Should Council Certify MRIC EIR in Absence of a Project?

Share:
Mace Ranch Innovation Center
Is MRIC the last, best, and final hope for economic development in Davis?

In the spring of 2016, following a rejection of a mixed-use proposal by the city council, the developers of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center paused their project.  Briefly after the election they attempted a comeback, only to pause it again.  But they have already gone through the EIR process and have requested that the council certify their EIR, even though there is no project right now.

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 EIR prepared included “an equal weight analysis of the project as proposed and an alternative that included housing.”

The draft EIR was released in August 2015, with the final EIR and response to comments back in January 2016.

On February 23, the applicant requested the process focus on the housing alternative.  The council, at that time, unanimously directed staff to continue to process the original application.  The applicant, on April 13, 2016, notified the city that the project would be placed on hold to reevaluate its feasibility.

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.”

In July, the Davis Chamber Board of Directors submitted a statement to the city in support of the request.

Their statement read in part that “approving certification indicates your faith in the integrity of the report and will avoid unnecessary costs and staff time to repeat and or create a new report for projects submitted in relation to this site.”

The Chamber placed the cost of the investment “by the project proponent… upwards of $1.6 million.”

The Chamber statement also noted that the EIR included the city’s 25-acre site.

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 regards 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.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

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.

Related posts

30 thoughts on “Should Council Certify MRIC EIR in Absence of a Project?”

  1. Tia Will

    “has no implications for any subsequent action on the project.” 

    , “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.”

    This is an honest question for anyone more knowledgeable on development and planning issues. I see the above two statements as being in conflict. I cannot see how there can be “no implications….” if the developer sees this as a means to “help attract potential tenants and investors…”. Would someone like to clarify or show me what I am missing ?

    1. Howard P

      A couple of things.  Both involve risk.

      The current owner/developer could market the property to a new developer, who would have less delay and risk, IF the project they wanted to do fit within the scope of what was analyzed, as far as potential impacts.  If it doesn’t, an amended or supplemental EIR would/might be needed, but that is less costly, takes less time, and has less risk than a “do-over”.  A certified EIR has more value, as if it is not certified, the pressure from those who want the land left Ag to do a “do-over” is greater.

      I agree with Jim… the process towards certification should be continued.  It is not a ‘project’ action.

  2. Jim Frame

    With regard to financing, certification of the EIR is one step toward project approval.  It’s not anywhere near a final step and no certainty of approval is attached, but it’s one less obstacle in the process.  That has real-world value.  So if the CC members believe the EIR is complete and adequately addresses the legitimate issues raised during the EIR process, I think they should certify it.

    If I were interested in killing the project, I’d object to EIR certification.  Absent a clear failure of the EIR, it’d be a cynical parliamentary tactic, one designed to slow down the development process by adding another layer of uncertainty and substantial cost.  I’m hoping we don’t see that.

    1. Dave Hart

      Or a lawsuit to do just that from one of our favorite development litigators.  On the other hand, I remember the same Mr. Ramos whipsawing the county and the city over the Mace Ranch development and we ended up with an addition to Davis that looks like any one of a hundred tracts in Southern California with the high walls and a distinct non-neighborhood feel.  Sorry, but I have a hard time wanting to do anything that would make Mr. Ramos feel good.  I only wish him ill in his business ventures aside from whether it is good policy or not.  Just venting, I suppose.

        1. Dave Hart

          You don’t say!  Well, I’m sure the son learned at his father’s knee and benefits from his wisdom.  In any case, my position has an admittedly emotional foundation that is not changed by the facts.  I don’t trust the Ramos Oil/development clan.

  3. Tia Will

    Hi Jim

    Thanks for the explanation. Now I need a little more detail in the explain it to me like I am a five year old mode.

    That has real-world value.”

    Is the real world value simply the more condensed time frame if the EIR is already certified ?  Or is there additional value that I am not appreciating ?

    1. Jim Frame

      Is the real world value simply the more condensed time frame if the EIR is already certified ?  Or is there additional value that I am not appreciating ?

      I’m not a development finance guy, so my remarks reflect only a career’s worth of exposure to various aspects of land development projects.  I see the EIR certification value not only in terms of a reduced timeline but also in terms of removing an important point of vulnerability.  Once the EIR is certified, opponents of a project have to find other avenues of attack.  EIR certification increases the level of certainty that the project is feasible, and that makes the availability of financing more likely.

       

      1. Colin Walsh

        I see the EIR certification value not only in terms of a reduced timeline but also in terms of removing an important point of vulnerability.

        Another way to look at this is that premature EIR certification removes an important point of accountability.

    2. Howard P

      A ‘real world value’ is not having to start over… I don’t know what the total costs of the current EIR effort has been, but suspect it (EIR consultant, subconsultants, and all the staff time) is ~ $200 k, but that might be low.  Might be very low.

      And, as Jim frame pointed out it is one less hurdle/risk to be dealt with.  That has value.

      To be clear, if a project is proposed that lies outside the parameters studied, there may need to be an amended/supplemental EIR.  If drastically different, it would be a ‘do-over’.

