Planning Commission to Decide Whether to Recommend Certification of MRIC EIR

By David Greenwald : davisguard – excerpt

The Planning Commission this evening is scheduled to make a recommendation as to whether the Mace Ranch Innovation Center Final Environmental Impact Report document adequately analyzes “the potential environmental impacts of the project for the purposes of CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], with the project description as set forth in the EIR.”

Staff is recommending certification with a clarification “that the environmentally superior alternative is the mixed-use alternative assuming the addition of a legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that at least 60 percent of the on-site units would be occupied by at least one MRIC employee can be provided.”

Back in early 2016, the council had rejected a request to make the mixed-use alternative the preferred option and, shortly thereafter, the MRIC’s applicant suspended but did not withdraw their application.

This is the second meeting before the Planning Commission in consideration of certification of the Final EIR for MRIC. It follows a May 24 meeting where staff presented the item and received feedback and questions from the commission and public.

Staff notes that this action “is limited to certification of the FEIR and is not an action on or approval of the project.”

The issue of certification absent an active project remains controversial.

Critics have argued, “The project has not been defined therefore the MRIC EIR should not be certified

the MRIC EIR is flawed, “The MRIC makes false assumptions…

MRIC in its ‘mixed-use’ alternative proposal wants its 850 residential units to be ‘vertical mixed-use’ which is a flawed City zoning category

Finally, they add that “one of the most serious issues is that the City would be compromising the welfare of the community by surrendering its leverage to negotiate with the Ramos developers if the City was to grant certification of the MRIC EIR now. The City needs to retain negotiating power to achieve the design, sustainability features, and timelines on if and when a project was ever to move forward for a vote by Davis citizens.”(more)

We have a few questions that need to be answered to better understand the CEQA process and how it relate to other development approvals.  How do government projects differ from private development projects?

 

Most of us are familiar with the CEQA Flowchart. We could use a little primer on the next steps. What happens after CEQA is approved? How does CEQA tie into the federal NEPA requirements and how may citizens be involved in that part of the process. We need to a chart for the next steps that involve the approval of the project. How and when does this fit in? Sometimes the Planning Commission approves all the steps at one time. Other times the approvals are split, such as they are with the Geary BRT that has been approved without the  project design. We need a chart that times these options into the ERI process. If anyone can help with that, let us know.

 

CEQA: This law has done a good job

by Cesar Diaz and Kyle Jones : capitolweekly – excerpt

The California Environmental Quality Act has long been the punching bag of business interests and some policy makers. It has been blamed for everything from a dearth of affordable housing to a sluggish economy during financial downturns.

Yet, until now, precious little objective research has been conducted to understand the costs and benefits associated with this 46-year-old law…

Recently,  the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment commissioned BAE Urban Economics to draft an objective report to dig into this sticky question.

Leveraging a combination of rigorous quantitative analysis, a literature review of past research, case studies and a review of recent legislative changes to the law, the report found little evidence of economic harm inflicted by this landmark environmental law.

In fact, the report found that CEQA has done a good job of helping California to grow in an environmentally sustainable way. The state is relying more on increased density to accommodate a growing population and less on agricultural land and open space to accommodate new housing than it has in decades past.

California is now the 11th most densely populated state in the nation, up from its ranking of 13th in 1970. Nearly one-quarter of the most walkable cities in the US are now located in California.

It’s difficult to justify claims that this law impedes environmentally-sensitive development with these facts at hand… (more)

California Supreme Court Rejects Mandatory “Reverse CEQA” Analysis

By Heather S. Riley : allenmatkins – excerpt

The California Supreme Court issued its long awaited opinion yesterday in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (CBIA v. BAAQMD), commonly referred to as the “Reverse CEQA” case. Read the full decision.

The Supreme Court’s opinion upholds four published CEQA decisions and rejects the so-called “reverse CEQA” argument, which would require an analysis of the “impact of existing environmental conditions on a project’s future users or residents” for every proposed development project in California. The Court held – based on the plain language of CEQA – that a lead agency must analyze the impact of existing environmental conditions on a project only for certain airport, school, and housing construction projects and when a proposed project “risks exacerbating” existing “environmental hazards or conditions.”

Opponents of development have often advanced the reverse CEQA argument as a back-up claim in case their substantive claims fail. The Supreme Court not only took on the issue, thereby limiting the circumstances under which the opposition can make such a claim, but the Court also disputed the “reverse CEQA” nomenclature as “misleading and inapt.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is good news for the development community. However, there have been recent efforts to enact legislation that would statutorily recognize the reverse CEQA argument. It would not be surprising if the CBIA v. BAAQMD decision sparks renewed efforts on that front in Sacramento…(more)

RELATED:
California Supreme Court Rejects Mandatory “Reverse CEQA” Analysis Supreme Court Reaffirms Scope of CEQA Analysis in California Building Industry Association (CBIA) v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

CEQA baseline can consider historic levels of use

Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP : lexology – excerpt

North County Advocates v. City of Carlsbad (2015)—Cal.App.4th—Case No. D066488

Why It Matters: This case addresses an important issue under CEQA relating to the development of the existing conditions baseline against which project impacts are measured. This decision holds that an EIR prepared for the renovation of a vacant department store could include the store’s historical operational information in establishing the environmental baseline for the project’s traffic impact analysis under CEQA.

Facts: In 1969 a Westfield shopping center was constructed in Carlsbad, California (City). It featured retail shops and five main anchor department store buildings, one of which was a Robinsons-May store. Under a “Precise Plan” approved by the City in 1977, Westfield was entitled to renovate the interior of the Robinsons-May store and fully occupy it without obtaining further approvals. In 2006 the Robinsons-May store became vacant, although smaller retailers such as Halloween stores occupied the space intermittently from time to time thereafter. In August 2012 the City released a draft EIR for a project to demolish and reconstruct the former Robinsons-May store, approximately six years after it had become vacant. The project would result in a net loss of 636 square feet of total gross leasable area… (more)

Will Harrington Challenge Hotel on CEQA Grounds?

Posted by David Greenwald : davisvanguard – excerpt

Three weeks ago the Davis City Council tentatively approved the Hotel-Conference Center along Richards Boulevard, and they did so making a Mitigated Negative Declaration arguing that the impacts of the project and the “recommended mitigation measures reduce any potential environmental impacts to less-than-significant levels.”

However, in a letter delivered Tuesday afternoon from Attorney Don Mooney on behalf of Michael Harrington, he argues that “approval of the project would violate the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Public Resources Code, section 21000 et seq. as substantial evidence in the record of proceedings supports a fair argument that the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center Project may have significant environmental impacts to traffic and other matters such as historical resources.”

“The Initial Study must provide the factual basis and the analysis for the determination that a project will not have a significant impact on the environment,” Mr. Mooney writes. They then present an “expert opinion” provided by Dan Smith of Smith Engineering & Management, who argues that “a ‘fair argument’ exists that the Project may have significant impacts regarding traffic and circulation.”

Mr. Mooney continues, “Mr. Smith identifies significant flaws in the Transportation Impact Study for the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center. Mr. Smith’s comments result in conflicting claims regarding the Project’s impacts to traffic and historic resources. It is the function of an environmental impact report, not a negative declaration, to resolve these conflicting claims.”

City Attorney Harriet Steiner said they have gone over the issue of using a “Neg Dec” versus an “EIR.” She said, “Staff went through an initial study to determine what impacts this project would cause based on the baseline. As we went through that and as we did the analysis we did not feel that there was a fair argument that the project itself would cause an impact that required preparation of the EIR. That is why staff recommended and the city went forward with a ‘Neg Dec.’”… (more)

We are noticing a lot of negative impacts of traffic showing up in arguments against projects. We also are hearing about a shift in attitude by so-called “moderate democrats” who are starting to fight back against the continued use of transportation funds on non-transit and anti-car projects. Appeals cases that reach the high courts are also denying projects based on these arguments.

Brown deal allows steals local rights

hanfordsentinel – excerpt

“CANOE THEORY AT WORK IN GUV’S CEQA EXEMPTION DEALS”

Gov. Jerry Brown has never professed to be the model of political or ideological consistency. In fact, he’s a decades-long advocate of the “canoe theory” of politics, which goes like this: You paddle a little to the left and you paddle a little to the right, and you keep going straight down the middle of the steam.”

You also keep all sides guessing a lot of the time and you make sure opponents of some of your policies are allies on others.

