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Measure B: "Traffic" initiative, Los Robles ER Closure

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Up Front Note From the Editor:

For those of you new to Westlake Revelations, our goal is simply to present facts so you can make up your own mind. Usually, we can see an argument on both sides of an issue. But, sometimes after intensive investigation (research that few of us have time to do), there is no doubt in our mind as to what the conclusion should be. Obviously, we can only form our thoughts after digesting the considerable education we've gotten on a topic, and drawing conclusions from it. As a result, you should consider this post as an "editorial", unlike most Westlake Revelations articles.

Whether you are a resident of Thousand Oaks, or any area of the Conejo, the upcoming Thousand Oaks' vote (June 3rd) on Measure B will likely affect you. Here's our top line conclusions on Measure B:

* The consequences of Measure B are severe. For example, the hospital will likely need to close the ER for something like a year, and the area will have nearly $1 billion in annual economic losses.

* It's just not workable. Citizens do not have the time to research each development that comes up for vote properly -- no one has time to read 150-600 pages of documentation on *each* vote. Without reading that material, you would not be making an educated decision. And making a gut, emotional decision will likely do substantive damage to the community over time. Think of it this way, would you read something 25-100 *times* the length of this article before voting on each project?

* Traffic is likely to get worse, not better if Measure B comes into existence. This is completely contrary to the stated goal of Measure B.

* Finally, in regards to the research we've done on this issue, we're convinced the consequences, impartial analysis, and the rest of the details from the city and other sources are realistic.

We were unable to find any argument from DoIt Center nor their representatives that could answer, refute or be worth, the effects of Measure B.

Synopsis

The initiative identifies larger developments with traffic impacts (as many large developments have). In these cases, after the planning process, land use committee, and the city council has approved them, voters would ultimately approving or turn down the project. What voters will need to decide is if Direct Democracy is a good thing, and if having voter veto control on every qualifying project is worth the effects Measure B will cause.

Measure B is the DoIt Center backed initiative for the City of Thousand Oaks that is formally called the "Right to Vote on Traffic Congestion". The "for" side will tell you this initiative puts decisions about many big developments into the hands of the voters. The "against" side has enumerated a variety of other likely consequences ... including the closing the Los Robles Emergency Room, nearly $1 billion of economic losses to the area annually, and reduced government services. The thought of these economic losses comes at the same time as the City, along with Conejo Schools (CVUSD) and the Conejo Recreation and Park District, look to query residents on what type of new taxes citizens are willing to weather a tough fiscal period.

Even more significant is that Measure B significantly changes how government works. Currently working as a representative government, Measure B takes Thousand Oaks towards a Direct Democracy.

Disclaimer: Westlake Revelations is all about presenting both sides of an argument factually. In the case of this article, the "Yes on Measure B" campaign not only could not answer questions asked in person, but the consultants behind the campaign wouldn't return any of many phone messages, so we had to rely on their web site only. (Ed note: It's a huge red flag to us when someone won't return calls or answers questions.) On the flip side, the City of Thousand Oaks staff, Los Robles Hospital, and the "No on Measure B" campaign were very responsive to inquiries, and answered all questions posed, even under scrutiny.

Measure B puts the responsibility of being educated not only on the city and representatives. Larger projects have 150-600 pages of materials to review. As a comparison, this Westlake Revelations article is approximately 6 pages (or less than 4% of those material you would review at the smaller end of the spectrum). So, to make an educated decision, voters should expect to review 25-100 times as much material as is in this article for each development brought to the voters under Measure B.

Furthermore, the City's impartial analysis looks at the impact Measure B has on traffic. In short, in the trade off between a number of smaller developments spread over a larger area, vs. a single larger development, traffic would be less with the larger development. Presuming that voters turned down larger developments, Measure B stands a good chance of increasing traffic instead of reducing it.

Using a combination of accepted ratios, real life surveys, etc., the proposed Home Depot should generate 23% less traffic than the Kmart shopping center did before. Weekend truck deliveries are just a handful, and weekend truck deliveries are in the mid-teens per weekday. Using the existing measurements from the city and the county, the intersections where Hampshire crosses the freeway and Thousand Oaks Blvd. will continue to be at C level of service or better, even after Home Depot comes in.

DoIt Center has put approximately $400-500,000 into this initiative to date, with that amount continuing to grow -- but they are not taking outside donations. Home Depot, probably the first project that would be affected by the initiative, has also put up approximately $400-500,000 to fight it, but unlike DoIt Center, there are other contributors. These two businesses have done battle in the past (e.g., the Agoura initiative limiting large retail, and DoIt also backed the No on Z campaign in Westlake Village to keep out Lowe's).

The following is greater detail of all of these issues. If you are interested in having residents vote directly on each project, it would be a good exercise to not only review this article, but all the materials available from the City of Thousand Oaks, and both the for/against web sites to make an educated decision.

Full Article

Measure B Description

There's a bit of detail to handle different types of projects, but in essence, Measure B says that for projects that both exceed 75-100,000 sq. ft. and that have a traffic impact as defined by the measure, voters will have to approve.

Right now, the traffic impact is determined by a standard used across the Conejo and Ventura County (called Intersection Capacity Utilization or ICU). The measure would use the existing method, plus an additional method (called Highway Capacity Manual or HCM). If the level of service drops below a "C" for either of these measurements, it would need voter approval. According to the Impartial Analysis pointed to by Measure B supporters, HCM often rates an traffic conditions at a worse Level of Service than ICU.

It is important to note that the Measure would look at traffic PRIOR to any mitigation. In other words, a developer could spend a huge amount of money to upgrade roads and interchanges as part of a submitted development proposal, but those efforts would not be included in the evaluation of traffic.

Supporters of the measure indicate that 12 of the intersections in the area are already lower than a Level C, despite the City's general plan saying there should be no intersection worse than a C rating. In the words of the Yes on B campaign, "Simply put, Measure B will give Thousand Oaks residents the final say on how much traffic is enough by requiring any project that will make traffic significantly worse face a vote of the people."

There's a reasonable chance that Measure B would prevent Home Depot from building near the Thousand Oaks DoIt Center. In fact, any business could launch a campaign against any competing larger development if this initiative passes.

Los Robles Hospital ER Likely to Close

The short version is that according to Los Robles CEO and VP of Marketing, if Measure B passes, the Emergency Room, Operating Room, and a number of departments will likely need to close for about a year, maybe longer.

This is a bit complex, but here's the explanation.

California State Senate Bill 1953 (the "Seismic Retrofit Bill") was put into effect after the Northridge quake. The bill requires all hospitals to be brought up to tougher seismic standards. As a result, some hospitals are closing, others are being retrofit, and some are being completely rebuilt.

All hospitals in California were supposed to be complete this upgrades by January 1, 2008, but hospitals could ask for up to 5 years extension. Los Robles has asked for, and received, the extension until January 1, 2013.

There are a few buildings of interest at Los Robles. The new wing, which meets the standards, is completed. The ER also meets the standards. The old building, which houses the operating room and several departments does not meet the standards.

Initially, HCA (owner of Los Robles) believed that they could retrofit the old building. But, at the end of 2007, experts reviewing the building realized that it wouldn't be practical since beams would have to be added to the middle of the building making several larger rooms unusable.

HCA was going to spend $300 million for the retrofit, so they quickly realized that it would be better to spend that money on a new building.

The first step is new plans for this building. These plans are in process now, but Los Robles has not even done a pre-application to the city (and can't until the initial plans are done). The earliest initial submission may be June, but it could be any time in the second half of 2008.

The most optimistic scenario is for the City of Thousand Oaks planning commission to have completed the review, and meet with Los Robles by Dec, 2008. If the plans meet approval without further change, there's a 30 day waiting period. If there's a single "objection" by a resident, then it has to go to a city council vote.

Best case scenario, assuming the city "fast tracks" the project, the project can go to the State of California for approval in April 2009. State approval from OSHPD (Office of State Health Planning and Development) takes 18-24 months. So, somewhere in the Jan-Apr, 2011 is when construction begins.

