Doom and Gloom

The past couple of days have been filled with chest-beating and doom-calling over the election results. And, let’s face it, most of it is justified. Turning the environment committee over to climate change denial crackpot James Inhofe, is just the most egregious example of the retreat from rationality and government as responsive to the needs of the public.

I look at the returns, and I’m almost convinced that America is doomed. Almost. When I’m at most most pessimistic, I turn to the one thing that gives me hope for the country.

No, not cute cat videos. I’m talking about the result of the city council and mayoral elections right here in Richmond, CA. This was not a Republican/Democrat battle. This was clearly and explicitly an attempt by one of the world’s largest companies to take over the city.

Chevron backed a slate of candidates to the tune of $3,000,000–that’s $72 per registered voter–in TV, billboard, and Internet ads. Their slate included council member Corky Boozé, who has refused to perform legally-mandated cleanups at his salvage yard and disparaged fellow council member Jovanka Beckles in public council meetings for her sexual orientation. Clearly Chevron considers willingness to vote their line more important than obedience to existing laws regarding environmental management and discrimination. Lovely.

What is lovely is that Chevron’s opposition–including Ms. Beckles–spent about 1/20th as much money and won in a landslide. Mayoral candidate Tom Butt pulled in 51.4 percent of the vote, trouncing Chevron’s choice, Nat Bates, who managed only 35.5 percent. All three non-Chevron candidates for city council won handily as well.

Richmond has a bad reputation. When we moved to the Bay Area, we were warned not to settle in Richmond, because of its high levels of crime, pollution, and other civic ills. But we rented an apartment in Richmond, and we’ve been here ever since. And–especially in the last few years as the mayor and city council have worked to diminish Chevron’s control–Richmond has been recovering from those civic ills.

The city’s motto is “City of Pride and Purpose”. I’ve never been more proud of this city than I am today.

Of course, all is not sugar plums and candy canes around here–although the Christmas decorations are starting to go up in the stores. There’s still that darn bridge to worry about.

Monday, our guy at the Chron, Jaxon Van Derbeken, broke the news that the final accounting of the construction of the Bay Bridge’s eastern span will come in at least $35 million over budget. Fortunately, Caltrans is promising–for now–that they won’t have to raise tolls. Instead, they’re taking money away from other projects to cover the Bay Bridge shortfall. Some of the money is coming from projects that finished under budget, including seismic refitting work on the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges, but more will be needed.

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee called the Bay Bridge’s eastern span “the most disastrous public works project in the history of the state of California,” and it’s becoming increasingly hard to disagree.

Remember those bolts that are supposed to connect the bridge to its base? The ones that were soaking in water because they weren’t properly grouted? Last month, I said “It’s not clear at this point whether the waterproof seals were broken when the bolts were tightened, or if they were improperly applied in the first place, but either way it’s another example of Caltrans’ casual approach to testing. Wednesday, Jaxon reported that more than a quarter of the bolts are insufficiently sealed, and testing is still continuing.

At least five bolts have no grout, and Caltrans engineer Bill Casey says the total could be “as many as fifty”. The remainder have less grout than they should, typically a thin layer at the top. The theory Caltrans is pursuing for how this happened: “crews…forgot to take [temporary foam] out and pump in the grout.”

They forgot. Casey is apologetic. “Unfortunately, a mistake was made,” he told the bridge oversight committee.

Once again, let me ask the same question I’ve been asking since the orginal bolt problem surfaced: Who is responsible for QA? And a new question: Why hasn’t that person been fired for gross incompetence?

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