OAKLAND -- Rockridge residents living along Highway 24 gathered at a community meeting to discuss the future of several proposed sound walls that would noticeably reduce noise, but whether the project will ever be realized is still unclear.

Approximately 60 people attended the Sept. 27 meeting at the Rockridge Public Library, which featured a panel of city staff and consultants and focused on whether the city should go forward with a more in-depth study following a preliminary Noise Barrier Scope Summary Report in 2009.

The study would cost approximately $1.4 million, said Wlad Wlassowsky, the city's transportation services manager.

"Before we move ahead, we want to make sure that we have a clear signal from the community," he said.

While the preliminary noise barrier study monitored 10 areas of interest, only the segments running eastbound between Vincente Way and Broadway and westbound between Ross Street and Telegraph Avenue qualified. Affected areas includes homes, as well as Claremont Middle School and Hardy Park. To qualify, an area must be found to have existing or predicted future noise levels of 65 decibels or higher, see a reduction of at least 5 decibels following the project and cost no more than $45,000 per home.

Most attendees seemed in favor of the walls, but 37-year Rockridge resident Jon Gabel said the preliminary study doesn't actually justify their construction.

While the study's recommendations are based on noise level measurements and "worst case scenario" predictions, Gabel argues that the noise predictions are inflated.

"You'd have to dig into the details of the report to really see it," said Gabel, who has begun a website, RockridgeSoundWalls.org, featuring his own analysis of the study. "They're saying that they're making a worst case analysis, but it's much worse than worst."

Pablo Daroux, a representative from Wilson, Ihrig & Associates, conceded that the measured noise levels were, in fact, lower than the threshold.

"It is true that many of the receiver locations fall below the threshold by a decibel or two, but the predictions that we made were for the worst case situations," he said at the meeting. The study used a computer model and Caltrans traffic data.

Caltrans environmental engineer Glenn Kinoshita supports the study and gave the public an idea of how the parallel walls would function. Several residents said they preferred transparent walls, which Kinoshita said are just as effective, but pricier. What remained unclear is whether or not traffic noise at the Rockridge BART station will worsen and if property values will be affected.

The actual noise barrier study can only be conducted if two-thirds of all affected residences give approval. The original approval process specified by the Alameda County Traffic Commission would have required 100 percent of front row homes and 75 percent of second row homes to give consent. The new city policy has not yet been made public.

Construction of the sound walls would still follow ACTC policy. According to Wlassowsky, if a future petition to build them fails, the District 1 Councilmember can file a resolution with City Council and override it.

In addition to misrepresenting the sound study's findings, Gabel is also alleging that District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner is somehow responsible for the move to the laxer approval process because she has accepted campaign contributions from contractors and building supply companies that could benefit from the project, a charge she flatly denies.

"It is a community decision, not my decision," Brunner said in an interview. "I don't have a position one way or another."

If approved, the next study will be funded by money Oakland received after a settlement with Caltrans over unaddressed environmental impacts of the Fourth Bore Project with the Caldecott Tunnel. The city was awarded $8 million. After drafting a list of potential projects, $1.2 million was set aside for studies. Sound walls are just one of many items on the city's wish list, only 21 of which are potentially in the budget.

After the study is conducted, the sound walls will have to compete for state funds with a multitude of other projects, some of which have been on the books for years.

Wlassowsky announced that a petition will soon be circulated and must gather the necessary signatures within one year.

"I won't put anything past a community that's organized and really wants to get something," he said.

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