Back-Seat Driver

Tony Bizjak: Dixon train depot still going nowhere

Dixon has built a $1.3 million depot in hopes of attracting Amtrak or Capitol Corridor passenger trains to stop in town.
Dixon has built a $1.3 million depot in hopes of attracting Amtrak or Capitol Corridor passenger trains to stop in town. Sacramento Bee file

It’s been nearly a year since the state and federal governments launched an inquiry into whether the city of Dixon is misusing federal grant funds it obtained to build a $1.3 million downtown train depot.

What’s happened with the review? So far, not much. Dixon has not responded with the information officials requested. The city’s public works director said last week that the city should soon be able to provide some basic information requested by the state.

The background: Dixon used $875,000 in federal transportation grants a decade ago to build a train station in hopes of enticing Capitol Corridor and Amtrak passenger trains to stop in town.

But those rail agencies say they probably are years away from considering Dixon as a stop. So, the city has been renting the building to the local Chamber of Commerce for $1 a month.

Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration began asking questions late last year, pointing out that the building should be used for some transportation purpose. Either that or the city should be charging market rental rates and using a significant percentage of that income for some transportation purpose.

The state asked Dixon in March to do an appraisal of the station’s rental value. In September, the state sent Dixon officials an email: We haven’t heard from you in months, what’s up?

Dixon’s public works chief, Joe Leach, emailed back an apology, saying significant city staffing changes have “impacted our ability to address this issue.” He has now told the state he will have an appraisal finished by Nov. 18.

Leach said he then expects to expects to sit down with Caltrans and the feds to talk about next steps. He acknowledged that may mean asking the chamber to pay market-rate rent, or finding some way to use the building for transportation purposes.

“We want to explore the options,” Leach said. “How do we address what their issue is. They haven’t yet defined an action that is necessary.”

A Caltrans spokesman said it is possible the state and feds could ask for their funding back, but that doesn’t appear likely at the moment.

“We want to work with the city,” Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco said.

Pete Walker’s run is up

You may have noticed the commercials and billboards lately with the superhero-looking guy carrying a car door as a shield. That’s “Pete Walker,” delivering a pedestrian safety message from the state Office of Traffic Safety.

The monthlong, $900,000 educational campaign ended Sunday in Sacramento. Traffic officials will do polling to see if it made an impression on people, and decide whether to expand the effort elsewhere in the state.

“We’re not expecting it to make a big dent in the numbers of crashes,” OTS spokesman Chris Cochran said. “That is going to be behavior change over time. It takes a long time for social ‘norming’ campaigns to have an effect.”

If the concept works? Cochran: “There could be a Betty Walker and a Kid Walker and Grandpa Walker.”