Feedback on Sterling Fifth Street Apartments Project

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

The following are written comments on the Sterling Mitigated Negative Declaration submitted by Don Sherman, a resident at the nearby Rancho Yolo site.

City staff and applicant will give a project presentation and solicit feedback on transportation issues.

  • In just the traffic-related portions, there are a dozen or more exaggerations, unsupportable assumptions, and glaring omissions in the Mitigated Negative Declaration you are being asked to accept. This for tonight’s compilation includes only those dealing exclusively with traffic, bicycle and safety issues under consideration today by the Bicycle-Transportation and Street Safety Commission.
  • So glaring are these errors that one might suspect that this is not an original document at all, but rather a careless copy and paste job from other projects.
  • We are confident you will agree this requires restarting the California Environmental Quality Act mandated process  that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, with a Focused Environmental Impact Report rather than a Mitigated Negative Declaration.

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Transportation/Traffic on Page 106: The Consultant has concluded that the traffic on existing streets will be “less than significant.” But, as noted previously in these comments, the consultants understate the number of residents who will live in the Sterling Apartments, and as a result, understates the number of trips/traffic that will be generated by the Sterling Project.

The Consultant’s report states on Page 109:

“Existing Conditions – a.m. and p.m. traffic counts were conducted during the week of October 13, 2014 for the following intersections: Cowell Blvd / Pole Line Road / Lillard Avenue, 5th Street / L Street, 5th Street / Pole Line Road and 2nd Street / Cantrill Drive.”

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. How then may the City reliably judge traffic flows for Fifth Street or for any of the streets that intersect with Fifth Street given the new street configuration?

Further, 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.

“Traffic counts for the 5th Street / Cantrill Drive intersection were conducted during the week of May 26, 2015”

A week that included the Memorial Day holiday.

“traffic counts for the Pole Line Road / 8th Street intersection were derived from the traffic counts conducted for The Cannery project.”

An outrageous omission, because this report was prepared as 96 homes at Chiles Ranch as well as 495 homes (plus offices and stores and restaurants) in The Cannery project are being built, and the huge amount of traffic they will pour onto to Covell, both East and West of Pole Line were not counted or even estimated at all!

Parking: The Consultant assumes 727 student beds and 41 one- to three-bedroom affordable units. Most of the student occupants could potentially have cars, especially given the distance to the UC Davis campus. Tenants of the affordable units may have more than one car.  The project provides only 545 parking garage spaces plus 40 surface parking spaces, or about 76% of the number of tenant cars.  Is this kind of a potential parking shortage typical of high-density developments?  What if there is an overflow of occupant plus visitor cars?  Where will the overflow parking take place?  There is no parking allowed along 5th Street. This parking shortage will be significantly greater given the very real probability that this project will have at least 1,000 residents.
Traffic at Intersections – Table 25 on Page 114: This table shows minimal traffic impacts associated with the Sterling Project. As one example, it simply defies logic that the Fifth Street and Pole Line Road intersection will be so lightly affected given the buildout of the Cannery Project, the Chiles Ranch Development on Eight Street, let alone the Sterling Project. Several thousand new residents will be traveling these streets without the Sterling Project.

Public Transit and Unitrans on Page 110: The report does not discuss whether the Unitrans A Line could handle the increased ridership that the project would generate. Will UC Davis add buses if needed during peak periods, and initiate weekend service for the A Line?  The weekend O Line route is not practical for someone at the project who wants to go downtown or to UC Davis.
Bicycles from the Project on Page 116: The Consultant’s report states:

“As noted earlier, bike lanes do not exist along 5th Street, between Pole Line Road and L Street. It is expected that many project residents will use the bike path upon leaving the site and continue along the bike path on the south side of 5th Street to L Street.”