  4. Alan Pryor

    Interesting to note that included in the Council packet was a CofC letter of support for the certification dated last July 13, 2016. Then Ramos sent his letter to the City asking for EIR certification on October 5, 2016. And then now it comes before Council with only a few days notice to the public. Obviously a lot of communications between the City and the developer and companies in the City have occurred behind closed doors over the past year. But can you imagine a more disingenuous process to gain public trust?

    1. Howard P

      What process has been violated?… all of the public hearings have been held… certification of the EIR is somewhat ministerial. It either is sufficient to make a decision, or it isn’t.  Public comment (not public hearing) is provided for… are you just “acting out”?

      see:  
      http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20170110/07-MRIC-EIR-Certification-Request.pdf

      You know nothing much about CEQA, do you?  The EIR is a disclosure document… nothing more, nothing less… those who use CEQA as  a tool to “get their way” are ignorant of  the purpose and spirit of CEQA, and/or Luddites.  Go ahead and throw you wooden shoe on Tuesday.

        1. Howard P

          How so?  I just don’t see it, but if you can explain, ears are open.

          Were you or others promised differently?

          Some don’t even trust there will be a dawn tomorrow…

        2. Mark West

          “This move is a violation of trust.”

          Baloney – you are just offering another example of what Jim Frame hoped we wouldn’t see (but we all knew was coming).

        3. Colin Walsh

          The key to getting a project passed in a general election is building trust with the community so people will vote for it. Springing a decision to approve this dodgy EIR on a nebulous, possibly non existent project on short notice on the community does exactly the opposite.

  5. Eileen Samitz

    The EIR should not be certified for a number of reasons, including for one thing, there is no application. Not knowing what the project is for certain a fundamental problem.

    Second, there were ridiculous assumptions made in the EIR, particularly the alternative with 850 high-density housing units assuming that something like 80% of the housing units would be occupied by MRIC workers. Now that’s a fallacy.

    1. JosephBiello

      Good tactic, Eileen – just throw every wrench possible in every project and we will have the decay of Davis that you and your fellow NIMBYs seek.

      1. Tia Will

        Joseph

        just throw every wrench possible in every project and we will have the decay of Davis that you and your fellow NIMBYs seek.”

        First,  Eileen has not been against every project. She was in support of The Cannery as one example.

        However, I think that the bigger problem with your post is the creation of a false dichotomy. You are representing the city of Davis as an entity with only two possibilities: growth or decay. This is simply not true. Many communities are able to achieve a third state which is that of equilibrium in which there is a relatively stable and prosperous population. The presence of the university with its independent growth plans of course presents a challenge for establishing equilibrium for the city of Davis, but does not mean that a slow growth strategy is not a sounder policy than is either “no growth” which is virtually impossible at this point in time, or “grow as fast as we can” which is part of the boom and bust economies that lead to over reach followed by decline. Surely there must exist some middle ground which will not be reached by juvenile name calling nor oversimplification of a complex issue.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “Many communities are able to achieve a third state which is that of equilibrium in which there is a relatively stable and prosperous population. ”

          You seem to equate “growth” as “all-out growth” rather than in gradations.

    2. Tia Will

      Hi Eileen

      A question. Given the extremely low housing availability rate in Davis, it would seem to me that having housing availability on site even if the goal of 80% of the housing being for workers was not met that the housing would likely be fully occupied. I am not sure that I see this as a bad thing. Your thoughts ?

      1. Howard P

        Not positive, but if the EIR is certified, the assumptions for trip generation from non-workforce units in a future project, assuming all other uses were the same as those analyzed, a supplement to the EIR, focused on traffic, would be an appropriate process.  I would expect the differences would be fairly trivial. Mitigation measures (modified) could be adopted, as well.  The mitigation monitoring plan could also be modified, as might/might not be necessary.  That meets the CEQA requirement for disclosure.  Fact based.

        The outcome of approval/conditional approval/denial of an actual proposal can be emotional/political/etc.  As it stands, not even the pre-zoning is up for approval.  The ONLY item is saying whether or not there are enough facts in evidence, and valid analysis contained in the EIR… nothing more, nothing less.

         

    3. Howard P

      And the “facts” supporting either/both of your statements are what?

      Did you raise those during the scoping or comment period?  If not, why do you raise them now?  Are they part of the public record? ‘Transparency’?

  6. Eileen Samitz

    JosephBiello,

    Your condescension and negative language are a good example of what anonymous posters use to post. Perhaps you were one of them under one of the monikers, who is now has to post by name. Why don’t you try commenting on my comments rather then taking the insult route?

  7. Mark West

    Jim Frame nailed the answer in the first paragraph of his 8:33 am comment.

    Alan P. and Eileen S., unfortunately, demonstrated perfect examples of what Jim hoped we wouldn’t see in his second paragraph.

     

  8. Tia Will

    David

    You seem to equate “growth” as “all-out growth” rather than in gradations.”

    If you took that as the central message of my post, then I clearly did not emphasize sufficiently the part of my post in which I said :

    “….but does not mean that a slow growth strategy is not a sounder policy than is either “no growth” which is virtually impossible at this point in time, or “grow as fast as we can” which is part of the boom and bust economies that lead to over reach followed by decline. Surely there must exist some middle ground which will not be reached by juvenile name calling nor oversimplification of a complex issue.”

    I thought that I was clearly indicating that I acknowledge various gradations of growth rather than equating all growth as being equal. I guess not.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for