More than 100 community members packed the council room at City Hall to express their support for the plan, saying that the frequent blaring of train horns on the coastal corridor has lead to too many sleepless nights for locals and tourists alike.
The 6-2 vote, which capped off 10 years of debate and discussion, authorized Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) to spend an estimated $17.9 million on safety improvements at 13 intersections along the railway from Laurel Street to Park Boulevard. The improvements would include new vehicle and pedestrian crossing gates, extended medians, additional flashing lights and warning signage, among other options, according to CCDC documents.
The changes are expected to be complete by November 2011.
Quiet Zone advocates, many of whom wore neon yellow buttons that read “QZ Now,” repeatedly conveyed their aggravation at being disrupted by the 120-decibel horns. Long-time residents recalled countless nights of interrupted sleep; real estate agents reported declining sales within the vicinity of the tracks; hotel managers stated that customer complaints over the noise had resulted in the loss of repeat business and thousands of dollars in refunds.
“The train whistle is the number one complaint of tourists downtown, which means less repeat business … and the technology today has made it possible for people to warn others about where not to stay,” said Gary Smith, president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group, in his address to the council, adding that the noise has also caused residents with children to move out of the area.
In spite of the community support, council members Carl DeMaio, District 5, and Donna Frye, District 6, both expressed concern over the project, particularly about its potential impact on the city’s general fund. Although CCDC is responsible for paying the multi-million dollar construction costs, the city will foot the bill for yearly inspections and maintenance of the project, which CCDC estimated would be approximately $60,000 in the first year.
“There is no doubt that this is a problem. I’ve been downtown and heard the horns myself, and they are jarring,” DeMaio said prior to the council’s vote. “But the reason why I’m in office is because of our city’s financial problems, and my focus remains on, with every single decision I’m involved in, making sure that we can move our city closer to financial solvency, and so I have to look at the general fund impacts, and I have to look at the liability and the risk borne by city tax payers.”
DeMaio called for an amendment that would require CCDC to report back to the council in four months with alternative means to fund the fees, but District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who motioned to approve the plan, declined to accept the amendment, saying that he would support that discussion within the city’s budget committee in the future but that it was time to move forward with a vote.
Faulconer said he was pleased with the final outcome.
“This is a great victory for downtown after more than 10 years,” Faulconer said. “It has such strong community support after a lot of hard work, so I am elated that we are moving forward.”
Smith was also happy with the vote, but had harsh words for DeMaio.
“Thank you very much City Council — Carl DeMaio, you ain’t gonna be mayor with a vote like that,” he said.