The number of bicyclists crossing Pole Line to access the bike path on the south side of 5th street will exacerbate the intersection’s traffic and safety problems. The Project developers and their consultants predict heavy bicycle use given the student residents of their apartment complex. If they accurately predict bicycle use, the 5th Street and Pole Line Road intersection will be heavily impacted given the large numbers of bicycles accessing the single bike path.

Further, the very awkward transition at the end of the bike path at 5th and L Streets, with a blind corner only partly solved by a convex mirror will create problems. Given the heavy increase in bicycle traffic, there is no way to predict how the cyclists are going to handle this transition, but we know from observation that so often many cyclists take the easy way out (fastest for them), ignoring laws and safety. So we can expect some bad accidents at this intersection.

Queuing Analysis on Page 116: Will there be any steps taken to mitigate the potential increase in accidents due to cars turning left (Westbound) onto 5th Street from the project site, or Westbound cars on 5th Street turning left into the project? The westbound turns, from and into, that site will create a very dangerous situation.
Traffic Impacts with Measure R Projects – Table 31 on Page 123: The report continues to understate the impacts of the traffic at the 5th Street and Pole Line Road locations. Fifth Street west of Pole Line Road is designated a “4-lane major arterial.” Yet, this segment is only a one block long ending at L Street where it then becomes a 2-lane road through the core of the City. How then can the traffic remain below the City of Davis LOS standards? It is also hard to believe that Pole Line Road north of Fifth Street would remain below the thresholds set by the City given the Cannery, the Chiles Ranch, and Mace Ranch Innovation Center Projects. Again, these conclusions simply defy logic.

Traffic Less Than Significant on Page 125: The Consultant concludes:

“Under the Cumulative Year 2035 Conditions with MRIC and Project scenario, the Pole Line Road segment between 5th Street and Cowell Boulevard would continue to operate at LOS F. The project would add 47 trips along this segment, or 2.4% of the total peak hour traffic. However, based on City of Davis significance criteria, this is a change within the 5% increment that is permitted, and therefore the proposed project’s impact is less than significant.”

Are we really to believe that a project with at least 1,000 new residents will only generate 47 trips per day on the Pole Line segment between Fifth Street and Cowell Blvd? The Safeway/Rite Aid Shopping Center is just one destination that will generate at least that many trips.

We have no confidence in this traffic study.

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. How then may the City reliably judge traffic flows for Fifth Street or for any of the streets that intersect with Fifth Street given the new street configuration? Further, 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.

Page 111 of the Mitigated Negative Declaration document shows 1,454 trips generated by the site each day.  Since the planned occupancy is close to 100% UC Davis students, the vast majority of those 1,454 daily trips will traverse the entire length of the 5th Street corridor from the project site to the corner of Howard Way and 5th Street (west of A Street).  One of the most significant  traffic impacts will take place in the segment between H Street and A Street, with significant impact at the Howard Way/5th Street intersection where bicycles will cross from north to south. These omissions constitute a FATAL FLAW in the Public Draft Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration. Further the gravity of this fatal flaw necessitates restarting the CEQA process with a Focused EIR rather than a Mitigated Negative Declaration.

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24 Comments

  1. The Pugilist

    As I understand it, there are cumulative traffic impacts, Sterling will contribute to those impacts, but not by itself push it over the top.  We have a rental housing crisis, and yet every time someone proposes something that will at least cut into that crisis, the neighbors have a hissy-fit.

    1. Tia Will

      the neighbors have a hissy-fit.”

      It would seem that one person’s “hissy-fit” is another individual’s legitimate concern. In this case, I am failing to see why one would not favor a focused EIR instead of the Mitigated Negative Declaration. Can someone who opposes this explain to me what they see as the problem ?

      1. Mark West

        Doing work that is unnecessary just increases the costs for everyone. If an MND is sufficient, then an fEIR would be a waste of staff time and money. The City should do the work that is required by law, not that which is demanded by the noisy.

        1. hpierce

          Mark, as a practitioner, I can assure you that a focused EIR [as opposed to a FULL EIR] only costs ~ 5 – 10% more than the MND’s we’re talking about.  The analysis, particularly on traffic, is only a small increment between the two… I just don’t understand why staff didn’t go for the more “bullet-proof” analysis.

        2. Mark West

          I understand, hpierce.  If you have reason to be ‘bullet proof’ then there is enough justification for doing the extra work. If not, however, you are wasting staff time and money, neither of which we have in abundance. The real problem, however, is thinking that it is OK because it is ‘just a few percent more.’  Wasn’t that the justification for the recent MOU’s?

        3. hpierce

          Two separate and unrelated concepts, Mark… MOU’s and CEQA docs is like comparing apples to, well, hippos in heat.  If 5% more effort on a CEQA doc prevents and/or wins a lawsuit costing the City/developer $150k or more, I think that’s a damn good bet/investment… particularly when the developer will be charged 100% of the costs in any event… or did you not realize that City staff/consultant time is 100% billable to the developer in this case, unless the City is shown to have f’ed up?

        4. Mark West

          You might be a bit too literal, hpierce. I was talking about a mindset, not comparing sunflowers and ostriches, in or out of heat.

          I do recall comments, however, about overworked staff and project reviews taking too long, but I’m sure adding to the workload out of fear of what might happen doesn’t have anything to do with those problems… As I said, the added work is justified if you have an expectation of a challenge, but as a default response, it is wasteful and unnecessary, regardless of who is footing the bill.

        5. hpierce

          Clarification noted, Mark.. don’t disagree philosophically… yet, we don’t truly live in a land of philosophers… still, small cost now, big protection, is what insurance is all about…

          And, I also agree that processes be as efficient as possible.

        6. Matt Williams

          Mark, I concur with hpierce.  A planned proactive approach to 5-10% more work can actually end up being less work then the reactive, looking-over-your-shoulder approach, because you are likely to be 5-10% more efficient in the work that you do.

          Further, it is quite possible that the bulk of the work won’t even be done by staff.  In the case of the Sterling CEQA work, the report is not from staff, but rather from De Novo Planning Group, 1020 Suncast Lane, Suite 106, El Dorado Hills, CA.

          With that said, one has to wonder why the analysis of the 1,454 trips per day included the portion of 5th Street between the project and L Street, but not the portion of 5th Street from L Street to A Street.  How many UCD student going to class each day will end their trip at or before L Street?  As Yul Brynner would say, “It’s a puzzlement.” 

  2. tj

    The Sterling Apartment Project is intended to make a lot of money, not help with the lack of student housing.

    I talked to some residents of the builder’s other property, on Cantrill.  They indicated that they are not very happy with this type of housing in which students don’t rent an apartment, they rent a room in an apartment.

    If anyone thinks traffic would not be unsafe after Sterling were built, it would be a good idea to try crossing the street from the Sterling site to the bus stop across the street.  Then think of hundreds of students doing that twice each day.

    Add to that all the traffic which will be generated from Chiles Ranch on 8th Street and the Cannery, as well as the affordable housing project under construction further east on 5th Street.

    Student housing should be on University property, close to classes.  Sustainable, no pollution from students driving or creating the need for more Unitrans buses.

    1. Ron

      tj:  I share your concerns, and those mentioned in the article.  In addition, it will become more and more difficult to make left turns (from Pena and Cantrill) onto nearby 2nd Street, as each of these developments is approved (e.g., Sterling, MRIC, Residence Inn on 2nd, etc.).  Eventually, traffic signals (or some other control) will be needed to allow safe entry onto 2nd Street (from side streets).  (Otherwise, we should expect more deadly collisions, as recently occurred at 2nd and Pena.)

      I suspect that the traffic analysis for Sterling did not address this problem, or the cumulative effect that each new development (throughout the city) would bring.

    2. The Pugilist

      “The Sterling Apartment Project is intended to make a lot of money, not help with the lack of student housing.”

