Many concerns raised about the proposed environmental analysis, timeline, and more
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.
However, it was a very packed agenda, and so Mayor Lee limited comment time for all citizen speakers on all items to 2 minutes rather than the usual 3. What follows are the prepared comments from Roberta Millstein, Colin Walsh, and Rik Keller, which are more extensive than the actual comments that they had time to present. (The City Council's response to these comments is described in a subsequent article).
Roberta Millstein's prepared comments
Thank you for pulling from the Consent Calendar item 4B, concerning the proposed business park project on prime farmland outside of Mace Curve, the so-called “Aggie Research Campus,” or ARC.
Staff is recommending that the Council authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with Raney Planning & Management to prepare a Supplemental EIR for the ARC and to approve a budget for that purpose.
I have five concerns with this recommendation. I’d like to see each of them clarified and discussed.
First, Raney makes clear that there are three options for updating the EIR: an Addendum, a Supplement to the EIR, and a Subsequent EIR. They explain that increased traffic in the area means that an Addendum will not be sufficient, but they don’t explain why a Supplement is sufficient and they don’t explain why the more extensive analysis of a Subsequent EIR isn’t needed.
The Council should insist on hearing the justification for choosing a Supplemental EIR over a Subsequent EIR, and should make an informed decision.
Second, Raney only mentions traffic as a potentially changed factor since 2016. It doesn’t mention other potentially changed factors, such as air quality, noise, and biological features.
The Council should insist that all potentially changed environmental factors will be considered, not just traffic, so that the EIR is complete.
Third, the staff recommendation mentions an Addendum to the EIR, though it is unclear why.
The Council should clarify that an Addendum is not under consideration.
Fourth, Raney’s timeline does not allocate time for Commissions to comment on the EIR.
The Council should insist that there be time in the timeline allocated for this, and should make sure that each of the relevant Commissions has the opportunity to bring their expertise to bear on the EIR. The developer, not the City, put this project on hold in Spring 2016, and has had plenty of time to bring the project back. There is no justification for rushing things now.
Fifth, there is nothing in the timeline about a public scoping period.
There should be a public scoping period, including a public scoping meeting, on the updated EIR.
The ARC would be a massive project, much larger in scale than anything else in Davis, and it deserves to be dealt with thoughtfully. I urge the Council to address the five concerns I have outlined here. Thank you.
Colin Walsh's prepared comments
It appears there are both major changes to the project and major changes in circumstances, both with new potential significant impacts, that require additional environmental review above and beyond the EIR prepared in approximately 2017. This may even meet the criteria for performing a subsequent, or new EIR.
Rather than jumping to the conclusion that just a supplemental EIR is appropriate, I request that the City or its consultants prepare and circulate:
- a clear new project description and compare it to the old one, and
- a checklist that documents all aspects of the project that have changed or not changed and the significance of those changes. I also want to see the same analysis for the changes in circumstances, such as traffic on Mace/Covell or what it means to be in a “climate emergency” as the City of Davis has recently declared.
The Council should be insisting on this from the staff as a starting point.
I would like the new project description and checklist to be circulated along with a recommendation, based on the results of the checklist, that explains why a supplemental or subsequent EIR is appropriate under CEQA Guidelines section 15162.
I would like these documents to be publicly noticed and placed on the regular Council agenda (not the consent calendar), so the public and Council is given the opportunity to understand what exactly is the new project along with potential impacts and to comment on the appropriate type of updated CEQA review. I request this occur before the consultants proceed with the new EIR document.
Finally, I believe the City should prepare an NOP and in good faith follow all public notice and comment requirements of the Public Resources Code and CEQA guidelines sections 15162, 15163, 15072, 15087 etc. I also request that the City view these statutory and regulatory requirements as a floor and the City should provide more robust opportunities for public review and comment, as appropriate and requested.
Rik Keller's prepared comments
I also have concerns regarding the EIR update for the ARC project.
1) In proposing a no-bid contract for almost a quarter million $, the City staff report states that Raney “is well qualified and has experience preparing EIRs in Davis”, but some of the analysis in the previous EIR calls this into question. The project will actually exacerbate the existing jobs-housing imbalance in Davis and increase commuting to our community, which according to SACOG is already a net importer of commuters and already has the longest commuting times in the whole region. Raney messed up the jobs-housing ratio in the previous EIR and stated the opposite. They need to be directed to get their analysis right this time.
2) The staff report mentions conditions that will provide impacts beyond that in the original EIR, focusing on transportation. While this is likely true, there is no data presented that leads to this conclusion. It provides no specific references/citations about what conditions have changed that need to be looked at. This needs to be spelled out clearly before a contract is proposed. What other conditions have changed?
3) the previous project description and the current one are so vague and lacking information in some areas that there is no way to adequately assess the degree to which project has changed and thus what should be scoped in the EIR. One example of this is the required parking. The current proposal calls for almost 4,500 parking spaces. This is a huge number, but it is still far below City of Davis Code requirements and standards of other similar developments in the region. But it is impossible to compare to what the previous project proposed, because those numbers are not laid out at all.
4) The timeline is incredibly compressed. For example, it gives the City exactly one week to review an Admin Review Draft and provide comments. This is totally inadequate. And each step along the way is similarly unrealistic and rushed. It looks like it is just being slammed through based on the developer’s timeline preferences, rather than what it would actually take to do the work properly and provide the community adequate information on the project’s impacts.
The City should pull this consent item, it should provide a much more through review and vetting of the scope of the contract. And I would push for a Subsequent EIR to be considered rather than this weak and rushed supplemental EIR plan.