Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tren de Alta Velocidad en San José

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Several Spanish-speaking residents of the Gardner/Willow Glen neighborhood in San José are circulating a petition asking the California High Speed Rail Authority to extend the comment deadline for the SJ-Merced project level EIR/EIS:

A group of Willow Glen residents who say Spanish-speakers were not properly notified of community meetings about the high-speed rail slated to cut through their neighborhood has been going door to door collecting signatures to temporarily stop the plan from moving forward.

"The Spanish-speaking community knows nothing about this; they have been neglected," said Dee Urista, who lives in the Gardner neighborhood, where there is a high number of Spanish-speaking residents....

She and others in her neighborhood say they were never notified of the community meetings in Spanish and haven't had the opportunity to submit their concerns about the project, which is slated to bring California's 800-mile high-speed rail line through the Gardner neighborhood.

The deadline for submitting questions for the environmental impact report is set to close April 10.

The CHSRA's public outreach manager claims they have offered translation services and a phone number for Spanish-language residents. I am sure they feel they've done the right thing on outreach, and I don't see any cause for claims that they deliberately tried to cut out Spanish-speaking residents, but the CHSRA should grant both requests - extend the comment time AND hold a bilingual meeting in San José.

The CHSRA extended the comment period for an entire month along the Peninsula, which was also the right move. The Authority needs to emphasize openness and public outreach to the entire state, and in California that's just not possible without Spanish language outreach.

Further, the Willow Glen neighborhood's request is reasonable. They're not coming at this from a NIMBY position (at least not as quoted in the article) and it would go a long way toward building goodwill in that community for the CHSRA to hold a Spanish language scoping meeting.


Anonymous said...

its well beyond extending comment period. The CHSRA is already screwed on this because did they publish any of their pre PROGRAM Eir materials, public notices, information sessions, etc - in Spanish? No siree. They're cooked.

Spokker said...

Well, the United States doesn't have an official language, but California does. It's English and it's in the California constitution. In practice it only means that official government documents must at least be in English.

I'm not sure what bounds the CHSRA to print materials in Spanish, if anything. It's an interesting question.

I still agree with extending the comment period as a gesture of goodwill.

Aaron said...

@Spokker: I put my amazing legal skills to work and did some detailed research (actually, I googled it) and learned that the CEQA issue isn't clear - they may or may not be required to do outreach in Spanish, and it's an issue that hasn't been decided. My guess is that if the question was really put to a court, they would say that above a certain percentage of foreign-language speakers, a certain level of outreach needs to be done in a foreign language.

Frankly, I'd rather not see CAHSR be the entity that brings that to the Court. Except for Vietnamese in the OC, Spanish is the big language that will need to be used (I'm ignoring SF because the line is only in San Francisco for such a short time), and I think it's respectful to hold Spanish-language meetings in heavily Latino areas. Especially since CAHSRA is spending so much time on the peninsula, let's not make this an environmental justice issue and let the Damien Goodmons of the world ruin it for everyone - get in front of this and do appropriate outreach.

Spokker said...

Well, I'm not into the whole, "If you come here you better speak English, damnitt!" nonsense. I think it's beneficial to learn English and I think most immigrants make an honest effort. As any reasonable person knows it's difficult to learn a second language as an adult. Those who became bilingual growing up were very lucky to do so.

The fact remains that we have a significant Spanish-speaking population in California and even if they know some English, they would become more informed if the material is in their native language.

I wish all those who fled to America searching for a better life luck.

Brandon in California said...

No no no.

I think the request is unfounded. One, it's already been extended and a comment period should not be 3 months long! Two, the CHSRA provided the necessary outreach in Spanish. Three, it's time to move on. Four, this is an extremely common response to public comment periods... THERE ARE ALWAYS GROUPS THAT CLAIM THEY'VE BEEN SKIPPED OR LEFT OUT. Five, all possible comment topics have in all likelihood been raised from those already received; no additional comments would day-light a new issue.

These claims are usually just knee-jerk reactions to learning something at the very last minute. The unfortunate thing is that there is virtually no way around it... what are public agencies to do? Should they go door to door to speak with every single adult and get their verbal and written confirmation of the outreach... with the written confirmation being in blood?

That said, the comment period was to gather public input on what should be considered/examined in the EIR/EIS stage and that's within the realm of what's covered by NEPA & CEQA.

The comment period was not a vote on the alternatives

So, you guys know where I obviously stand.

