Quiet zones approved, but don’t expect change any time soon

The Claremont City Council voted to move forward with plans to eliminate a noisy nuisance.

The council voted unanimously to look into creating a quiet zone along tracks moving through Claremont Tuesday evening. But railroad-adjacent residents hoping for a break from the train horns shouldn’t count on a quick fix—the quiet zone would be implemented only when the Gold Line extension is finished, which could be as far off as 2026.

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There are two reasons for the years-long delay—timing and money. A feasibility study conducted by JMDiaz Inc. in December estimated the cost of implementing a quiet zone at around $6.8 million, according to City Engineer Loretta Mustafa in her presentation to the council.

That cost includes the installation of pedestrian gates, improved pedestrian facilities, upgrades to railroad equipment and medians along every crossing to accommodate quad-gates.

Simply put, the city doesn’t have the money to build a quiet zone on its own, and possible grants from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) most likely would not be awarded to the city if it applied, according to the staff report.

Furthermore, if the city were to start doing the necessary construction for a quiet zone now, it would most likely be completed in May 2019, Ms. Mustafa said. The problem is that end date would directly coincide with the start of the Gold Line construction, which would have to eliminate the quiet zone for safety purposes.

“So given the fact that we have these coinciding schedules, there’s really not an effective period that a quiet zone would be in place,” she said. “Because as soon as we would be ready to implement a quiet zone, the Gold Line kicks in and we wouldn’t allow the rule to remain in effect.”

But the upcoming Gold Line actually presents an opportunity: much of the planned construction for the light rail system falls under the FRA’s guidelines of what Claremont needs to implement a quiet zone, creating an opportunity to ditch the $6.8 million cost.

Once the Gold Line construction is completed, all Claremont has to do is send a letter of intent to the FRA to create a quiet zone, Ms. Mustafa said.

But the city won’t be getting through this cost-free.

Another issue to be looked at by the city is liability. As of right now, safety on the tracks falls on the railroad companies. But since the city is requesting a quiet zone, some of that liability would then shift to the city, Ms. Mustafa said.

“It’s not the Gold Line asking for it, it’s the city of Claremont asking for it,” City Manager Tony Ramos later emphasized. “Therefore we are responsible for providing that liability insurance.”

In preparation for that, the city will be working with neighborhood cities and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (COG) to look at limited liability insurance coverage to address costs.

Based on what the Orange County joint powers authority pays per year for their quiet zone, the city could possibly be paying $12,000 per crossing per year and an additional $6,000 per year per pedestrian crossing if they enter into a joint powers agreement with the COG, Ms. Mustafa said.

Where the money for that insurance would come from remains to be seen, Mr. Ramos said, noting it could come from the city’s general fund if no other source is available. 

Councilmember Sam Pedroza said the delicate dance with the Gold Line construction is tricky, “even though a lot of components that are part of the Gold Line project meet the hard elements that are needed for the quiet zone, you won’t hear the Gold Line people say we’re going to build a quiet zone.”

The council approved moving forward with the quiet zone plans, 5-0.

Landscaping contracts

The city council also unanimously approved contracts with two companies for landscape services throughout the city.

The deal includes a two-year contract with three optional one-year extensions to Excel Landscape, Inc. of Corona for both Village landscape and parks maintenance, and a two-year contract with three optional one-year extensions to MCE Corporation of Dublin, California for right-of-way maintenance services.

In total, the contracts would be $248,360 per year for Village landscape services, $771,830 for parks and $358,758 per year for right-of-way landscaping, for a total of $1,378,498 annually, according to the report.

While the contracts are lower than last year’s astronomical costs, which led to an extension with CLS Landscape in February 2016, the city still had to come up with $446,473 to cover the total cost of the contracts.

To do this, the city did some deep digging in leftover funds, Deputy Community Services Director Dave Roger told the council. Those leftover funds include $163,074 in salary savings, $40,998 in water savings due to an unusually wet winter, $215,951 in tree removal and reforestation savings, $9,550 in project savings and $17,000 in additional Landscape and Lighting District revenues.

The total savings is $446,573, a cool Benjamin above the amount needed to cover the landscape services.

Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali applauded the city’s efforts for “truly living within our means, and your creativity in looking for how you would pay for this.”

Mr. Roger noted in his presentation that Excel Landscape wasn’t the lowest bid given to the city, but the best choice based on a number of factors, including meeting the city’s goals of using organic and non-toxic landscape elements, installation of smart irrigation controllers, environmentally responsible rodent control and an interest in sustainable practices.

“We didn’t get the lowest bid, but we did get more of what we want in the city,” Mr. Pedroza concurred.

But the proposal was met with a little pushback from one public commenter. Claremont resident Paul Jaeckel, who has lived in the Village for 40 years, bemoaned the cost of the services and wondered why that money wasn’t put to other uses in the city, including sidewalk repairs.

“I don’t understand how you can afford to spend an additional half a million dollars a year on maintenance when we need all this other stuff,” he said.

Mayor Larry Schroeder noted that landscape maintenance is a need that has been met within the city’s budget, despite the cost.

“We have a duty to offer programs across the board and to give people what they want,” he said. “So my comment to Mr. Jaeckel is we do have certain demands from the community.”

Mr. Ramos also noted that the city is set to undergo Village street improvements over the summer.

The council unanimously approved the project. The next city council meeting will take place on April 25.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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