Note: Former City Councilmember Michael Harrington has submitted an alternative traffic report in response to the EIR on Nishi claiming inadequacy of the traffic study. Gary Jakobs and Chris Mundhenk of Ascent has responded, concluding that the submittal by Dan Smith does not present new information.
Ascent is providing the following memorandum to document our review of information submitted by Dan Smith (via Michael Harrington) to the City Council and Katherine Hess on February 2, 2016. Mr. Smith provided two separate documents, which are addressed in the order they were received:
- Nishi Gateway Project FEIR Comment Letter
- Nishi Alternative Access Explanation
Both documents were submitted after 4:00 on the day of the February 2, 2016 City Council meeting and were presented by Michael Harrington to the Council as part of his verbal comments on the project. At the time of the City Council meeting (approximately 2-3 hours later), neither City staff nor Ascent Environmental sufficient time to review the documents and provide a summary/response to the City Council as part of the meeting. This memorandum summarizes Ascent’s review and evaluation of the additional comments offered by Mr. Smith.
Nishi Gateway Project FEIR Comment Letter
In general, statements made in the first submittal from Mr. Smith do not present new substantive information that would either require revision of the EIR. The following discussion sequentially responds to comments made by Mr. Smith, as appropriate.
VISSIM and Existing Conditions
Mr. Smith requests additional data/documentation of how the VISSIM data was validated. The VISSIM model runs summarized in the Draft EIR and provided as part of the Final EIR (Appendix B) are considered to be valid and an accurate representation of existing traffic conditions. As noted in the Response to Comments I4-2, the VISSIM model runs were validated using the guidelines established in the Traffic Analysis Toolbox Volume III. The EIR’s analysis, including the VISSIM runs, used approved methodologies prepared by qualified technical experts. The provision of additional documentation, such as photographic evidence of professionals on-site at a given day and time, is not considered necessary or warranted.
Consistency with Prior Statements in Other Reports
Mr. Smith provides additional statements calling into question the EIR’s analysis based on a single statement made in a 2011 study completed for a different project located within UC Davis campus. As noted in Response to Comment I4-7, the text from the 2011 study was prepared under the direction of UC Davis as lead agency pursuant to CEQA and was intended to provide additional clarification regarding periods of congestion that may occur within the peak hour, which may be perceived in excess of modeled Level of Service for a given intersection. This comment does not provide substantive information to the contrary. As noted throughout the Final EIR and in this memorandum, the EIR’s analysis of traffic conditions was conducted in accordance with established analysis procedures and consistent with City and Caltrans guidance. No changes to the analysis of the EIR are considered necessary or warranted as a result of this comment.
Mr. Smith’s comment regarding trip distribution focuses on how vehicle miles traveled (VMT) were determined. This is addressed below under the subheading “Vehicle Miles Traveled.”
Mr. Smith’s comments regarding trip generation do not provide substantial evidence to refute the analysis in the EIR. Furthermore, Mr. Smith’s comment does not take into consideration the project’s trip cap and monitoring system that would be imposed through implementation of Mitigation Measure 4.14-5. As has been noted several times during the public hearings for this project (both in Planning Commission and City Council), the rental housing market in the City of Davis is dominated by students and is currently estimated to have a 0.2% vacancy rate. Based on the projected growth in student population at UC Davis, the assumption that 85% of the rental housing would be occupied by students is considered a conservative but reasonable estimate of on-site rental housing.
Existing + Project Analysis and Mitigation
Mr. Smith’s comments regarding the analysis of existing + project conditions do not present new information beyond what was previously presented as part of the Final EIR. Please refer to the discussion of “VISSIM and Existing Conditions” for a response to Mr. Smith’s reiterated comment regarding documentation of validation. With respect to the relocation of the bus stop, it is important to note that Mr. Smith appears to be interpreting Figure 4.14-9 as a final design of the improvement, which is clearly identified as conceptual in its title on page 4.14-47. The exact location may shift to allow safe movement of vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists through the area, pending review and approval by the City. In his comment, Mr. Smith states that the issue of relocation is integral to a determination of feasibility of the physical improvement of the intersection of Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive. These statements are considered general in nature and not supported by evidence.
