Marin Independent Journal
Novato considers compromise at Hamilton
By Rob Rogers, Marin Independent Journal
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Army engineers could continue to use a controversial access road in Novato's Hamilton neighborhood to build the nation's largest wetlands restoration project.
But they would work with federal, state, county and city officials to build a temporary alternative road to keep heavy trucks and equipment away from Hamilton homes.
The proposed deal, which the Novato City Council will consider in September, marks a truce in what has been a contentious debate over Todd Road.
"This is in the spirit of looking for a solution jointly between the users of the road and the residents," said Councilwoman Pat Eklund.
Neighbors say frequent truck traffic on the road has bombarded their homes with dust, diesel fumes and noise. But city and state officials say the road is a crucial access point for the Hamilton wetlands restoration project, as well as other projects such as repairs to the area's levees.
"There's not anyone in the neighborhood who doesn't want the wetlands project to be built," said Jeff Johnston, president of the Hamilton Homeowners Association. "We just want an alternative road. It's a quality-of-life issue."
Members of the "Todd Road Working Group" presented a preliminary report to the Novato City Council on Tuesday. The group, which includes Hamilton neighbors as well as federal, state, city and county officials, formed after a series of protests by Hamilton residents at City Council meetings.
The group quickly reached consensus, members said.
"Our overarching goal was to find a workable solution, without jeopardizing progress on the wetlands project," said Tom Roth, an assistant to U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. "Within five minutes, everyone was willing to follow that."
The group has not yet recommended a route for the temporary road. Councilwoman Judy Arnold, who serves on the group as an aide to state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, said the group is considering four options, and that the city may hire a consultant to recommend one or more of them.
"I don't think you'll be looking at a paved road with five-foot-wide shoulders," Arnold said. "It will be a temporary road to the wetlands project, probably gravel, that will be one way with turnouts."
The group has yet to find a way to pay for the project, previously estimated at between $4 million and $9.5 million.
Aides to Woolsey and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are seeking funding from the Army's budget to pay for the road, while other members of the group have proposed a cost-sharing plan that would include the city, the Army and the state Coastal Conservancy.
The city already has contributed $50,000 on a consultant's study, while Supervisor Cynthia Murray has pledged another $50,000 from the county.
Council members previously requested a voluntary moratorium on heavy truck traffic along Todd Road.
While that has expired, neither city officials nor Hamilton neighbors expect a return to the problems they've faced.
"The biggest factor here all along that residents were concerned with was the element of trust," said Johnston, whose home is 20 feet from Todd Road.
"Now there's an opportunity for us to build that together. Both sides want the alternate road built, and both want to see the wetlands project go through. It's a win-win."
The council is expected to vote on final recommendations from the Todd Road group in late September.
Councilman Jim Leland, a Hamilton resident, has recused himself from debate on the issue.
Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org