So the governor who once proclaimed that “small is beautiful” and announced an “era of limits” for California apparently has no stomach for limits on huge developments.

That’s the meaning of the agreements he made with legislators to exempt some of the most significant building projects on California drawing boards from many environmental regulations. These deals were part of the horse-trading that led to easy passage of the new state budget.

Brown’s press release on the budget, of course, made no mention of such deals, which also exempt the project-enabling bills from thorough legislative hearings because like the developments they promote, they are fast-tracked…

This is the same governor who has not opposed changes in the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, that allow developers to qualify initiatives okaying their projects for local ballots and then let city councils adopt those initiatives without a public vote or debate.

If this is what Brown really meant when he campaigned in 2010 on a promise to devolve more government authority to locals and away from the state, it will surely go down as one of the least green and least positive legacies of his long political career…  (more)

These discrepancies have not gone unnoticed by the press, but this a particularly well-authored interpretation. Good reading for those of us who lack the clarity or the nerve to call the Governor out on his tactics.

Jacobs wins $1.2 billion high-speed rail contract

Los Angeles Business Journal, 7/21/15 – excerpt

A consortium led by Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. has been awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide design services for the second section of the California high-speed rail system.

The contract is for the Construction Package 2-3 of the California High Speed Rail, which represents the continuation of construction on the rail system south towards Kern County.

Pasadena-based Jacobs(NYSE: JEC) is the lead designer for the joint venture for the design-build contract and is responsible for the infrastructure design. The venture includes Dragados USA Inc., a subsidiary of Spain’s Grupo ACS and Dragados S.A., and Flatiron West Inc. of San Marcos. http://www.dfcp23.com

The California High Speed Rail is the first true high-speed rail being constructed in the United States, with operating speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. The ultimate program stretches from San Diego to San Francisco and includes connections in major cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank, Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno and a spur to Sacramento.

The Construction Package 2-3 is expected to provide 65 miles of infrastructure improvements required for the future high-speed rail, including 10 million yards of new high-speed rail embankment, 23 high-speed rail structures and 32 new roadway grade separations. The project covers a 65-mile portion of the 120-mile initial construction segment, which will be used as a test track for vehicles before being put into service.

“This project is one of the largest in the state’s history and, once completed, should provide the traveling public with a fast, clean alternative stretching from Southern to Northern California,” Jacobs Group Vice President Randy Pierce said in a statement.

Separately, Jacobs said it also was awarded a five-year, multiple use contract by Suncor Energy Services Inc. for turnaround services at Suncor facilities in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta, Canada.

Under the terms of the contract, Jacobs may provide pre-work, execution and post-work for turnaround events during planned outages at Suncor facilities. Turnaround services to be provided under this contract include mechanical, piping and support services.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

This sounds like what the SFMTA was caught doing in North Beach. They signed the contract to tunnel to North Beach four years before they brought the project to the public’s attention. It was at a meeting we attended that Supervisor Chiu was made aware of the situation and started moving the tunnel from the middle of Columbus Avenue to its current spot. Otherwise, North Beach would have a huge whole in the middle of the street next to Washington Square Park and traffic would be worse than it is now, (if you can image that.)

8 Washington Backers Appeal One Decision Today, But Won’t Argue Another

hoodline – excerpt

BIG WIN FOR THE CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO!

In news for watchers of the 8 Washington saga, the proposed condo development’s backers have decided not to appeal a recent big decision against them. Read on for the nitty-gritty in the latest installment of the contentious battle over Seawall Lot 351’s future.

Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney representing Defend Our Waterfront, a coalition of groups opposed to the project, told the court during a hearing today that the developers of 8 Washington and the Port of San Francisco won’t appeal a decision saying the environmental impact review (EIR) for the entire project is invalid. The California Superior Court ruled the EIR wasn’t legal because a traffic study was inadequate (more)

Spring 2014 CEQA roundup

By Miller Starr Regalia and Arthur F. Coon : lexology – excerpt

It’s that time of year again – business mixers, the Giants in first place in the NL west, the school year winding down, the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing, coastal whale migrations, California bursting with beautiful weather, flora and fauna … and, of course, the Spring CEQA roundup!  So here goes the latest potpourri of CEQA developments, big and small: