Responding to feedback from the public last week, the Davis City Council will take up the issue of the timing of the EIR. Several members of the public spoke during public comment time to ask for an extension in the public review for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), citing the massive size of the documents – some illustrating that size by holding up the more than 4000 pages worth of documents.
While there are those who see these as simply delay tactics, the Vanguard believes that there are legitimate cases to be made for delay. As we noted last week, it may be easy to chalk up the call for the delay as a tactic to kill the project. But it is a mistake to write off the public commenters as strictly opponents. Our analysis suggests that there is a large mix of people joining in the call for delay – some have opposed every project but others are more open-minded and willing to support good and well-planned development in the community.
But the bottom line is that the EIR, 4000 pages or so, is cumbersome – and more cumbersome than just about any other project. Not to grant a 45-day extension is to invite warranted criticism that the project is being rushed before the ability of the citizens to reasonably and adequately evaluate the findings of the EIR.
On the other hand, council has to be cognizant of the timeline. There is an expressed desire, at least by the developers and perhaps the city, that the project go on the June 2016 ballot. There may be some political candidates who would prefer not to have to run alongside the initiative, but we see no reason why June 2016 is a drop dead date. We also see no reason why an extension would necessarily hamper the vote on that date if it is deemed necessary.
The far bigger question than the extension of the EIR is the inclusion of housing. We have had a number of our commenters make the statement that they would consider the innovation park – but only without housing.
When the city of Davis in May of 2014 issued its Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), one of the guiding attributes was “Acknowledgement of community’s current desire for no residential to be included.” The decision was based on extensive discussions in the community and the widespread belief by many that the inclusion of housing would change the terms of discussion and undermine the possibility of the project gaining Measure R approval.
However, the developer is pushing the EIR finding. In a press release they write, “A draft environmental analysis released today on the proposed Mace Ranch Innovation Center in Davis concludes that incorporating live-work housing into the project reduces its greenhouse gas and traffic impacts.”
They continue, “Among the EIR’s key findings on a project alternative that includes on-site housing: A 13 percent overall reduction in vehicular trips, with a 35 percent reduction during the morning commute period and a 32 percent reduction during the evening commute period. A reduction in daily vehicle miles traveled of more than 25 percent. A reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
They conclude, “Based on these findings, the study determines that the project alternative with housing is environmentally superior to the innovation center without housing.”
Last week, residents like Eileen Samitz argued, “The only reason I was considering this innovation park concept was because of the economics and realizing we need to come up with a better solution for how we’re going to support the city and not depend on housing as being temporary fixes.”
Against that backdrop, a poll conducted by polling firm JMM Research of 300 likely voters found that 69 percent of residents favor the Mace Ranch Innovation Park with only 11 percent against, and 57 percent of respondents said adding housing was either very or somewhat important to them. Forty percent said it wasn’t important to them.
While the poll was taken in April, we have to take these results with a good amount of skepticism. Sixty-nine percent approval seems extraordinarily high for this type of poll. Only 11 percent disapproval leads us to healthy skepticism.
For example, a year ago in April, a poll released by the same polling firm showed 60 percent supporting the plan with 29 percent opposing. So we are to believe that support has significantly widened in a year’s time? At the same time, the city’s fiscal picture has improved, the city has lost one of its projects, and opposition has seemed to grow to the innovation park concept.
But even accepting the 69-11 numbers, there is still a red flag here. The inclusion of housing seems to drop support from 69 to 57 percent – or at least that is one possible interpretation. What is beyond dispute is that support for housing is 12 percentage points weaker than support for the overall project.
If you believe that this is going to be a razor-thin margin for passage, why introduce a potential barrier?
Our reading of the full EIR suggests that there are better strategies for dealing with VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions as well as traffic and circulation problems. The development of a transportation plan that can help people commute more efficiently to the park is a way to reduce the impact of VMT and GHG, while avoiding the thorny issue of on-site housing.
Given the long buildout rate of the project, the city has a number of years to address these issues before either become an insurmountable issue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting