Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2022  
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  City Attorney and Public Works Director Committed to Give Away Public Property and Endanger Pedestrians
April 21, 2022

You may recall that sometime between 2017 and 2020, the owners of 8 Western Drive enclosed about 1,580 square feet of the public right-of-way of Western Drive with a fence and incorporated it into their private yard, including a gated parking space for their exclusive use. All this was done without permits or permission from the City of Richmond. See TOM BUTT E-FORUM, September 11, 2021.

Before selling the property to its current owner, the previous owner needed to clean up his illegal appropriation of public property and sought and was granted an encroachment agreement by the City of Richmond, essentially legalizing this appropriation of public property for private use – encouraged by the previous city attorney, the previous city manager and the current director of public works. Despite numerous protests, the city manager, the City Attorney’s Office and the Public Works Department collaborated to implement the encroachment agreement, although it was completely illegal.

Figure 1 - 8 Western Encroachment takes away 27. 57 feet to 33.20  feet of 50-foot public right-of-way for private use.
A group of neighbors subsequently sued the City, and realizing the City was in the wrong, City Attorney David J. Aleshire informed the property owners by letter dated February 22,2022, that the encroachment agreement was erroneously executed and allowed 90 days (until May 8, 2022) for removal of the encroachments (See TOM BUTT E-FORUM March 10, 2022).

Meanwhile, staff was in the process of drafting a new ordinance designed to cover encroachments of private property owners into street rights-of-way. The ordinance passed on a first reading on April 5, 2022. The second reading was agendized on the consent calendar for April 19, 2022, but Councilmember McLaughlin pulled it off for discussion. Both City Attorney Dave Aleshire and Public Works Director Joe Leach argued that the provision for preserving a minimum of 22 feet at two-way streets and 13 feet at one-way streets for a travel lane and 4-foot sidewalk was too onerous and may inconvenience private property owners who want to privatize large areas of the public right of way. Before the item could be concluded, time ran out, and the meeting was adjourned. It will be back on the April 26 Agenda.

Astoundingly, the city attorney and public works director have both become inappropriate but ardent advocates for private property owners who want to appropriate public property at no cost via encroachment agreements.. On March 2, 2022, Dave Aleshire emailed the attorney for the owner of 8 Western, “The public works director and myself are sympathetic with your clients and are working for a solution.”

The city attorney also argued that he had “driven around Point Richmond” and observed that, “You have some small streets with no sidewalks that may cause problems in applying the ordinance,” implying that existing substandard conditions justified taking action to expand and exacerbate them.

People like Aleshire and Leach, who don’t even live in Richmond, much less Point Richmond, are cavalier to conclude that the locals embrace their quaint narrow streets without sidewalks and not only want to preserve that ambiance but exacerbate it. Providing for a minimum 9-foot street lane and a 4-foot sidewalk is not going to destroy the ambiance of narrow streets, but it is going to provide a safe way for vehicles and pedestrians to safely share the road.

Aleshire and Leach both argued that erecting fencing right at the edge of street pavement on narrow streets will actually make the streets safer!

A 9-foot traveled way is the absolute minimum required for vehicle passage.. A fire truck is typically 8 feet – 4 inches wide. If a fire truck meets a pedestrian, or even a person in a wheelchair or a person pushing a stroller, there is no safe place to go without a sidewalk or shoulder at least 4 feet wide. The ADA requires that walkways be a minimum of 36″ wide. The California Building Code, however, requires that walkways be a minimum of 48″ wide. The California Fire Code requires a minimum 18-foot wide paved street width.

Figure 2 - Where is this family going to go if a car comes along, or even worse, a garbage truck or fire truck? The public works director and the city attorney don't see a problem.

Putting the desires of a property owner to enlarge his domain ahead of public safety is not in the best interest of the City. The General Plan 2030 has numerous references to complete streets, providing safe access to vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.

