I hear the train a-comin’ …

Though a “quiet zone” was officially established last week for trains rumbling through the city of Sacramento, residents may have noticed that lonesome, high-decibel horn still a-blowin’ a gaping hole in their peace of mind. Last summer, the Federal Railroad Administration established a Train Horn Rule that increased train noise, requiring locomotives to blast their whistles 15-20 seconds before crossings and keep it blaring as they went through. In answer to noise complaints, Sac’s Department of Transportation petitioned the FRA to establish a 24-hour quiet zone in the city, extending from Meadowview Road to C Street. The quiet zone was supposed to go into effect Friday, September 15. But the horns kept blowing.

“In a perfect world, it would have stopped automatically on Friday,” said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker. “It’s up to the FRA to make it happen.” In other words, what would we expect of the giant, Eastern, rusting bureaucracy of the Washington, D.C.-based FRA but a process that rolls along as slowly and heavily as a freight train? “My understanding is that there’s been some confusion,” Warren Flatow of the FRA’s public-affairs department said. He passed the buck to Union Pacific, claiming, “They had some safety concerns, but my understanding is they’ve changed their minds.” He assured SN&R that the FRA is “working closely with the parties involved” and added that “hopefully, the situation will be remedied soon.” Meanwhile, keep earplugs handy.

—Justin Allen

Cars don’t kill planets; people do

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is turning up the heat on the world’s largest automakers—payback for making products, he contends, that have been unlawfully warming the Earth for decades. In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on September 20, Lockyer said car companies like General Motors, Ford and Toyota have been creating a public nuisance in the state by producing “millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide,” which has caused harm to the people of California and its environment.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers issued a statement in response to the complaint, pointing out that every automobile manufactured by the defendants is approved by the state before it reaches the dealer’s lot. The statement also highlighted the various fuel-efficient automobiles and technologies available in their clients’ product lines. Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, was quick to dismiss the automakers’ reply. “They have had to be pushed and dragged, kicking and screaming, into manufacturing the few hybrids that they even have on the market,” Schilling added.

The complaint, although novel in its approach, has less than even odds of surviving a dismissal motion, according to Holly Doremus, a professor of law at the UC Davis School of Law. “The automobile manufacturers are not directly emitting the CO2 that AG is complaining about,” said Doremus. “One of the things [the defendants] are surely going to say is the problem is not your cars. It’s the people who are driving them.”

—Luke Gianni

Need to know

The governor may have to put his pen where his mouth is in regard to his campaign promise of a more open and transparent government. Assembly Bill 2927, if approved by the governor, will significantly ease restrictions on public access to state records as well as penalize agencies that fail to timely respond to lawful requests.

The bill arrived on the governor’s desk soon after many of the state’s agencies received a failing grade in an independent statewide audit of its public-record procedures. Californians Aware, a nonprofit watchdog organization, administered the audit in January by making simple record requests to 30 different state agencies. High cost, unnecessary delays and general unresponsiveness were cited during the course of the audit.

If passed, the bill would allow citizens to request records on simplified forms available on specific agencies’ Web sites. Courts also will be permitted to order agencies that were determined to have acted in bad faith to pay the requester $100 a day for every day of unwarranted delay.

“This bill would put a hammer on the agencies to stay away from bad-faith conduct,” said the director of Californians Aware, Terry Francke. As of press time, the governor had not officially indicated whether he would sign the bill. He has until September 30 to do so.

—Luke Gianni