Regarding tree removal, Mr. Smith expresses concern regarding the potential for tree removal. As noted in the Draft EIR, and in the Final EIR, Figure 4.14-9 provides a conceptual illustration of how improvement of the intersection of Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive may occur. Whether or not tree removal would be required at the intersection is unclear at this time. However, tree removal (if necessary) would be conducted in compliance with the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance. It should also be noted that the historic structure is limited to the physical underpass structure, which would not be affected by the implementation of Mitigation Measure 4.14-2.
Mr. Smith also takes issue with the acknowledgement on page 3-16 of the Draft EIR of the potential removal of two structures along the south side of West Olive Drive. The removal of the two structures on the south side of West Olive Drive is carried through the analysis of the EIR, as evidenced by the evaluation of “Redrum Burger” and other structures as part of Section 4.5, “Cultural Resources.” The demolition of the two structures is also referred to in multiple locations throughout the EIR (e.g. page 4.3-18 of the Draft EIR with respect to air quality emissions.)
Mr. Smith also states that the EIR improperly identified impacts to the intersection of Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive. With any CEQA analysis, potential impacts of a given project are evaluated against established thresholds or performance standards to determine significance (CEQA Guidelines Section 15064.7). As noted in the Draft EIR and Response to Comment I4-18, acceptable LOS (as identified in City planning documents) is often used as a threshold under CEQA. As such, the EIR appropriately evaluated the potential impact of the project on the designated acceptable LOS for the intersection of Richards Boulevard and West Olive Drive. No further response is necessary or required.
Vehicle Miles Traveled
Beginning on page 11, Mr. Smith’s comments echo his previous comments that the estimates of VMT is understated. The basis for that conclusion is an evaluation of the VMT forecast of 45,000 in the context of the trip distribution table. This comparison is not appropriate. The VMT forecast is based on all daily project trips while the trip distribution table provided in the EIR is for trips assigned to the roadway network during the AM and PM peak hour for the intersection Level of Service (LOS) analysis. The vehicle trips generated by the project during the AM and PM peak hour (i.e., total of two hours) comprise approximately 18 percent of the daily project vehicle trips, as shown in Table 4.14-8b in the Draft EIR. The trips made during the peak hours are made almost exclusively for commute purposes, and are termed as home-based-work trips. Trips made during the remaining 22 hours of the day are mostly non-commute trips and made for purposes such as shopping, school, recreational, etc. These trips are much shorter in length, on average, than commute trips.
The VMT forecast of 45,000 reflects all daily trips, and their associated trip lengths, including commute trips (typically about 30 percent of trips) and non-commute trips (the remaining 70 percent of trips). The MXD model used to estimate VMT provides an estimate of three outcomes: choice of internal destination, choice of walking on external trips, and choice of transit on external trips. Models are estimated separately by trip purpose: home-based-work, home-based-other, and non-home-based. This allows for MXD model to isolate how different factors influence different trip purposes and gives the ability to distinguish peak hour travel (disproportionately home-based-work) from off-peak travel (disproportionately home-based-other and non-home-based).
The MXD model starts with Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) trip generation as a baseline. ITE trip generation does not distinguish trip generation by trip purposes. MXD uses national data from NCHRP Report 716, Travel Demand Forecasting: Parameters and Techniques (2012) to distribute total trips (as estimated by ITE) into the three trip purposes described above. These trip purpose distributions vary by land use type (e.g. retail land uses have a higher percentage of home-based-other trips than industrial land uses). As NCHRP Report 716 is based on national data, the user may insert more accurate local data where appropriate. For this project, trip purpose distribution values from the City of Davis citywide travel model were used for all land uses.
The MXD model calculates reductions to the ITE trip generation once the trips are distributed to the various trip purposes. These net trips (by purpose) are then used for estimation of VMT. The DEIR incorporates adjustments for on-site internalization, walk, bike, and transit mode shares for home-based work, home-based other, and not home-based trips, then multiplies the resulting vehicle trips by average trip lengths to calculate VMT. Mode shares and average trip lengths were generally derived from the 2012 California Household Travel Survey (CHTS). Additional data adjustments were applied to account for the unique characteristics of the Proposed Project relative to existing Davis developments based on expected home locations of employees (BAE, 2014) and work locations of residents. For employees who do not live in Davis and residents who do not work in Davis, home-based work mode shares were assumed to reflect SACOG model averages. Average trip lengths were similarly derived from the City of Davis Economic Evaluation of Innovation Park Proposals (Bay Area Economics, March 2015) for project employees who do not live in Davis, and from SACOG model averages for residents who do not work in Davis. The average one-way commute trip length that is incorporated in the VMT forecast for the share of project employees who would not live in Davis, based on the BAE (2015) report, is 21.5 miles.
Mr. Smith also indicates that he believes the provided mitigation measure would not mitigate the Project’s addition to VMT to less than significance based on the “vagueness, unquantifiable effectiveness, and speculative nature of the laundry list of potential measures in the DEIR”. The commenter also indicates that neither of the specific TDM program goals (i.e., (a) achieve a 1.5 AVR (average vehicle ridership) and (b) 10 percent reduction in peak hour trips) would reduce VMT very much.
Mitigation Measure 4.14-5 includes seven (7) specific TDM strategies that are described in detail in the referenced Nishi Gateway Project Sustainability Implementation Plan. These strategies are not vague, but very specific in nature and targeted to the Nishi Gateway Project. The Sustainability Implementation Plan also provides a quantification of the VMT reductions associated with these strategies based on Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures: A Resource for Local Government to Assess Emission Reductions from Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures, California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (August, 2010).
Mitigation Measure 4.14-5 requires the development of a TDM program, with a list of targeted demand management strategies. Because the TDM program will be applied over the lifetime of the Nishi Gateway Project, during which substantial changes in the way people travel are anticipated, the mitigation measure is intentionally flexible in its approach. Three specific goals are identified that the TDM Program must meet. Two of them are described above (i.e., achieve 1.5 AVR and 10 percent peak hour trip reduction). The third is to accomplish carbon neutrality. The combination of these three goals would result in measurable reductions in VMT. The Annual Monitoring element of the TDM Program is required to document greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, which are driven in part by VMT reductions. The courts have found that a flexible TDM program is acceptable as a transportation mitigation measure, as long as the mitigation measure includes quantifiable performance measures, as is the case with Mitigation Measure 4.14-5.
With respect to the evaluation of cumulative impacts, Mr. Smith echoes previous comments made with respect to documentation validating VISSIM’s ability to replicate observed conditions. Please refer to statements made above regarding VISSIM model data.
Alternatives to the Project
Beginning on page 14 of his letter, Mr. Smith reiterates his preference for an alternative to Access Scenario 2. First and foremost, Access Scenario 2, as presented in the EIR, was an equal-weight alternative carried through a project-level analysis. Per City Council direction given on January 12, January 19, and February 2, this access scenario is no longer being considered as part of the project under consideration. As a result, Mr. Smith’s comments with respect to Access Scenario 2 are no longer considered germane to the project under consideration.
As noted in the FEIR (Response to Comment I4-23), Mr. Smith’s suggested alternative would not achieve some of the basic project objectives of access to enhance circulation within the City and UC Davis and to provide alternative access to UC Davis. Section 15126.6 of the CEQA Guidelines states that “[a]n EIR shall describe a range of reasonable alternatives…, which would feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project but would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project… An EIR need not consider every conceivable alternative to a project.” As noted above and in the Final EIR, the alternatives analysis within the EIR is considered to provide a range of reasonable alternatives and do not require inclusion of Mr. Smith’s suggested alternative in order to be considered adequate under CEQA.
Nishi Alternative Access Explanation
The second submittal by Mr. Smith provides additional detail regarding his suggested access alternative. This alternative would replace the access between UC Davis and the project site with an access to the south. The additional detail provided by Mr. Smith does not alter the fundamental conclusion that this alternative would not attain key and basic objectives of the project to provide connectivity between UC Davis and the project site. For this reason, this alternative is infeasible. Also, this alternative would remove additional prime farmland. Even if this alternative provided a circulation system that resulted in fewer impacts to roadways in the City, and an analysis has not been completed to determine this, CEQA only requires consideration of feasible alternatives. An alternative that does not attain the basic objectives of the project is not considered feasible.
 City of Davis Travel Demand Model Development Report, Fehr & Peers, March 2003.