended. Briones told Action Alameda News that the Oakland Fire Department requested 24-hour telephone access to the bridge operator for the Fruitvale bridge, which would continue to be staffed 24 hours per day. Briones says that number would be available to the Alameda agencies as well, but he didn’t say how long it might take to get the bridges open in response to an emergency call.
Tom Charron, an Alameda resident living along the estuary, expressed concern to Action Alameda News that nine months passed between the County’s July 2, 2009 letter, and Supervisor Lai-Bitker’s April 1, 2010 meeting at the Aeolian. According to Briones, “The Coast Guard did post draft regulations on November 2009 and it was the Bay Planning Coalition that saw the draft regulations and asked for a meeting with the Supervisor. That same month the meeting was held and an additional meeting was scheduled in February 2010 with boaters and waterfront businesses. It was at this meeting that the Supervisor proposed that our office would have a community meeting and that we would work with the boating community to put it together. The Coast Guard was aware of the meeting and provided a list of everyone who responded to the draft regulations posting. All of them were informed of the April 1 meeting. All of these meetings and additional ones after April 1 were not all general public meetings but all served the purpose of having a clear and transparent process in getting the proposed regulations in the Federal Register on May 2010.”
In an attempt to alleviate the public’s concerns, Supervisor Lai-Bitker distributed a letter to the local media, which is also reproduced below. The City of Alameda has written to the Coast Guard that the sole purpose of reducing staffing the bridges is to reduce costs, in conflict with Coast Guard policy governing changes to operation of the bridges. Woldesenbet asserts that it’s the other way around, that the County is responding to a reduction in bridge openings over past years, and that their proposal to reduce staffing corresponds to actual frequency of use.; Lai-Bitker writes that the decrease in vessel traffic “support[s] modifying the current hours of operation.”