City Backtracks on Neg Dec For Sterling

Aerial Map showing proposed Sterling Apartments in relation to Rancho Yolo
Aerial Map showing proposed Sterling Apartments in relation to Rancho Yolo

Two weeks ago, it appeared that the city was going to attempt to push through a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the Sterling Apartments on Fifth Street, over the objection of neighbors at Rancho Yolo who are complaining about potential traffic impacts as well as the failure to properly notice the residents at the park.

However, unlike the Hotel Conference Center, which is now bottled up in litigation, the city has reversed course according to City Planner Eric Lee.  He told the Vanguard in an email, “The City determined that an EIR would need to be prepared for the Sterling 5th Street Apartments project. It of course requires additional analysis, noticing and process.”

He continued, “There was no single reason for the determination, but it’s a process and part of the reason projects go through it is so they can receive the appropriate analysis and provide a fair and transparent community process.”

“We have received a number of comments on the project in general as well as on the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration. The comments questioned or disagreed with some of the analysis, assumptions and impact determinations related to traffic, noise, land use, aesthetics and other areas. Looking at the project as a whole as well as the community issues, the MND comments, and appropriate process, we determined that the EIR should be prepared.”

Sterling Apartments is a proposed 244-unit development on Fifth Street at the site of the former FamiliesFirst treatment facility that was subject to a major investigation and permanently closed as of September 2013.

This project seeks to demolish the existing buildings on just over five acres that would be developed into a four- and five-story, 203-unit student housing project, along with a four-story, 41-unit affordable housing project on the remaining .84 acres of the site.

The student site would include 727 beds along with 545 parking spaces. The initial study “identified potentially significant impacts related to air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, greenhouse gases, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology/water quality, public services, and transportation/traffic. The Initial Study determined that the impacts of the proposed project relative to these areas would be less than significant or less than significant with mitigation.”

According to an October 8 letter from traffic consultants KD Anderson & Associates, Inc., “Levels of Service were evaluated for six intersections in the area of the proposed project.” KD Anderson found, “The existing operating level of service [LOS] will be maintained with the addition of project traffic. All locations operate at LOS C or better. Thus the project’s impact is not significant based on this criterion.”

KD Anderson concludes, “The addition of the project will maintain acceptable levels of service at the study intersections, at LOS C or better. The project’s impacts are not significant and no additional mitigation is required.”

The report from KD Anderson shows that, by 2035, assuming MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) and current land uses are maintained, “The addition of the project will maintain acceptable levels of service at all study intersections, with each intersection operating at LOS E or better. Additionally, all roadway segments will continue to operate with acceptable City thresholds, at LOS E or better. The project’s impacts are not significant and no additional mitigation is required.”

That analysis gets worse if we assume three Measure R projects, “Under the Cumulative 2035 plus 3 Measure R Projects scenario identified in the MRIC Draft EIR all roadway segments except one will operate at LOS E or better. The Pole Line Road segment between 5th Street and Cowell Blvd will operate at LOS F. No improvements are available to deliver Level of Service meeting City standards.”

That is the scenario WITHOUT the Sterling Apartment project. The scenario with it, “Under the Cumulative 2035 plus 3 Measure R Projects plus Project scenario, all roadway segments except one will continue to operate at LOS E or better. The Pole Line Road segment between 5th Street and Cowell Blvd will continue to operate at LOS F. The project will add 47 trips along this segment, or 2.4% of the total peak hour traffic. Based on City of Davis significance criteria this is within the 5% permissible increment and is not considered a significant impact. No additional mitigations are required.”

However, a March 9, 2016, letter from Gerald Hallee, resident of Rancho Yolo, disputes some of these findings, arguing, “This 2014 study is not an accurate reflection of ‘existing conditions’ given Fifth Street was reduced from two lanes to one lane after those traffic counts were conducted.”

They continued, arguing that “the study does not measure traffic on Fifth Street west of L Street. These traffic measures and impacts must be understood given the one lane reconfiguration and the hundreds of students who will commute via Fifth Street to UC Davis.”

As Maggie and Don Sherman write in a recent letter in the Vanguard, “The enormous project includes multiple 5-story buildings with 244 apartments and 803 bedrooms that will house more than 1,000 students.”

They added, “While the developer, along with their attorneys and consultants had a year or more to prepare their Mitigated Negative Declaration, our citizens committee met their challenge in the scant month allowed and filed these comments  with the City, in which we carefully specifically identify and describe the numerous flaws in the developer’s and their hired hand’s environmental analysis. We compressed our submission to under 12 pages, for which we hope you can find a few minutes. We hope you will agree, while time is short, citizens of Yolo County and the City of Davis must bring a halt to this madly rushing process, referred to in our Vanguard editorial, In Davis, a Runaway Train, a Mad Rush to Ruin.

This time, however, the city has taken heed and avoided the Mitigated Negative Declaration route.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. hpierce

    So, is the document being considered a “full blown” EIR, or a “focused” EIR, where only traffic/circulation issues are drilled down on?  The latter makes sense.  The former is expensive, and ‘over-kill’ in my opinion.

    The article, particularly the quotes attributed To Mr Lee, is unclear as to the nature of the additional analysis.

    BTW, there is a way to mitigate the Pole Line segment from Cowell to Fifth.  Remove the median, and reconfigure it to four lanes.  The structure was designed to be able to do precisely that.  “Four lanes, striped for two,” was the mantra at the time.  The trees (sticks) planted in the median in the main structure never had a chance to be much more than bonsai “trees”.

    1. tj

      Because the project does not conform to zoning, density, the general plan, and there are issues with noise, safety, aesthetics, and economic impacts, for example, it will be a full EIR.

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