Title: Public Outreach Program Related to Right-of-Way Acquisition
Date: April 4, 1997
Light rail transit projects generally cross several political jurisdictions and involve the participation of a host of local, state and federal agencies in addition to private sector business enterprises as well as the general public. Acquisition of right-of-way for the proposed system is rarely acquired without extensive effort and often those whose property is taken or impacted do not understand the process and are not satisfied with the results even if they support the project.
Public outreach programs which include a focus on property acquisition, can be used to facilitate the process by working with the community at large, individual property owners and tenants to help them understand the process and help the agency staff understand and respond to constituent concerns. Public outreach may also help reduce the property acquisition duration through improved understanding and communications.
The 7.5 mile Tasman West Light Rail Project in San Jose, California, has strong local support. The light rail system extension passes through the cities of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose and the heart of Silicon Valley. A second extension, the 5.0 mile Tasman East Light Rail Project, passes through the cities of Milpitas and San Jose and is also in an expanding area of the Silicon Valley. A host of participating state and federal agencies and private companies are involved in both light rail extensions.
Portions of the Tasman West extension are constructed in the center of local streets which in one area is bounded on two sides with large mobile home parks. As in most mobile home developments, the homes are close together and have small backyards. Additionally, in this area there are also large trees which had to be removed and work accomplished which would impact approximately 180 tenants. Although there was strong local support for the light rail system from the mobile home park tenants, there were some vocal dissenters and individual concerns regarding the impact on their property. The mobile home park owner/operators had separate issues than individual tenants.
It was apparent to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (or VTA) that a special outreach program was needed to focus on the concerns and needs of each tenant as well as the mobile home park owner/operators. In addition to traditional outreach programs for the project, staff aggressively initiated an outreach program to meet with each tenant, record via photograph and video tape existing conditions on each parcel, develop an understanding/agreement as to mitigation of construction impacts and restoration for each parcel. Recognizing that it would not be effective to design every mitigation and restoration item, a lump sum restoration allowance of $750,000 was established in the construction contract so that all contractors were on a level playing field and indicated to the contractor that the agency was concerned about this issue. Actual contractor mitigation and restoration would be accomplished as agreed by the tenant and VTA, and on a time-and-material basis. Additionally, a special construction inspector supported by community relations staff would be available on a daily basis to respond to tenant needs during the construction phase.
2. The Lesson
A focused community outreach program supported by construction contract, construction inspection and community outreach staff can significantly improve the relations with property owners and tenants whose property is impacted by transit construction. The program can also assist facilitating the property acquisition process. Although construction is not fully underway, it is anticipated that the program will ease relationships between all parties involved in the project since each tenant understands that there is a process that will be responsive to restoring their private space back to its original condition.
An aggressive community outreach policy with specific programs to focus on each projects needs and supported by strong and open communications, with appropriate construction contract provisions and agency inspection staff can be utilized by all transit agencies.