Traffic noise rattles Brentwood neighborhood

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Sukumar Dash lives in Brentwood’s Siena Village and is seeking a fix for the traffic noise he says burdens his family.

The time-saving and safety benefits of the Balfour Road Interchange Project have been a dream come true for many East County motorists. But one Brentwood family and their neighbors say the reconfigured highway has turned their home life into a nightmare.

Sukumar Dash, a Siena Village subdivision resident whose sound wall-shielded home is one of an estimated 12 that back up to the reconfigured roadway, says additional noise precludes his family from getting a full night’s sleep, causes health problems, shakes their residence, sours outdoor neighborhood gatherings and leaves them stressed and irritated.

“This is our haven, we want to sleep, we want to have peace,” said Dash, who has lived in the Carrara Street home with his family since 2014. “We can’t even sit and just talk because of the constant noise.”

The sound struggles zoomed in immediately after a portion of the interchange opened in July 2018, bringing the road an estimated 89 feet from his property — about 204 feet closer than the old configuration, Dash said. To make matters worse, the section of wall erected to guard his residence dips slightly lower than other homes in the subdivision, due to the land’s contours.

“Our heads start pounding with the noise of emergency vehicles,” said Shivangi Dash, Sukumar’s wife.

The Dash family is not alone.

“We have young kids who, when they sleep, are woken up because the house shakes from all the noise,” said Jason Hillin, whose home is also near the wall.

Nearby resident Shauna White said she moved to Brentwood from Concord, but the change has blown up in her face.

“I moved to Brentwood because I wanted to get away from the noise, the congestion, the pollution,” she said. “Now Highway 4 has been expanded and my quality of life has completely decreased.”

Sukumar says he’s expressed his concerns with city staff; the city council; the home builder, Lennar Homes; the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which managed the project; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Assemblymember Jim Frazier, with no resolution materializing.

“Everyone is saying it’s the city’s responsibility,” he said.

Community Development Director Casey McCann confirmed that the bypass and interchange design was established prior to the city processing the Siena Village subdivision application.

The housing project’s environmental review, conducted in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, took into account the construction of the future highway and interchange. It concluded that future Siena Village residences could experience negative noise impacts beyond city standards, unless two mitigation measures were implemented: the present sound wall and sound-rated windows installed when the homes were built.

“These mitigations were approved by the city and were fully implemented during the construction of Siena Village,” McCann said.

Linsey Willis, Contra Costa County Transportation Authority external affairs director, said that when the Balfour project’s final environmental impact report (FEIR) was certified in 1994, the only approved residential development nearby was the early phases of the Summerset active adult community, which sit behind a sound wall on the opposite side of the road to Siena Village.

“Following certification of the FEIR in 1994, any residential development projects would be required to construct their own sound barriers sufficient to mitigate potential future noise impacts,” Willis said.

In a statement sent to The Press, the home builder, Lennar Homes, wrote, “Lennar played no role in the Route 4 bypass project or the neighboring sound wall, which were planned and decided prior to Lennar’s involvement with the community. Lennar disclosed to all its buyers, including Mr. and Mrs. Dash, that the Route 4 bypass project was in the works.”

Sukumar says the myriad explanations he’s received don’t make sense. He doesn’t understand why the early phases of Summerset, built behind a sound wall on the opposite side of the freeway from his home were developed with an added open vegetation buffer between the wall and the start of the homes.

Also, the sound wall accompanying the Cortona Park assisted living facility, not far from his home on the same side of the highway, rises an estimated 14 feet — 7 feet higher than his wall.

City officials attribute the height difference to the complex being three stories tall.

Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina contends that the city fulfilled all its legal obligations leading up to the subdivision’s construction, but city staff has met with the Dashes and others several times in an effort to figure out a resolution, to avoid the issue unraveling into litigation.

The outcome of those ongoing discussions was not disclosed at press time.

“We could have given up on this a long time ago, but we continue at it, trying to find a good solution so neither side has to spend litigation dollars,” Vina said. “But we are kind of at the end of trying everything that we can.”

The Dashes and other neighbors have indicated they’d like the 7-foot-high sound wall to be raised; their windows modified to combat the noise; and trees planted between the sound wall and their residences.

City officials confirmed earlier this month that one idea being considered is adding an insert-like mechanism to one or more windows, intended to further shield incoming noise.

It’s believed that raising the sound wall wouldn’t likely solve the sound interference, because the structure wouldn’t reach the second-story bedroom window, Vina said. Additionally, the work would likely be cost-prohibitive and would require tests to determine if the engineering of the wall could accommodate additional weight and load.

Any deal struck would likely stipulate that the city is freed from any further liability, although Vina is adamant the city followed all laws and required regulations leading up to the subdivision’s arrival.

“That would be the only reason for the city to spend money on it,” Vina said. “Otherwise, you set a horrible precedent, and for everybody who comes in and complains about a sound wall, you’d be spending money.”

As the issue lingers, the Dashes’ quality of life hangs in the balance. Sukumar said the noise routinely awakens his family at around 2 a.m., and sections of his house, including the bathroom, shake.

His young daughter’s room, facing the freeway, is no longer used for sleeping, and other second-story room windows are configured with cardboard and Styrofoam in an attempt to reduce the noise. Three fans also run nightly, although it does little to drown out traffic sounds, he said.

Additionally, doctors have noticed health changes in him, and his wife suffers frequent headaches, which the couple attributes to the noise and resulting irritation.

“I am really upset,” Sukumar said. “My family is suffering, and we don’t have money to move. Besides, who would want to buy this home?”