      Of course it’s intended to make money – otherwise who would invest their money in it.  However, the beds will help with the student housing crisis.

      1. Matt Williams

        There are a number of ways that the project can reduce its negative impacts on the City.  They can start by reducing the number of on-site parking spaces from the 545 in the proposal (0.75 spaces per bed for the 727 beds) to no more than 75 spaces.  Given the fact that 95% to 100% of the tenants are going to be UCD students, public transit and/or bicycling should handle 95% to 100% of the 1,454 daily trips that the Mitigated Negative Declaration states the project will generate (the bulk of which will be to/from the UCD campus).

        An interesting question to ask the Sterling representative is what the parking spaces to beds ratios are for their other student-oriented complexes.  Sterling needs to be a net contributor to the accomplishment of the goals of the Davis Climate Action Plan.  Transportation is the biggest contributor to carbon footprint.  A serious effort to get close to 100% use of UNITRANS and bicycles and ZipCars cuts out millions of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions the Sterling project would otherwise to produce.

  3. South of Davis

    tj wrote:

    > The Sterling Apartment Project is intended to make a lot of money,

    > not help with the lack of student housing.

    Other than a small number of apartments built by church volunteers on donated land EVERY apartment project is “intended to make a lot of money” (even the “affordable” apartment projects in town flow a LOT of money to a LOT of politically connected people).

    > I talked to some residents of the builder’s other property, on Cantrill.

    Is the proposed developer of the property the company that owns the property now called “The U” on Cantrill?  Funny that they would bring back the “Sterling” name:

    https://localwiki.org/davis/Sterling_University_Vista_Apartments

    > They indicated that they are not very happy with this type of housing in which

    > students don’t rent an apartment, they rent a room in an apartment.

    Why would you rent a “room” if you didn’t want to when ~90% of the landlords in town rent entire “apartments”?

    > If anyone thinks traffic would not be unsafe after Sterling were built, it would be

    > a good idea to try crossing the street from the Sterling site to the bus stop across the street. 

    The city could make them put a bike and pedestrian tunnel under 5th, just like the one that goes under 5th east of the Windmere Apartments.

    > Student housing should be on University property, close to classes.  Sustainable,

    > no pollution from students driving or creating the need for more Unitrans buses.

    The city could also make the developer have a bus that goes from the property to UCD just like the Greystone apartments across the street (just east of Rancho Yolo) already has.

    1. tj

      S O D — Some of your comments are very interesting and helpful, like the private bus to campus.

      Would a tunnel be possible at 5th and Poleline?

      Renting a room instead of an apartment is apparently cheaper, but you’re sharing a kitchen, dining, and living room with people not of your choosing.

      Making money is the goal of course, but making lots of money with lots of collateral damage is not good and not ethical.

      Same owner for the U and Sterling:  That’s what they say. Sterling will be very similar layout except bigger, and on 5+ acres instead of 10 acres, and there will be a 6 story parking structure instead of lots of parking lots.

      1. hpierce

        Would a tunnel be possible at 5th and Poleline?

        Yes… possible… almost anything is possible, if you have enough money, take enough land, and/or give up other existing improvements… if your question really is, is it practical/affordable, the answer is HELL NO. [BTW, it’s “Pole Line”]  Expensive, and there would be a lot of “collateral damage”.

    2. hpierce

      The city could make them put a bike and pedestrian tunnel under 5th, just like the one that goes under 5th east of the Windmere Apartments.

      You must have just come from CO, or WA.  I’ll ‘toke’ your suggestion with a pillar of salt.

    3. hpierce

      So a separate bus, other than Unitrans, which runs on 30 minute headways, with ‘sweeper buses’ @ peak hours?  To what purpose?

      [The A line is one of the best used Unitrans routes][the P-Q also goes on Fifth, just west of Pole Line… easy walking distance]

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