  • Underlying Richmond’s new approach to circulation is first and foremost a vision to create places for people. The City will strive to create “complete streets” for people who are walking, enjoying public parks and plazas, riding bikes, taking public transit as well as those who are driving cars. Proposed enhancements to the street system must consider all types of travel and be based on a particular street’s intended function and character. (4.14)
  • GOAL CR2 Walkable Neighborhoods and Complete Streets Activate the public right-of-way and improve the experience of moving people between key destinations at the pedestrian level. In order to make walking and bicycling a more attractive option, enhance connectivity between neighborhoods, schools, the workplace, and daily goods and services so that reaching key destinations is safer and more convenient. Contribute to walkability and livability by promoting mixed-use and complete streets, high-quality pedestrian environments, context-based street design and efficient public transit. (4.21)
  • GOAL CR3 A Safe and Well-Maintained Circulation System In order to create a safe and efficient circulation system, emphasize on-going street maintenance and safety improvements that consider all modes of transportation including walking, bicycling and public transit. Require new facilities and infrastructure as development occurs in order meet the needs of all users while enhancing mobility and connectivity. (4.21)
  • Policy CR2.2 Complete Streets Promote mixed-use urban streets that balance public transit, walking and bicycling with other modes of travel. Support pedestrian and bicycle connectivity by restoring and reinforcing Richmond’s grid-based network of streets with landscaping and amenities for transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and people with disabilities. Establish a process for modifying streets to support various modes of travel. See also: HW4.5; LU6.2 (4.32)
  • Policy CR2.3 Integrated Bicycle and Pedestrian System Plan, construct and maintain a safe, comprehensive and integrated bicycle and pedestrian system. Walking and bicycling to work, to schools and for recreation can be encouraged by providing amenities and facilities for pedestrians and bicycles, enhancing pedestrian and bicycle connectivity within neighborhoods, promoting multimodal trails and pathways accessible to all and addressing major barriers in the community such as freeways, railroads and steep terrain. Pedestrian improvements at parks, community centers, open space areas, schools, transit stops and commercial nodes will further enhance the bicycle and pedestrian system. (4.32)
  • Action CR2.D Street Design Standards Update the City’s street design standards so that they support public transit, bicycles and walking on all streets. The updated standards should be consistent with and tailored to street or trail function and adjacent land use type. Pedestrian-friendly designs should address maximum lane widths, maximum curb radii, sidewalk width, curb ramps and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Bicycle-friendly design should address lane widths, street and intersection crossings and parking areas. Include guidelines for transit access. (4.35)
  • Policy HW4.5 Complete Streets Promote mixed-use urban streets that balance public transit, walking and bicycling with other modes of travel. Support pedestrian and bicycle connectivity by restoring and reinforcing Richmond’s grid-based network of streets with landscaping and amenities for transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and people with disabilities. Establish a process for modifying streets to support various modes of travel. Prohibit future construction of projects with long block lengths, cul-de-sacs and gated streets. See also: LU6.2; CR2.2 (11.33)

City officials, as well as City Council members, should be embracing the goals and policies of the General plan instead of thwarting them. Asking to preserve enough right-of-way for a sidewalk or even requiring the encroachment applicant to provide one is a reasonable position.

Back in the day, the City actually charged rent for use of public right-of-way for private purposes. When a portion of Boat Ramp Street was allowed to be used by Richmond Boatworks, the encroachment agreement provided for payment of rent. Now, the city attorney and public works director want to give public property away for free.

Speaking of sidewalks, the public works director, who is in charge of infrastructure, has no plan and no program for repair of Richmond’s deteriorating sidewalks, which are source of periodic slip and fall claims that cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You can report a damaged sidewalk on the much-touted Richmond app, but that is the end of it. It just goes into a black hole. See below for examples.

Like Marie Antoinette, the Public Works Department attitude towards pedestrians seems to be “Let them drive cars.”

Figure 3 - On February 6, 2022, I reported this damaged sidewalk on the Richmond app.

Figure 4 - On April 17, 2022, the Richmond app notes the issue is still "open," and no action has been taken by the City.

Figure 5 - The sidewalk at the SW corner of West Richmond and Tunnel has been damaged for years. I reported it on the Richmond app on February 14, 2022.

Figure 6 - Today, the damage still exists, and no action has been taken. The Richmond app indicates it is "open."

Figure 7 - The famous "disappearing sidewalk" covered with eroded soil has been reported many times.

Figure 8 - Today, it remains covered and unusable.