Los Robles officials say that construction typically should take about 3 years for a project like this. Their most optimistic scenario is 2 years, weather permitting. This would target completion for just in time of the deadline of January 1, 2013.

Los Robles has already asked, and the state has already made it clear to Los Robles that the Jan 2013 deadline is "set in stone", and that they won't extend it. Los Robles officials are hopeful that they can trim planning, approval and construction time down in conjunction with a possible 30 day extension to make the deadline.

That's all without anything related to Measure B.

If Measure B passes, the state approval (OSHPD) could not begin until voters approve the measure. Most estimates are 9+ months to put it on a ballot and get voter approval ... should the voters approve it. Best case is possibly 6 months, but it could also be 12 months.

The old building houses these services: Oncology, DOU, Neo-natal, Maternity, Gynecology, and the Operating Room. By law, an Emergency Room can only be open with an operating room and other hospital services behind it. If there's no operating room, the E.R. must close until those services are available.

Los Robles has considered moving some of these services to the new wing, but since that would require similar time lines for planning, city approval, and state approval, there would be no benefit.

In the end, if Measure B passes, the Emergency Room, Operating Room, and multiple departments would likely have to close for a minimum of 6 months and more likely a year or longer. Patients would have to be re-routed to either Simi Valley or West Hills.

Should voters not approve the Los Robles plans ... under a vote mandated by Measure B ... the ER, etc... could be closed indefinitely.

Fiscal and Other Impacts

The City of Thousand Oaks hired an outside company to analyze the impact of Measure B, if it passes, on the city, and create an unbiased report.

This report found that the passing of Measure B will "likely have significant impacts on City's land use, infrastructure, public safety services, schools, transportation programs, redevelopment efforts, affordable housing projects/efforts, recreation, senior, youth and cultural/arts programs, General Fund reserves, and the local economy, as well as other local agencies and special districts. Such impacts will be directly and/or indirectly experienced by local residents, local businesses, and other users of municipal services."

The financial impacts for the worse-case scenario include losses of City revenues of $2.6 million per year. In addition, the city would also have a loss in one-time development impact fees. Other local governments (Ventura County, CRPD, CVUSD, Fire District, etc...) will also lose significant recurring revenues including nearly $6 million in annual property taxes.

Economic losses are projected to be much larger. $230 million in one-time construction related expenditures, and recurring impacts of $940 million annually.

The analysis goes on to say that these loses will impact the City's ability to maintain current service levels. This could include all City departments, other local government services, and the City's ability to provide one-time grants and support local culture and leisure activities including such as the library, the arts, theatres, senior and teen programs, parks, schools and open space.

Those supporting Measure B stated in their presentation that they believed this analysis to be biased, but provided no evidence to support that assertion.

Traffic Impacts

The stated goal of Measure B is to give the people the right to vote on projects large enough to impact traffic. The impartial analysis states "While it is true that new development of all types and scales will contribute to trip generation and potentially affect LOS, there also are other factors that influence traffic."

Measure B's basis to maintaining better LOS is "through limiting large-scale retail and commercial development, based on the assumption that larger projects generate a higher level of trips than smaller projects; however, eliminating development of large scale projects does not necessarily reduce trips."

To simplify, if you build a number of smaller projects over a larger area -- it will generate more traffic than building one large project.

In addition, if Measure B passes, it's likely there will be more mid-size developments designed below the thresholds that would require a vote. Typically, these are developments with smaller developers with less capital. Many times, this type of developer does not have the resources necessary for traffic mitigation that a larger developer on a larger project would.

Furthermore, since many believe this is a battle between DoIt Center and a proposed Home Depot on Hampshire road, it's relevant to talk about traffic here. The City of Thousand Oaks took numbers from Home Depot and spot checked them in real life samples at the Newbury Park and Simi Valley Home Depots. Using those spot checks, combined with accepted ratios, and frankly, larger numbers from Home Depot corporate offices, the proposed Home Depot should generate 23% less traffic than the Kmart shopping center did before.

Furthermore, Weekend truck deliveries are just a handful, and weekend truck deliveries are in the mid-teens per weekday.

