Planning Commission to Consider UCD Hazardous Materials Lab

On Wednesday, in addition to the discussion on Sterling Apartments, the Planning Commission will consider an application requesting approval to allow a semiconductor materials growth lab for the UC Davis College of Engineering, at an existing building with light industrial use, located at 2900 Spafford Street.

According to the staff report, “The research and lab use is a permitted use under the zoning for the site. However, the quantity of chemicals that the lab is expected to handle exceeds the threshold amount established in the City Zoning Code and is considered a hazardous material which requires planning approval.”

Needless to say, this has generated some community concern.

The lab would handle “as much as 89.5 gallons of hazardous liquids and 3,145 cubic feet of hazardous gasses in total where 55 gallons and 200 cubic feet are the thresholds.”

Therefore, the city is requiring a Conditional Use Permit approval for the lab, to allow the amount of hazardous materials proposed and to ensure that all appropriate safety measures are taken.

There has also been some concern about lost city tax revenue, however, the project at 2900 Spafford St “contains an existing one-story light industrial building and site improvements. The building is currently leased to U.C. Davis for the Department of Engineering and existing uses include university-related research labs and offices.”

The proposed semiconductor materials growth lab would occupy approximately 4,420 square feet of the 24,000 square-foot building. The Spafford Street area and adjacent properties consist of a mix of light industrial, R&D, office, commercial buildings and a neighborhood retail center.

A Montessori daycare is located approximately 500 feet to the west, at 2802 Spafford Street.

City staff is asking the Planning Commission to find that “the proposed project is categorically exempt from further environmental review pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15301 as an existing facility.”  They explain, “The proposed project is categorically exempt from further environmental review pursuant to Section 15301 which exempts the operation and leasing of existing facilities and structures. There are no new or unusual circumstances related to the project or project site that would require further environmental review.”

The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) “provides an opportunity to evaluate the compatibility of the use with the surrounding uses and to address potential concerns. The research lab use is a permitted use that already exists on the site and is permitted by right.”

However, “the use of hazardous materials raises potential safety concerns.”

City staff writes, “Applicant and University personnel have been working closely with City departments to address potential safety issues related to the handling of the hazardous chemicals to ensure the safety of adjacent tenants, nearby businesses, and the community at-large.

“The laboratory itself is required to comply with Building and Fire Code requirements based on the use and occupancy to guarantee that adequate safeguards are in place to isolate, control, and respond to a potential incident,” staff writes.

They continue: “While the UC Davis Fire Department provides general oversight of the use, the City of Davis Fire Department will respond to any incidents. The two departments maintain a close working relationship with on-going coordination, cooperation and training for mutual aid. Additionally, the lab will need to obtain a wastewater discharge permit from city and comply with conditions of the permit.”

Staff concludes: “Compliance with standard safety protocol and requirements of the City and other regulatory agencies ensure that the handling of hazardous materials at the proposed lab will not be detrimental to the public safety or welfare. Staff believes that the necessary findings can be made to support the Conditional Use Permit. Therefore, staff recommends approval of the project based on the recommended Findings and subject to the Conditions of Approval.”

—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. Keith O

    Planning Commission to Consider UCD Hazardous Materials Lab

    Wouldn’t a more appropriate title be?

    Planning Commission to Consider a Semiconductor Materials Growth Lab that uses Hazardous Materials

    Approve it!  At some point we need to move forward and stop the stranglehold that a few people in the community seem to have over our progress.


      1. Keith O


        David, when I read your title I think of it as some type of lab that is a hazardous material production facility, not just a lab that happens to use some hazardous materials.

    1. Howard P

      What ‘progress’?  More tax-exempt use of ‘available resources’.

      Have no problem with the use, per se… should be approved… but nothing to cheer about.


  2. Eileen Samitz

    With the University already denying the City property tax revenue with all the properties they already own and lease in the City since UCD is tax exempt, why would the City even consider this lab being allowed which also has all of the risk of the enormous amounts of hazardous chemicals which significantly exceed the limits?

    “as much as 89.5 gallons of hazardous liquids and 3,145 cubic feet of hazardous gasses in total where 55 gallons and 200 cubic feet are the thresholds.”


    That would be exceeding the amount of hazardous gasses permitted by almost 16X!

    Furthermore to be only 500 feet from the Montessori daycare? I mean come on… This semi-conductor lab belongs on the campus, not in the City.

    What about the toxics that can wind up in the waste water system or  water system or  also the ground level contaminating the area from accidental spills? That would potential affect far more sites in the vicinity.

    1. Howard P

      You do realize that 3000 cf is 10 standard acetylene gas cylinders, right?  Acetylene, and pure oxygen are hazardous gases.  So is propane.  16X a small amount is still a small amount.

        1. Howard P

          No… what I’m saying is that even if the CUP process is triggered, this is not a big deal as to public health and safety.  De minimus is the appropriate term.

          It is appropriate for the CUP process, and conditions will be placed on the use.  SOP.  Not “exceptional”, nor “rule-bending”…

    2. David Greenwald

      From what I can tell, this is already a UCD leased building – but I think the city needs to have some sort of agreement with UCD on tax sharing in these cases.

    1. David Greenwald

      Colin – a conditional use permit isn’t bending the rules.  I’m not saying Im in favor of it here, but I wouldn’t characterize it as you have.

  3. Jim Frame

    I’d be interested in learning which specific materials are under consideration.  Acetylene doesn’t concern me much, but arsine and phosphine — both highly toxic and common in the semiconductor industry — may be worth another look.

    1. Howard P

      Good points, Jim…  not an EE, so didn’t think of those… still, the quantities seem low, and they still have to follow OSHA, FD, and State/Federal protocols, independent of City review…

  4. Eileen Samitz

    There is no reason why a UCD semi-conductor lab with all of its associated hazardous liquids and gasses should be located in the city.  In fact, it is centrally located in the commercial complex near a bakery and agricultural growth labs of plants. On top of that it is within 500 feet of the Montessori day care.

    What if there was an accident or spillage of these toxics into the waste water system, water system or int the ground? All of these surrounding businesses are at risk, and who would pay for the clean up? What business would want to be located near this lab with its hazardous materials? How would the parents feel about the safety of their children at the nearby daycare? Why is the City allowing this risk and liability in the City, only to lose property tax to UCD?

    On top of all of that UCD is fleecing the City for property tax, again, on this UCD lab expansion.

    This UCD lab with all of its risk and liability and costs to the City by loss of property tax, belong on-campus, not in the City. The City should not even considered processing this application. This is simply enabling UCD to continue being an opportunist on the City.

    1. David Greenwald

      Eileen: As I pointed out in response to your previous comment: “by loss of property tax” – while I think the city and UCD needed to work on tax-sharing arrangements, there is no loss of property tax here because it’s already in a building that UCD rents.

  5. Eileen Samitz


    I think what you are saying is that there isn’t additional loss of property tax, because the City is already getting no property tax on the building since UCD is leasing it. However, would any changes to the building to accommodate this semi-conductor be evaluated in the value of the building relative to property tax? And if that were so, and the value of the property increased, would there be a net increase of property tax value? In that case, there would be a loss of additional property tax.

    In any case, it makes no sense to have a semi-conductor lab in the City with the hazardous materials it would be using anywhere near a daycare, bakery, and ag plant growth facilities. Too much risk for contamination and liability to the surrounding properties and people. It belongs on the UCD campus.

    1. David Greenwald

      Yes my point was there would be no more additional loss, but again, I think this is an issue that the city needs to figure out how to resolve.

      I’m somewhat inclined to agree with your final point – more so in that location than in general.

  6. Eileen Samitz

    Howard P,

    Ok, so is “Rabbit Industries” working with UCD in any way at the Spafford site? And if so is this their way of dealing with exceeding the maximum limits of the code to allow more of these hazardous materials/chemicals on site?

    1. Howard P

      Ask Roger… have no personal knowledge of those business dealings…  not even sure if Roger is still directly involved.  Just know of previous use of the site.

  7. Ron

    So in addition to the existing controversy regarding student housing, UCD also wants to put a semiconductor materials growth lab, with all of its hazardous chemicals (exceeding what is allowed) near a neighborhood (including new live-work lofts), and within 500 feet from a day care?   All while denying the city property taxes for use of the building?

  8. Howard P

    Ron… and others… would be useful for you to understand the Conditional Use Permit process… in order to have something approaching an intelligent, meaningful conversation… to that end, a PSA…

    To simplify for you… [only makes sense if you have an adolescent/adult child]  Your kid asks to use your car… you say yes, “conditionally”… they may not drink and drive… they must return the car in operational order… they must make sure there is gas in the tank… they must obey all vehicular laws…

    In essence, letting your kid borrow your car is a CUP… it is not ‘bending’, ‘breaking’, ignoring rules or right judgement… it is affirming rules already in place, and if the rules are not followed, the permission can be revoked… simple, except for those who are…

    Laws exist for handling potentially hazardous materials… FED/State OSHA, other federal/State laws… those govern, even with a local CUP.

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