If there is one thing all of the residents of Ventura agree upon, it is the railway bridge spanning Highway 101 is an eyesore. City officials have been working on a deal with Union Pacific Railroad and Caltrans for the last couple of years in an effort to restore the appearance of the bridge to a pristine condition and to keep it that way, but what the city wants and what Union Pacific is willing to do are two different things.
Last month, the city and Union Pacific hit a proverbial brick wall. The railroad company agreed to pay $90,000 to repaint the bridge and $20,000 toward abatement in the form of shields, referred to as Nu-Guards (razor-sharp shields bolted to the base of the support beams), to prevent anyone from climbing the bridge to add graffiti. The yearly franchise fee paid to the city would also increase from $8,000 to $12,000 for the next 50 years.
Councilman Neal Andrews on Monday night said the fee was already too low and $12,000 each year for the next 50 years wasn’t acceptable. Councilman Carl Morehouse agreed.
“I’m tired of corporate America running little towns,” Morehouse said, and went on further about placing the responsibility of the Council today on the backs of future councilmembers.
Another major concern, as part of the negotiation, is Union Pacific passing off responsibility for future maintenance and all liability to the city. The problem: the railroad owns the bridge and the city permits trains to travel along adjacent properties. For instance, should a tagger fall off the bridge due to the shields, the city might be held responsible. Future maintenance and security could cost the city up to $30,000 a year.
The City Council decided 5-2 to keep negotiating, with Councilmen Neal Andrews and Carl Morehouse voting against it. Andrews suggested that the city should deny the company permission to run its trains through the city, but City Attorney Ariel Calonne said such a policy could violate federal law and bring lawsuits from the railroad.
Councilwoman Christy Weir expressed concern that any deal might fall off the table indefinitely if a decision wasn’t made soon. Because of the state’s budget problems, money to go toward the project could dry up.
City Manager Rick Cole indicated that the latest agreement could possibly be the last.
“We’ve come to the last millimeter [of these negotiations],” he said. “It is up to the Council to weigh this.”
Future negotiations, Cole said, wouldn’t do much good, and he suggested the Council appoint a committee to take on the task.
For the time being, Ventura’s best-known eyesore will remain just that. The City Council did not indicate when the subject would be discussed again.