Using the existing measurements from the city and the county, the intersections where Hampshire crosses the freeway and Thousand Oaks Blvd. will continue to be at C level of service or better, even after Home Depot comes in. In fact, the intersection at the freeway is likely to be a B rating or better. Later on, after the Discovery Center is built, and other cumulative measures, the City says a simple re-striping of turn lanes at Thousand Oaks and Hampshire is all that will be needed to keep traffic at a level C or better.

Direct Democracy

Government in in the United States -- from the Federal down to the local level -- is based on ideas of a representative government. In other words, citizens vote for representatives, and those representatives make decisions on behalf of the residents.

There have been a number of arguments for and against Direct Democracy -- in other words, citizens voting on each measure.

Those for Direct Democracy might tell you that a representative democracy is flawed with:

* elected officials may not be representative of their constituents
* conflict of interest
* corruption
* political parties are a necessary evil
* government transition causes disruption
* cost of representative elections
* patronage and nepotism
* lack of transparency
* insufficient sample sizes
* lack of accountability

Those against Direct Democracy might tell you that Direct Democracy:

* doesn't scale well beyond small amounts of voters
* is not practical nor efficient
* the public pays only superficial attention to issues
* public is susceptible to charismatic arguments
* issues are generally too complex for sound bites
* voters are apathetic and not interested enough to research
* voters vote based on self-interest, not society as a whole
* results may be suboptimal, and dependent on how things are "bundled"
* voters commonly manipulated by timing and framing of an argument

There have been many times in world history where societies believed in Direct Democracies. The Romans used plebiscites throughout. The Germans used it as a tool after World War I.

Direct Democracy was very much opposed by the framers of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Among other problems, they saw a danger in majorities forcing their will on minorities. We did not see any references to prominent framers that, in the end, supported Direct Democracy.

Alexander Hamilton said, "That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity...".

President Theodore Roosevelt, in his "Charter of Democracy" speech to the 1912 Ohio constitutional convention, stated "I believe in the Initiative and Referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative."

Researching Projects to Make Informed Decisions

One of the key reasons that founding fathers decided that citizens would elect representatives is because most people do not have the time to research topics thoroughly, and a representative is charged with that responsibility.

We inquired with Thousand Oaks City Staff about how much time officials spent on a couple of different types of larger projects using historical examples. These two example represent the upper and lower ends of the spectrum for the amount of information to be reviewed.

It is very important to understand that neither of these projects needed to be reviewed by the City Council itself. Under current law, development projects are reviewed by the Planning Commission, a body of residents appointed by the City Council to conduct hearings on development projects and render decisions. Any decision of the Planning Commission can be appealed to the City Council for hearing and decision, but neither of these two projects was appealed.

Example 1:
Major Modifications (SUP 2594): Los Robles Hospital recently completed expansion, about 200,000 sq. ft. approved in 2002.

Staff report and attachments - 179 pages
Environmental Document - Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) - 219 pages
Revised Traffic and Parking Study - 149 pages
Tree Inventory - 9 pages
Blueprint-size exhibits - 44 pages
TOTAL Pages to review = 600

Planning Commissioner would likely spend from 12 to 20 hours on the Los Robles Hospital case, including reading the material, correlating the staff report to the plans, site visit, preparing questions for the hearing, etc.

Example 2:
Cornerstone office building (SUP 2007-70248) - 177,000 square feet approved in 2007

Staff report and attachments - 58 pages
Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) - 80 pages
Blueprint size exhibits - 17 pages
TOTAL Pages to review = 155

This is a case at the lower end of the spectrum and it is estimated it would take approximately 3-6 hours to review.

Nazi Germany References

Jim Aidukas of JTA & Associations, who has been hired by DoIt Center to promote Measure B, recently presented the case supporting Measure B at the "Joint Board" meeting in Westlake Village.

As part of that presentation, Mr. Aidukas quoted Joseph Goebbels saying "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

The insinuation in the presentation is that government lies, including the Thousand Oaks City Council. But, there was no evidence presented of this -- only the insinuation.

Interestingly enough, if you don't know this part of history well, Joseph Goebbels was the #3 man in the Nazi regime, and was greatly responsible for the marketing and PR messages that put and kept the Nazis in power.