Per comment concerning legal requirements in foreign languages, at least with respect to Federal law, the closest would be Title VI and Environmental Justice. Title VI in part speaks to outreach efforts to under-represented or minority groups. EJ does not do a whole lot... essentially, just do more of the same... assuring that the same groups are included in outreach efforts. However, there are no criteria where someone's feet are held to the fire. But that said, no one wants to leave anybody out of an opportunity to provide comment. The more the better is the mantra... and the more comments you get serves to legitimatize the process.

TomW said...

Surely they speak Engligh as well? I speak two languages, but I don't expect to have vital government services provided to me in both, providing they do so in one.

Rafael said...

@ Brandon -

The Willow Glen area is on the SJ - Gilroy - Pacheco Pass section of the route. I'm not exactly sure when the comment period for that began, but it may not have been concurrent with the SF - SJ section.

Your point regarding re-hashing of issues already raised by someone else is well taken. I see no reason why CHSRA couldn't get ahead of the curve and publish comments on its web site as soon as it receives them. Perhaps even summarize the most important ones in a Frequently Received Comments section for each segment that people can look at before they submit a comment of their own.

In addition, CHSRA isn't helping matters by failing to announce its upcoming project-level EIR/EIS calendar on its web site. It's not outreach if you tell as few people as the law permits about it.

The notion that the Authority will save money by keeping the number of alternatives it is legally required to consider to a minimum is wrong-headed. First off, they could end up with suboptimal solutions, in terms of either performance or cost. Second, it's much cheaper to engage with communities properly early on than to risk a slew of lawsuits - frivolous and otherwise.

That doesn't mean extending comment periods should become the norm. It means that communities should have plenty of advance warning that a comment period for their segment is coming up and how it will be structured.

Anonymous said...

That's simply a shame! These people must learn English and stop pushing us to speak their language!
The bottom line is they don't care about HSR, the only thing they care about is that we speak their language.

Anonymous said...

Why don't they understand English? Isn't that part of being an American with a say and a vote? I mean if issues are that important to you, wouldn't you want to be informed?

residente said...

The issue really isn't even what CHSRA attempts to do now in terms of appropriate communication with effected communities - the issue is actually what they FAILED to do during the Program Level EIR process. Isn't it.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Oh jeez. I should have realized that this post would generate this kind of discussion. Here are my responses.

1. It is not clear that CHSRA is legally obligated to provide more Spanish-language information than they already have. However, it is MY contention that it is best that they do so, to build support in the community and avoid possible political or legal problems down the road. Given the huge number of Spanish speakers in this state, and along the proposed route, it is only right that this be done.

2. California actually used to have TWO official languages - English and Spanish. The original state constitution, written here in Monterey in 1849, was written in both languages, and explicitly protected Spanish language rights. The 1879 constitution stripped that, as it was written by the nativist anti-anyone who wasn't Anglo Workingmen's Party. But since the 1950s a series of court cases, laws, and other practices have de facto created an officially multilingual state. Voter information is published in many languages in many counties, for example. It is commonplace for government entities in this state to provide information in multiple languages.

CHSRA has probably done the minimum required, which is fine, but for various reasons I think it needs to do more.

3. One should not have to understand English to function in this country, which has ALWAYS been a multilingual place. At no time in the 40,000 year history of human habitation of North America was this country monolingual, and in fact California has always been one of the most linguistically diverse places, whether it was during the Native American period, in 1850 during the Gold Rush, in 1950 during the postwar boom, or in 2009.

You don't have to like it, you can try and scream at the clouds or command the tides to stay back or demand people speak English when they may never choose to do so and are backed by 40,000 years of history; but it is a fact that California is a linguistically diverse place with a truly vast Spanish speaking population.

As people who want HSR to be built, I should think we'd want to make damn sure we are reaching out to that community and earning their support, instead of dismissing them with the bare minimum level of outreach.

Anonymous said...

Wow, downright Republican of y'all. "how dare they not speak English" eh?

well guess what. Neither the voter materials, nor the specific wording of measure 1A, said anything about the specific route (Pacheco) having already been chosen.

Only the 1200+ page Program EIR, in English Only, buried 20 feet deep in an English only CHSRA Website did.

The law says they have a right to get their voting materials in ENGLISH.

I think they need lawyers. They should be challenging Measure 1A.

Bay Area Resident said...

The petition with 200+ signatures already went to the CHSRA as I understand it. It was included in the Willow Glen scoping comments, or the Diridon section, whatever they call themselves. There are dozens of little neighborhoods over there and they each sent a packet of scoping questions.

