An action to apply for establishing a cooperative joint quiet zone with Rohnert Park and Sonoma County at the East Cotati Avenue railroad crossing was discussed at this week’s Cotati City Council meeting, where a motion amending the action to send a letter to the county to attempt to start the quiet zone earlier than the recommended six months passed 4 to 1.
Only Cotati City Council Member John C. Moore was opposed to the amendment action, which according to the Cotati City Council, would attempt in a letter to the county of Sonoma to “prudently accelerate” the time frame for establishing the zones.
Cotati City Manager Damien O’Bid explained the lengthy application process for establishing a quiet zone in a phone interview before the meeting.
“Sonoma County is taking the lead with the application since we are partnering with the county. The first step is to submit a ‘notice of intent,’ (a notice from the county for establishing a quiet zone sent to the FRA and the California Public Utilities Commission) which has already been filed. Then there is something called a notice of establishment, which notifies every one of the establishment of the zone,” O’Bid said.
After the NOI was submitted in late March, the CPU requested that the county resubmit an application in order to establish two quiet zones; one in North Petaluma in “unincorporated county,” and one in South Santa Rosa, instead of just having one at East Cotati Avenue, according to O’Bid.
The need to enter and apply for a joint quiet zone with both RP and Sonoma County arose from quiet zone regulations set forth by the Federal Railroad Administration, which states the zones cannot be shorter than half a mile, according to the agenda action staff report.
However, as mentioned in the agenda action report, “the jurisdictional length that Cotati can designate as a quiet zone is (only) 0.38 miles,” consequently creating the need for the city of Cotati to devise a quiet zone with either RP or Sonoma County.
Certain FRA approved safety measures must be first put in place in order to complete the quiet zone process, since trains may not be heard as easily with no horn warning, (horns will only occur with emergencies and when the train leaves the station) at the various grade crossings. Additionally, CPU encouraged community awareness such as train horns and education on train crossing safety is strongly recommended before the implementation of the zones, according to O’Bid
“We’re also responsible for grade crossing improvements, the city is responsible for making these improvements for the crossing and we’ve done those improvements. We started with the concrete median island at East Cotati Avenue that SMART train installed and the gate work is finished,” O’Bid said. “We’ve also been responsible for the signage and striping on the road, the county and RP are also in that process.”
After the Notice of Establishment is filed O’Bid said the quiet zone will not commence until around six months after SMART train service is open to the public, a recommendation submitted by CPU.
The potential six month wait for the quiet zone is suggested by the CPU in order to ensure people are aware that there is a fully operational train running since there has been no rail service in a decade, according to O’Bid.
However, during the meeting’s public comment session, some Cotati residents, such as Mr. Wilson, expressed confusion and concern regarding the long amount of time it will take before the quiet zone goes into effect, prompting the amendment of the letter to the agenda action item.
Mr.Wilson said he and his wife are seriously considering moving from Cotati due to the loud train horns, which can be heard when they start service around the early hours of 4:15 a.m.
Mr. Wilson also said that he was worried the horns will be “too noisy for the once quiet neighborhood,” reiterating there have been months of trial runs and that “the community underwent a pretty thorough education since last fall,” he said.
“It is unfortunate for those who live near the rail line, but it (the six month hold on the zone) is a safety measure to make people more cognizant of trains running by,” O’Bid said.
City council member John Dell’Osso disagreed with the CPU’s reasoning behind halting the quiet zone for six months.
“It’s been a significant period of time we’ve heard horns… it would behoove the three jurisdictions (Cotati, RP and Sonoma County) to promote safety and we should do whatever we can and to show the county of what we’ve done and that things (community train safety knowhow) are running smoothly,” Dell’Osso said. “If we can do our part in advertising safety issues... through social media and signs along with RP, then maybe the county will consider introducing the quiet zone earlier, which would be better for everyone.”
Mayor Susan Harvey asked during the meeting whether or not the six-month wait was required to establish the quiet zone and O’Bid said while it’s not a requirement, it is highly recommended and part of the county agreement in establishing the zone.
Cotati City Attorney Robin Donoghue said they did request for a shorter wait time to start the quiet zones, but the county wants to honor the six-month safety wait time.
“But if we’ve done a good job teaching people safety then it might come earlier,” she said.
To answer community concern over potentially having to hear loud horns for the next few months, Vice Mayor Mark Landman suggested sending the letter to the county expressing the concern of residents and requesting quicker implementation of the zones.
In addressing the safety and community awareness concerns of the CPU, various council members supported and also passed a motion as part of the amendment to include a train safety awareness document in the Sonoma State University orientation packet for young new students who may not know the lay of the land and are more at risk for encountering train safety concerns.