In looking at history, Goebbels expertly used the idea of "Direct Democracy" ... where people voted directly on issues to his advantage. The Nazis were particularly adept at giving people a yes/no choice on seemingly obvious choices that consolidated and built power for the Nazi regime.

Using direct democracy, in this way, was one of the key tools to Hitler and the Nazi regime coming to power after World War I.

Signatures Getting Measure B on the Ballot

In researching this article, we found many instances of people being misled by those collecting signatures to get Measure B on the ballot. As with many initiatives backed by the private sector, signature collectors are paid by the signature. Reports are $4 per signature, but this is unverified. Many of those who signed to put the ballot on the initiative were told that Measure B was to "Save open space", "Protect the environment", or "Keep more of the city for recreational use". This probably contributed to the overwhelming number of signatures to place this measure on the June 3rd ballot.

Supporters of Measure B

According to the Yes on Measure B web site, those who support the measure include:

Community Leaders:

Linda Parks, Ventura County Supervisor
Claudia Bill-de la Peña, Thousand Oaks Councilmember
Marilyn Carpenter, Former City & County Planning Commissioner
Albert Adam, Thousand Oaks Planning Commissioner
Milan Svitek, Certified Planner/Former TO Traffic Commissioner

Businesses:
DoIt Center

And, 434 households (e.g., individuals) listed on their web site.

See http://www.keeptomoving.com/ for more information.

Opposition to Measure B

According to the No on Measure B campaign, and those that signed the rebuttal arguments publicly available, those who are against the measure include:

Community Leaders:

Andy Fox, Thousand Oaks Councilmember
Bob Brooks, Ventura County Sheriff
Frances K. Prince, former Thousand Oaks Mayor
Judy Lazar, former Thousand Oaks Mayor
Grant Brimhall, Thousand Oaks City Manager Emeritus
Chris Kimball, President, California Lutheran University
Hank Lacayo, State President, Congress of California Seniors
Jim Sherman, CEO, Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center
Kris Carraway, VP of Marketing and PR, Los Robles Hospital
Mark Jessee, Chairman, TO/Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce
John Dokken, former Chair, Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce
Gary Heathcote, former Chairman, Conejo Chamber of Commerce
Mike Berger, Director, Conejo Recreation and Parks District Board
Dorothy Beaubien, President, Conejo Valley Unified School District Board
Tim Stephens, Boardmember, Conejo Valley Unified School District Board
Dolores Didio, Boardmember, Conejo Valley Unified School District Board
Don Facciano, President, Ventura County Taxpayers Association  
Jerry Robings, fr. Executive Director, Ventura County Taxpayers Association
Dr. Herb Gooch, Professor, Cal Lutheran University
Rich Kolosky, General Manager, Rusnak Auto Group
Rick Lemmo, VP of Community Relations, Caruso Affiliated
Cathy Schutz, Homeowner Advocate
Nancy Dillon, Thousand Oaks City Clerk Emeritus

Organizations:

Area Housing Authority County of Ventura
California Lutheran University
Conejo Council Parent Teacher Association
Conejo Recreation and Parks District Board of Directors
Conejo Valley Unified School District
Conejo Valley Association of Realtors
Congress of California Seniors
Los Robles Hospital and Regional Medical Center
Los Robles Hospital Medical Executive Committee
Los Robles Hospital Board of Trustees
Thousand Oaks Boulevard Association
Thousand Oaks / Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce
Tri-Counties Central Labor Council
Unified Association of Conejo Teachers
Ventura County Economic Development Association (VCEDA)
Ventura County Taxpayers Association

Businesses
Newmark Merrill Companies
The Oaks Shopping Center

And, several hundred households (e.g., individuals) that have submitted support cards to the No on Measure B campaign.

See http://www.dontdoitto.com/ for more information.

Your Turn to Take Action

Typically, Westlake Revelations does not have a call to action in articles.

But, if this document makes sense, then please forward to as many people as you know that reside in Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks or Newbury Park. We do ask that you forward this entire piece in its entirety.