Issues like this always rile up the republicans. Facts are, though, that CEQA includes provisions like this for good reason. In the 60s, non english speaking neighborhoods were specifically targeted by various DOTs for freeway lanes because city government knew that by the time they figured out they were going to lose their homes, it would be too late. I think I mentioned earlier on this blog that seeing these CEQA guidelines in practice reaffirms their need. It represents real California values to me.

I agree its too late for scoping comments extension, which is tomorrow.

I think the goal for these neighborhoods should be to move HSR to the freeway right of way which is very closeby. Problem solved, everybody happy. A lot of people don't understand the program level EIR and that it is a general swipe at a route. They look at their little neighborhood and say "why is my little block being destroyed when a freeway is just up the road"? These spanish speaking areas are all within a 3 block radius of 87,280,San Carlos ave and the Shark Tank in San Jose. It is the same problem area with the curvy Caltrain tracks. HSR is going to have to change the route there anyway. Just bypass those little neighborhoods, problem solved.

Bay Area Resident said...

Thanks for your POV, Robert Cruikshank. Given where the HST runs up and down the state, Merced, Gilroy and of course San Jose, I think as a minimum the HSR website should be bilingual.

You guys may not know that the Spanish community is very highly PRO the HSR. In the San Jose scoping comments meetings, the one TV crew that was always there was Telemundo. That is because the spanish speaking population is a heavy user of public transportation and sees the train as a huge benefit to being able to commute from their homes to work. The neighborhoods are just upset because nobody told them what was going on, and unlike Palo Alto et al, these neighborhoods have plentiful freeways in the area.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why they didnt use the freeway where possible anyway to begin with. Who's idea was it to try to run these things through peoples bak yards. I mean I support but any fool should know that at this point in california's cultural reality. Evvery one will raise a fuss and sue, just to get money.

Bay Area Resident said...

Rafael, the San Jose->Merced scoping period deadline is tomorrow, and has been so since the program began. The peninsula scoping period was supposed to end a month or two ago but was extended TWICE, so the two dates ended up being Apr 6 for Peninsula scoping deadline and Apr 10 for San Jose. So this protest of spanish speakers or whatever it is is not too late, the deadline for them is tomorrow.

Thing is, the San Jose DOT and various other groups have other issues with that stretch of the route having nothing to do with Spanish. That curvy section of San Jose Caltrain ROW is sitting on the top of a swamp, basically, that is prone to Liquefaction. Freeway 87 has had to be rebuilt 4 times in the area until they finally ground down to the bedrock. DOT requested some alternative routes, including the freeways which already have bedrock secured pillars as more apporopriate for HSR. If they straighten out the route there and use the freeways they avoid all this and save time in the process.

You guys can request the San Jose DOTs scoping requests from them, I believe. Or maybe the Merc will cover them. Alternatives were requested for structural reasons.

My only concern is that this little spanish group doesn't get blamed for a route change in the area that might upset a whole other group. This is not about Spanish.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

hopefully someone in the English-speaking community has already pointed out the liquefaction risk, which indeed has squat diddly to do with bilingual documentation.

However, going forward, it may indeed be smart for CHSRA to go over and above on its public outreach efforts generally, especially via its web site. More on that this weekend.

Spokker said...

Well, there's always Spanish Wikipedia.

Alon Levy said...

Spokker, how many people under the poverty line do you think have easy Internet access?

Spokker said...

The library is free.

Spokker said...

Don't look at me, I think more outreach should be done. I just posted that I found.

spence said...

For folks who have attended any of the scoping sessions, have they made accommodations for the disabled to attend and participate, and have there been any translators made available? Most public agencies in California do this as far as I know.

It's called community outreach and you will never get anywhere if you don't do it. That includes tailoring your message and materials to make them accesible to your targeted local audience. We're talking about the most expensive public works project in American history - it's not like spending a few bucks on translation services is going to break the bank. :)

Brandon in California said...


My bad. I overlooked the part that the request was for that section of the alignment, which has not had the comment period yet extended... that I know of. However, the remainder of my above post still stands.

I'd like to take the opportunity to clarify... I do support public comment periods fully. I also fully support outreach efforts to minority communities and non-english speaking populations.... beyond what is required by state of federal law. And, I understand the political decisions made by respective elected/appointed decision makers to extend comment periods; but only once. I feel there is a time to move... to do your duty and get of the pot.

I also think many, for lack of knowledge... in part b/c the CHSRA does not appear to be very focal in thier efforts... that people sense this and jump to cynical conclusions... that the CHSRA is not making/taking appropriate action. I think this is wrong.