Back in January, the council had agendized the possibility of certifying the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) project – absent a project. But a letter from Attorney Don Mooney led to the developers requesting the proposal be delayed.
The item is now back on the agenda for Tuesday. MRIC had proposed a mix of industrial, commercial and retail uses totaling 2.7 million square feet on the 218-acre site located on the east side of Mace Boulevard near the Second Street intersection.
The draft EIR was released in August 2015, with the final EIR and response to comments back in January 2016.
In a letter dated October 5, Dan Ramos based his request on the notion that “[o]ver the course of the next year and one-half, City staff, technical consultants, City commissions, the applicant team, your Council and the Davis community spent considerable time and energy participating in that effort which resulted in a very thorough environmental impact report (EIR).”
The move has triggered questions and criticism from some in the community, who see the certification of the EIR without a current project as inappropriate and potentially short-circuiting the EIR process.
For his part, Dan Ramos told the city, “We recognize that certification of the EIR does not approve MRIC nor commit the City to any future course of action with respect to the project.”
“To be clear, we are not requesting that any project be approved at this time,” he informed the city.
He also told the city, “We also recognize that any future approval action may require further environmental analysis. Nonetheless, your certification of the EIR would officially acknowledge that the voluminous environmental document prepared for MRIC is adequate and complete.”
Mr. Ramos continued, “It would also provide us with an environmental document which we will be able to use to help attract potential tenants and investors, all of whom are likely to look more favorably on our project if we can show them a certified EIR.
“A certified EIR should accordingly serve as a tool for economic development as certification signals to potential users that this site, though not approved for any development, has undergone the most substantial part of the entitlement process and that the City of Davis is serious about keeping and attracting innovation employers,” he stated.
Finally, Mr. Ramos added, “We believe that the certification process should provide the City an additional opportunity to discuss how our project might move forward in the future.”
According to the city’s analysis, “Certification of an EIR is required prior to approving a project, but approval of a project is not required following certification.”
Certification means that the EIR has been completed in compliance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), it was “presented to the decision making body and that body reviewed and considered the information in the EIR prior to approval of the project,” and it reflects “the lead agency’s independent analysis and judgment.”
Staff writes, “Certification requires no other findings, and can be divorced entirely from consideration of the merits of the project. Essentially, certification signals confidence in the analysis and provides some finality to an expensive and lengthy analytical process.”
They continue: “While typically combined as one concurrent set of actions when approving a project, CEQA does allow for certification apart from project action. It is not uncommon in other jurisdictions for the City to certify an EIR well in advance of any action on a project. While this is not typical in Davis, staff believes this request has merit given the scale and unique nature of this type of undertaking.”
Staff again clarifies that the certification “has no implications for any subsequent action on the project.” Following certification, “the Council is free to approve, deny, or take no action on a project proposal.”
With regard to mitigation measures: “Certification confirms the mitigation requirements for a project based on the regulatory and environmental setting described in the document and based on the project and alternatives as defined in the document. This makes clear the mitigation requirements of the project.”
However, “If significant new information relevant to a project emerges prior to certification of an EIR, recirculation may be required.”
Staff adds, “If directed to move forward, staff is mindful of the importance of clearly communicating to the community throughout the process that certification is not a project action. Direction to proceed with processing this request does not obligate the City Council to certify the EIR. Ultimately that decision would be made if and when a project proposal comes before the City Council.”
In a response to a Vanguard column in January, Dan Ramos wrote: “The simple reason we’re seeking certification on the MRIC EIR is that it makes sense for the city and us to complete the lengthy process, which simply evaluates the impacts of a project if one were to occur in the future on that site. We’ve both invested a significant amount of time and money in getting to this point and have become significantly more educated along the way. Why let that go to waste? That’s what would happen if the EIR isn’t certified.”
“We understand that some in Davis will always question our motives and every move, despite our efforts to transparently implement a viable project that would provide significant economic benefit for the community,” he said.
He acknowledged: “We definitely learned some things along the way and, yes, we proposed changes in the project with an eye toward making it work better for the city and us. Might we choose to do some things differently if we could rewind the clock? Yes, probably. We guess that city staff and at least some members of the City Council probably would say the same thing. But we are where we are. And that is with a project proposal indefinitely on hold and a mostly completed environmental document that initially went out for public review more than 16 months ago.”
He concluded, “As you have reported, certification of the EIR does not in any way serve as approval of a project. If we do come back with a project proposal at some point, we would be subject to and firmly committed to complying with all of the project reviews and approvals, including a Measure R vote, that are required and expected in Davis. We trust under the current circumstances that most would see our request for EIR certification as very reasonable.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting