By Mark Gutglueck
In Greek mythology, Cassandra is a Trojan priestess upon whom the god Apollo conferred the gift of prophecy but whom the Fates cursed by ensuring that no one believed her utterances. Time and again, Cassandra would predict an outcome that individuals and whole societies would prefer not to hear and after her warnings were disregarded, events would transpire to attest her unerring wisdom. Her warnings, nonetheless, were ever disregarded, leading to unenviable outcomes for those ignoring her.
In San Bernardino County and particularly in Redlands, Steve Rogers, a civil engineer, has proven out to be a modern Cassandra of sorts, one who has accurately foretold, or at least predicted, critical issues in the way public works projects have been poorly planned, engineered or executed, sometimes with devastating effect.
The most recent example of this is Tuesday night’s horrific collision in which Dr. Heather Lynn Woolard and her 11-year-old daughter were in a silver sedan northbound on Alabama Street north of Redlands Boulevard at around 8:24 pm. when the mother and daughter became trapped on the Arrow Route railroad tracks running between Redlands and San Bernardino and were hit by a Metrolink train traveling west from the University of Redlands moving about 50 miles per hour. According to witnesses, the arm of a crossing gate descended onto the roof of the car, embedding itself into it. When the vehicle was hit by the train, the force caused it to pivot and spin, such that the car ended up in the southbound lane of Alabama Street.
The girl, a student in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District whose name was not released, was pronounced deceased at the scene at 8:27 pm.
Dr. Woolard, a licensed speech-language pathologist with a practice on Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino, was critically injured. She was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center for treatment. Woolard succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead on Wednesday, April 5, 2023 at 9:06 pm.
Prior to Metrolink’s Arrow Route debut on October 24, 2022, there was concern among members of the public about the safety of the system. Rogers had been a primary spark in the expression of that concern, which included his suggestions, based upon his standing as a licensed civil engineer, for design changes which he said would lessen the hazards the railroad line represents to motorists and pedestrians who must cross the line or come into close proximity to it.
In particular, Rogers was lobbying for better line of sight accommodations for pedestrians and motorists and sufficient clearances at crossings, in particular crossings proximate to intersections where the confluence of traffic massing/back-ups and the rail line had deadly potential. Rogers concentrated his lobbying effort, in the main, on two entities, those being the City of Redlands and the county transportation agency, formerly known as the San Bernardino Association of Governments known by its acronym, SanBAG, or its revamped and more straightforward label, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority with its acronym, SBCTA. To be sure, Rogers did not confine himself to dogging the City of Redlands and SBCTA, occasionally addressing the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission, the Ontario City Council, the San Bernardino City Council and other local governmental boards. As a Redlands resident and someone who was professionally and personally steeped in engineering issues, the City of Redlands and the county transportation agency absorbed the lion’s share of Rogers’ attention in this regard. The Arrow Route, a nine-mile, five-station route and basically single-track span, runs between downtown San Bernardino in the west to the gateway into the University of Redlands to the east using the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line. As essentially a SanBAG/SBCTA project that was taking place in large measure in Redlands, Rogers was highly focused upon it. In doing his analysis of the undertaking and making critiques of the planning procedure, engineering, design and construction considerations for it, Rogers burnished his already established reputation as an irksome gadfly who would put Redlands and SBCTA officials through their paces with regard to the details and features of the project. SBCTA officials, including that agency’s executive director, Raymond Wolfe, and the various officials in Redlands, including members of its dual decision-making bodies, the city council and its planning commission, as well as key city staff, most pointedly over the years former Redlands City Manager Nabar Martinez and current City Manager Charles Duggan, came to dread dealing with Rogers and his fastidious fixation on elements of their work that they rather hoped the public would simply accept at face value. Dealing with Rogers entailed an intensity of focus on what were for them already settled issues which they were loath to provide. They wished, repeatedly to themselves and on more than one occasion publicly, that Rogers would just go the hell away.
As it turns out now, however, Wolfe, Martinez and Duggan, in terms of their eternal legacy, might have done no better for themselves than to have taken to heed and to heart Rogers and his interminable attention to their performance.
On November 16, a mere 23 days after the Arrow Route began to operate, a 42-year-old woman died while she was crossing the tracks in Redlands, struck down by a fast-moving westbound Metrolink train.
In the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Dr. Woolard and her daughter on April 5 and 4, Rogers offered on April 7 his perspective to the Sentinel.
With regard to the crossing on Alabama near the Redlands Boulevard/Alabama Street intersection, Rogers noted that Martinez, by skimping on the design and the later construction, contributed to the creation of a situation that has already resulted in two deaths and what he said will over the coming decades result in far more. He said that the original design of the crossing with three through lanes over it would have been far safer than what is there now, as that arrangement would have allowed a greater volume of traffic to proceed across the tracks, with less likelihood of the traffic flow stopping, leaving cars potentially in the way of oncoming trains.
“City staff, under Nabar [Martinez] changed the design on the intersection,” Rogers said. “Basically, it was dangerous before. Now it is even worse. They took out one of the through lanes going south. There is now a right turn lane and double left turn lanes. Whereas it was originally designed for three through lanes, Nabar Martinez took out the third lane. That was done as part of the constructability review, which is not part of the engineered design process, but staff looking at how to build the project effectively, meaning cost-effectively. They took out the third lane and made it into a right turn lane while constructing the two left turn lanes. They didn’t want to take away any right-of-way from McDonald’s. That was a huge mistake, and now that little girl and her mother have paid for it with their lives. The city should have taken whatever property was needed from McDonald’s to make it safe.”
Rogers said he had come in after the fact to do his own examination of the train-vehicle collision.
“I read what an eyewitness said,” Rogers said. “It can be hard to reconstruct these things exactly, especially without any video and the obliteration of the involved vehicle. She [Heather Woolard] got trapped. She didn’t run a red light. She was on the tracks. She was in traffic, I assume, and when the traffic backed up, she was stuck on the tracks. The arms came down and she had nowhere to go at that point. It looks like even though the vehicle was going northbound, it ended up in the southbound land. The little girl was ejected from the car. I could see how at that intersection someone might, when people are making left turns and trying to go north on Alabama and they go through the intersection, get caught on the tracks. Basically, they get through that intersection, and it is really busy with two lanes of traffic turning left, and there will still be cars in the intersection preventing people from going through on Redlands Boulevard. She might have come into place from either the left or turn lane going north on Alabama, but most likely was going straight through on Alabama when the intersection got all jammed up.”
The crossing and intersection should have been redesigned to prevent the stacking up of traffic flow creating gridlock that would leave cars backed up onto the railroad tracks, Rogers said, an issue he foresaw but which was ignored by both the city and SBCTA.
“Back in the day, when they were building this, I objected to what they were doing,” Rogers said. “[Then-City Manager Nabar] Martinez requested an additional million dollars for the intersection. But they took whatever money they received and used it to do the high voltage Southern California Edison relocation. They needed to do that relocation, but that kind of relocation should have been paid for by Edison instead of the city, which should have used the money to ensure a first quality and absolutely safe intersection and crossing. The only time the city should pay for a public utility relocation is when a public utility has a prior right. That was not the case here and what happened was the city apparently paid for the high voltage relocation with money that came to it from SBCTA and the state that should have been used to perfect that intersection and crossing.”
Records show that Southern California Edison is historically and at present a major political donor to members of the Redlands City Council. Both Martinez and Duggan, in attempting to indulge the city council by alleviating Southern California Edison of costs associated with the high voltage equipment relocation, diverted money that otherwise would have been utilized to both redesign the intersection and crossing and prevent traffic back-ups on the tracks, Rogers suggested.
Rogers noted that the irresponsible engineering decisions that took place under Martinez’s watch perpetuated themselves under Duggan.
A case in point, Rogers pointed out, is Duggan’s willingness to keep John Harris in the role as the city’s public works director.
While John Harris is a licensed engineer in Colorado, he is not licensed as an engineer in California. In many cases, a public works director is also a licensed civil engineer. A licensed civil engineer can sign documents relating to projects which allow those projects to proceed. Because Harris is not the city engineer and is not a licensed civil engineer in California, he can’t sign off on city projects. This, Rogers points out, is problematic on multiple fronts.
Ideally, Rogers points out, a municipality wants the engineer that is certifying local projects to be familiar with the lay of the land and conversant with all of the infrastructure and physical details relating to a project site, including existing nearby on and off-site improvements. Because, however, Harris is not a licensed engineer in California, the city, from time to time, is reliant upon outside engineering firms to provide those certifications. Many of those engineers are not up to speed on the precise lay of the land and other peculiarities of the city, including the physical and infrastructural context of the projects which they are certifying.
Moreover, Rogers points out, the city is required to sustain the cost of hiring those outside engineers, whereas if Harris were a certified engineer, the cost of having him sign off those plans and specifications would be contained within his salary. Thus, the city is squandering money that could better be utilized for practical improvements within the realm of public works, such as the safety measures for its railroad crossings that were lacking in the instance of Woolard’s death and that of her daughter.
Rogers said, “Redlands had to give back a bunch of grant money that came to it through the state local partnership because they got audited and it turned out the city wasn’t spending that grant money properly. If the railroad crossings for the Arrow Route were done under the standards of Caltrans rather than local project management, it would have looked totally different. Instead SANBAG/SBCTA was overseeing it and they do what they want. They have no standards.”
Woolard was put into an impossible position, Rogers said, just like others driving through the city on a daily basis.
“People in Redlands don’t know how to deal with trains and the way they cross our main north-south streets on the central and west side of the city,” Rogers said. “People don’t know what to expect. There is a big learning curve. She [Woolard] probably thought she was getting out of the way of traffic. Unfortunately, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s horrible.”
According to Rogers, as dangerous as the railroad crossings in the city are for motorists, the safety conditions for pedestrians are even worse, as they must dodge the train and vehicular traffic at several junctures.
“At the University station they don’t have any provision for pedestrians to get across the street from the station, either coming or going,” Rogers said. “We are going to see a lot more people hit by the train. This is the most dangerous thing in Redlands. In general, the safety provisions with the train signals and crossings are inadequate, inferior. The safety fences and gates are the cheapest you can imagine. There are no safe walking trails for people to be able to migrate across the train tracks. In addition to people crossing the tracks, you have people walking along the tracks. Between University and Church Street, you have a long span where homeless people walk along the tracks and have to coexist with the train. They go under the freeway to get from University Avenue to Church Street, which is about the only way people on foot can get there.”
Rogers continued, “You can’t walk along the north side of the tracks and then there’s a railroad bridge between Church Street and University Avenue just west of the I-10 Freeway and right before University is where you have to jump across the tracks. It is a horrible hazard.”
The city so far has reneged on completing the Orange Blossom Trail, a proposed four-and-a-half-mile long trail, suitable for walking, hiking, jogging, running and biking, Rogers said. With two of its phases, beginning at Jennie Davis Park and ending at Tennessee Street completed, the city has held off so far on the third phase, which is to extend from the current trailhead at Redlands Boulevard and California Street along the Mission Zanja to the western city limits at Mountain View Avenue. Further suspended has been work to connect the existing portion of the trail to its easternmost span, which was to include an overcrossing above University Avenue. That element of the trail would have existed as a safe means of those on foot, including commuters getting off or getting on the train, getting across University Avenue without having to deal with traffic or risk getting hit by the train itself. City officials, however, are dragging their feet on the completion of the Orange Blossom Trail on the city’s central/east side. The intention was for the trail to be completed before the University Train Station was in place, giving those on foot an added margin of safety. But city officials’ parsimony has dictated that the project be neglected.
“The Orange Blossom Trail was in the city’s conceptual plan,” Rogers said. “I have seen with my own eyes and verified that in that plan there was a conceptual alignment of the trail. I know Orange Blossom Trail was to cross right at the north side of the tracks. The city and SBCTA had no valid reason for not putting it in with the train project. The completion of the Orange Blossom Trail should have been part of the train project, but that was going to cost a little more money, so they got around that by selling the property to the University of Redlands. The property has no value. It is encumbered by public storm drain improvements, a retention basin. They used the sale of the property to the university as an excuse for not putting in the pedestrian improvements.”
The current council, assisted by Duggan, is temporizing on completing the elevated walkway/bike path over University Avenue, Rogers said.
“I spoke with [then-City Councilwoman] Toni Momberger about this and the need to have a pedestrian overcrossing at the University of Redlands for the Orange Blossom Trail,” Rogers said. “That pedestrian overcrossing still needs to go in. After Nabar Martinez left, I was really concerned about pedestrian access and the ability to come from and go to the University station. Toni Momberger agreed, but then she decided to not run for reelection.”
Rogers had hoped that Redlands officials, in accommodating the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority in the establishment of the Arrow Route, would insist on engineering into the project adequate safeguards for the public, which has to coexist with the train system.
“I was continually going to SBCTA and telling them to meet with the city manager,” Rogers said. “I went to the city manager [Duggan]. I would tell him how important this was. He kept saying, ‘You have to deal with SBCTA. It is their project.’ The sale of the property to the university was set up before he [Duggan] got here, when Nabar Martinez was still city manager. But he was told how important it was for safety purposes. He got into place and just went right along with it. He came in in January of 2020 and I thought maybe he would get it, but in March 2020, at the last meeting before the COVID shutdown, he got involved in selling off the property to the University of Redlands. The council hit him up and then SBCTA hit him up and the university hit him up and instead of doing the right thing, he just folded. The property [near University Avenue] was sold and transferred. An SBCTA meeting followed and there was a closed session with [SBCTA Executive Director Ray] Wolfe. The University of Redlands was to buy the property under eminent domain.”
This complicated matters a bit, Rogers noted.
“I don’t want to confuse the issues too much, but in 2007 the city had been paid $725,000 for property acquired by the redevelopment agency and then in 2011 the redevelopment agency was extinguished by state legislation and the problem was the city can’t get paid twice for the same property, so city officials did another sale. Instead of selling to the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, they decided they didn’t need the property and they sold it to the University of Redlands. There are all sorts of liability issues about this deal that I brought up. This was all done in the name of political expediency. It is now a very dangerous situation down there for pedestrians. The San Bernardino County Transportation Agency has a right-of-way agreement with the Catalina View Apartments allowing its diagonal parking lot to stay in the right-of-way. The San Bernardino County Transportation Agency should have relocated all of the Catalina View Apartment’s diagonal parking lot onto the other side of the property and done a lot line adjustment to locate the parking where they have room for it and the pedestrian overcrossing, but the city doesn’t want to acknowledge where the trail is. They are saying it will develop over time. I talked with [Redlands Assistant City Manager and Community and Facilities Director] Chris Boatman, who was trying to explain to me that the city doesn’t know the location of the Orange Blossom Trail, that no one knows where it will be. I told him I have seen exactly where it is to be located in the city’s conceptual planning map. Shirley [Leonard, the executive director of the Redlands Conservancy] knows about the trail. It has to be on the south side of the tracks. The city doesn’t want to come to terms with this. The city doesn’t want to come to the realization that the way to deal with this is the formation of a pedestrian overlay. City officials are trying to not face up to the fact that they need to do a pedestrian overpass there because they don’t want to deal with the financial cost. Well, there is a cost. If the cost is not met with money, it will be met with a cost in terms of lives. You have all these skateboarders who are coming to Sylvan Park to use the skateboard course. Some of those kids are going to get killed crossing the street. That is such a long block, and it does not have any intersections where you can safely cross.”
Though officials with both the City of Redlands and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority are uniformly uncharitable in their assessment of Rogers, referring to him as an inveterate troublemaker who would do better to pursue a profitmaking career in his accomplished field of engineering rather than second-guessing their agencies’ decisions, an ever-widening selection of Redlands residents have taken note of the observations Rogers has made over the years with regard to how the city has approached various development projects and the corners that those officials have cut in doing so, and the degree to which Rogers has been unerringly correct and prescient in pointing out the risks that later manifested into highly problematic reality and even fatalities.
One of these was the move by the city last fall to increase the speed limit along 45 stretches of road in Redlands, 38 of them by five miles an hour and by ten miles per hour with the other seven. Rogers was at the forefront of a bevy of Redlands residents who intensively lobbied the city not to make those increases.
In response to those requests, city officials insisted that their hands were tied and that under the strictures of state law they had no choice other than to increase the speed limits in the circumscribed areas because traffic surveys that had been undertaken by RK Engineering Group, Inc. with regard to various street segments throughout the city showed that along those 38 spans of roadway, at least 85 percent of the vehicles drove at a speed ten miles per hour above the posted speed limit and in the other seven lengths of roadway at an average speed 15 miles per hour above the speed limit. In order for law enforcement agencies conducting traffic patrol in those areas to be able to write valid traffic tickets those ticketed cannot be cited for going at any speed less than that maintained by the 85th percentile of the average speed at that particular point, minus a five-mile-an-hour adjustment for other factors, including the grade of the road, proximity of driveways and schools and the like, under the California Vehicle Code and standards outlined in the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
Rogers and other likeminded residents, however, asserted that the city should not merely surrender on the concept of street safety to those willing to disobey the city’s standing speed limits. Rogers and others pointed out that Assembly Bill 43, which was passed by the California Legislature earlier in 2022, is to allow a municipality to bypass the use of traffic speed survey data in setting local speed limits beginning in June 2024. Why not have the city, they asked, leave its existing speed limits in place and make a request of the state legislature or the governor for a special dispensation to bring Assembly Bill 43 to bear immediately? Duggan, however, was unwilling to go to bat for the city’s residents and intercede with then-Mayor Paul Barich and the city council for them to apply some form of creative approach to the situation. Instead, on December 6, 2022, the Redlands City Council voted unanimously to make the speed changes.
A little more than 36-and-a-half hours later, a 16-year-old bicyclist was run down and killed by an 89-year-old Yucaipa woman driving a 2012 Ford Escape along the 1400 block of 5th Avenue near Marion Road, where the speed limit had been increased a short distance from Moore Middle School.
As disregardful, dismissive and insulting as Duggan and Wolfe are of Rogers, that disdain is nothing compared to the low estimation accorded to Duggan by many Redlands residents. The terms reserved for him – in many cases involving adverbial emphases alluding to the act of procreation or straight on references to the product of peristalsis – are such that they cannot be reproduced in print in what must pass for a family newspaper. At best, these opinions hold, he is a coward who recognizes that some of his political masters are on the take but is unwilling to stand up for the residents who ultimately pay for his services as city manager and ensure their safety because he knows that doing so will cost those who are bankrolling the political careers of the city council and other elements of the local establishment money, which would likely result in his being terminated from his position, for which he is provided $286,426.03 in yearly salary, $6,365.40 in add-ons and perquisites, $46,923.50 in non-pension related benefits and a $22,598.29 contribution toward his retirement fund for a total annual compensation of $362,313.22.
The Sentinel this week asked Duggan about Rogers’ contention that as the city manager succeeding Martinez, he had been slow on the uptake in not recognizing the danger of what had been imposed on the city by Martinez in accepting an inferior design for the Alabama Street rail crossing proximate to the Alabama Street/Redlands Boulevard intersection and not having the fortitude, once he was in place as the city’s top staff member, of standing up to the city council and SBCTA to ensure that safety concerns relating to the Arrow Route at that crossing, other crossings and the rail line in general were adequately dealt with before service on the Arrow Route line began in October.
The Sentinel inquired about Harris’s lack of licensing as an engineer in California and the circumstance by which engineering certifications for projects in the city are being farmed out to engineers who in at least some cases lack site-specific contextual understanding of the lay of the land with the potential that safety considerations such as those involved with the city’s various railroad crossings were or are being ignored, neglected or not dealt with prudently. The Sentinel asked Duggan if he had reassessed the wisdom of employing Harris as public works director, given that doing so deprives the city of an engineering check-off by someone intimately familiar with the situations/physical circumstances being considered in Redlands.
The Sentinel inquired of Duggan with regard to pedestrian crossing hazards in the city, in particular the one at the University station.
The Sentinel asked Duggan about Rogers’ suggestion and the wider public perception within Redlands that the city is being ill-served by him in that he lacks the strength of character to stand up to the city council, the city’s unlicensed director of public works and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, which has saddled the city with unsafe conditions relating to the rail system in the city.
The Sentinel further asked if he now acknowledges that Rogers was prescient in his anticipation of the problem at the railroad crossing near Redlands Boulevard and Alabama Street and, if in light of what occurred this week, he now wishes that city officials, both before he was city manager and since he has been city manager, had heeded what Rogers had to say.
The Sentinel asked Duggan why the city did not use its power of eminent domain to obtain some of the McDonald’s property to widen the road near the Alabama Street/Redlands Boulevard intersection and Alabama Street-rail crossing to maintain a third through lane.
The Sentinel asked Duggan what the city is going to do going forward, now that Roger’s dire warning has proven out.
The Sentinel asked Duggan what the city is going to do about rail crossing arms. The Sentinel asked Duggan if Woolard and her daughter had fallen victim to an inferior crossing design/intersection design, in his current view.
The Sentinel asked Duggan about Rogers’ litany of expressed concerns with regard to the pedestrian crossings at the city’s various rail crossings and whether he is now viewing them with a greater degree of urgency.
The Sentinel asked Duggan if he feels any remorse for the city’s negligence relating to the railroad crossing near the Redlands/Alabama intersection.
The Sentinel asked Duggan if what occurred this week instilled in him any greater respect for Rogers and his perspicacity and whether he will now be taking Rogers more seriously than he had in the past.
Duggan offered no response.
By Mark Gutglueck