Transportation consultant believes ARC may result in new significant impacts or a substantial increase in the severity of significant impacts.
After the controversy over the approval of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) back in February 2017, and after having to pull the most recent son-of-MRIC item from the Consent Calendar (the project now misleadingly dubbed “Aggie Research Campus” or ARC), you would think that the City Council would have learned its lesson not to try to smuggle important items on the Consent Calendar, where items are meant to be uncontroversial and passed unanimously without any staff presentation or discussion from Council or citizens.
If you thought that, as I did, you were mistaken.
Readers may recall that the ARC is a proposal for a ~200 acre business park with housing and hotel to be built outside Mace curve on prime farmland. When the City Council approved the EIR, they knew it was very possible, even likely, that updates to the EIR would be needed in light of changes to the project or changes to relevant conditions, such as traffic. Now that the City is moving forward with evaluating the new ARC proposal, the time has come to revisit the EIR.
Staff is recommending that the Council authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with Raney Planning & Management, Inc. to prepare a Supplemental EIR and to approve a budget for that purpose, to be paid by the applicant. However, there are at least three potential concerns with this recommendation.
The first question is, why a Supplemental EIR? The staff report is unclear here (it looks like someone did an unfortunate cut-and-paste that left out relevant phrases), but the letter from Raney is clearer. (Materials may be found online here – click on Nov 5 then on item O4B).
The letter from Raney explains that:
…when a lead agency has certified an EIR for a project, and then the project is modified, requiring additional environmental review, the lead agency has a few options for conducting such review. Depending on the nature of the project modifications, a lead agency may prepare an Addendum, a Supplement to the EIR, or a Subsequent EIR.
The letter further explains that first of these three options, an Addendum, can be used only if “none of the conditions described in Section 15162 calling for preparation of a Subsequent EIR have occurred.” It lists those conditions, and then states that one of them, where “substantial changes occur with respect to the circumstances under which the project is undertaken,” could in fact be triggered. Specifically:
Based upon Fehr & Peers’ [a subcontractor’s] preliminary analysis of the traffic count data included in the MRIC EIR and more recent counts conducted on key roadway segments serving the project, it is Fehr & Peers’ professional opinion that the proposed ARC project may result in new significant impacts, or substantial increase in the severity of significant impacts previously identified in the MRIC EIR.
This judgment on its own merits highlighting, as I believe it is of interest to Davisites – the new project may bring new traffic impacts or substantially increase existing ones.
As a consequence, Raney concludes that “an Addendum would not be the appropriate CEQA document to evaluate the environmental effects of the proposed project.” A Supplement to the EIR, it should be noted, is more extensive than an Addendum.
So then the question becomes, is a Supplement to the EIR sufficient, or is a Subsequent EIR needed? Raney very quickly concludes that a Supplement to the EIR is sufficient, “given that the ARC project would likely necessitate minor changes to the overall analysis contained in the MRIC EIR.”
Now, maybe this is the right conclusion, but Raney certainly hasn’t demonstrated it. That is, Raney hasn’t shown that the new proposal only has minor changes. For example: how does the parking compare? Building heights? Use of open space? My own view is that the current project description isn’t detailed enough to fully make a comparison, but the bigger point here is that the comparison wasn’t even made.
In any case, the decision to have a Supplemental EIR rather than a Subsequent EIR is a substantive one. The City Council should insist on hearing the justification for that choice, and should make an informed decision. It should not decide based on a one sentence bare assertion from Raney. (Concern #1)
My second concern with the staff recommendation is that it is unclear. In part, staff is recommending that Council, “Approve the attached Budget Adjustment appropriating $239,566.00 for the Aggie Research Campus Project Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Addendum.”
That makes it sound as though Raney will be preparing an Addendum. But unless I have misunderstood what Raney wrote, they are not proposing to prepare an Addendum. The City Council should get clarification on this point before approving this agenda item. (Concern #2)
Finally, my third concern is with the timeline that Raney has proposed. Raney has allocated time to meet with the Planning Commission and the City Council after the Supplement to the EIR has been produced, but it says that it does not need to meet with the other commissions. Perhaps not.
Nonetheless, however, I believe that the Commissions should have the opportunity to see the Supplemental EIR and comment on it. After all, Commissions are supposed to play a “critical role,” and the purpose of the Commissions is to provide an “important avenue for determining the community’s feelings about an issue.” Time to do that has not been allocated in the timeline, but it should be. Council should insist on it. (Concern #3)
The three concerns I have outlined here are weighty enough to, at a minimum, show that this item should not be on the Consent Calendar and should never have been placed on the Consent Calendar. Now that it has been placed on Consent, Council should pull the item and discuss with staff and amongst themselves, and hear public comment. I urge them to insist on the clarifications that I have recommended here.
Davisites concerned with the ARC and with this item in particular can attend Tuesday’s Council meeting, beginning at 6:30 PM, in order to provide public comment and to see how Council handles this. ARC would be a massive project, much larger in scale than anything else in Davis, and it deserves to be dealt with thoughtfully.