Other issues unfortunately went unaddressed
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, an item concerning updating the old Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the new Aggie Research Campus (ARC) proposal was pulled from the Consent Calendar, allowing for staff and Council discussion of the issue in addition to public comment.
Five commenters addressed the item, including three commenters whose prepared comments appear in a sister article to this one. Together, these comments made clear why an issue this substantive should never have been on the Consent Calendar in the first place, which is meant for uncontroversial issues that don’t require discussion.
Interestingly, in stark contrast to the last meeting where ARC was on the Consent Calendar, there were no student speakers in support of the project, corroborating the appearance that the previous speakers were coordinated and arranged.
Issues raised included:
- The question of the more extensive analysis a Subsequent EIR would provide
Whether the staff-recommended Supplement to the EIR is sufficient, or whether a more extensive Subsequent EIR is needed; the lack of justification provided for choosing a Supplemental EIR over a Subsequent EIR; topics that need to be included in the EIR but which were not mentioned in the staff or consultant reports, such biological features, 80 acres of parking, potential flooding of the site due to climate change, increased traffic on I-80, and the presence of single-family homes in the proposal; concerns about Raney’s original EIR with respect to the job-housing balance and the need to have those corrected.
- Making an informed decision
The need for a clear and detailed description of the proposed project, not the vague description that has been provided, as well the need for a checklist that documents all aspects of the project that have changed or not changed and the significance of those changes, and to have this information before deciding on the appropriate type of EIR update.
- Proper noticing and consultation and a timeline to accommodate them
The need for an NOP and a good faith following of all public notice and comment requirements of the Public Resources Code and CEQA guidelines sections 15162, 15163, 15072, 15087, etc.; the need for additional consultation with Commissions (not just now, which is already happening, but also after the draft EIR and final EIR are produced) and with the public, all of which should be prominently noticed; the need for a public scoping period and a public scoping meeting on the updated EIR; and the need to adjust the timeline provided by Raney to allow for these and other forms of public consultation.
These comments turned out to be productive ones, with the City Manager’s response providing clarification of a number of issues that were not in the staff or consultant report. For example:
- If, after examining the changed environmental circumstances and changed environmentally-related features, the consultant determines that a Subsequent EIR is necessary, the consultant recommends a Subsequent EIR.
- The consultant will consider environmental impacts besides traffic, such as air quality, noise, greenhouse gases, health risks, and impacts on biological features.
- The public review period will include Commissions commenting on the EIR.
- All state laws concerning public noticing will be followed.
- There will be a scoping meeting, and it will be open to the public and publicly noticed.
Mayor Brett Lee further indicated that, given the controversial nature of this large project, future items concerning it should probably not be on the Consent Calendar, which was good to hear.
Unfortunately, there were several issues that were not addressed:
- There was still no discussion of why a Supplemental EIR is sufficient, just a re-assertion of the consultant’s opinion that it is sufficient. No further evidence was presented, and the City Council did not press for any.
- Some issues, such as the impact of climate change or the inclusion of single-family homes in the project were not mentioned.
- The problems with the previous EIR were not mentioned.
- There was no indication that the timeline would be modified, and it’s hard to see how all of these items will fit into it.
So, I cannot say that there was a robust discussion and analysis of the issues at the meeting. In the end, it was pro-forma, accepting the consultant’s and staff’s advice without digging deeper.
Even though the Council’s lack of engagement was discouraging, there were some positive outcomes, namely the additional information that we have learned and the promise not to put ARC items on the Consent Calendar in the future. Davisites would do well to keep an eye on the continuing discussion of this project (e.g., check the agendas for various commissions; it has already come to the Open Space and Habitat Commission, which I am on, and will be visiting other commissions soon) and to make sure that the promises made at the meeting are kept.