Back in February, the Davis City Council voted 4-1 to direct staff to initiate the EIR certification process for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) location.
This was a contentious issue when it came forward in February, and it likely will remain contentious when it comes back next week to the planning commission and ultimately to the city council.
We argued, after the fact, that both sides of this issue made too much out of it. As even the project proponent pointed out, “certification will not result in project approval.” Moreover, “Additional environmental review will be required, consistent with CEQA, if circumstances or the project itself change before approval is sought.”
Third, “Certification will likely serve to assist the MRIC proponents’ efforts to secure investors and/or tenants, all of which would be useful for achieving the City’s stated goal of fostering economic development and securing a first class innovation center within its boundaries.”
Fourth, “Certification will preserve and conserve the valuable work product contained in the EIR produced by City staff and its team of extensive consultants.”
Much of the opposition to the council even considering certification focused on the fact that the EIR had flaws.
But, as Mayor Robb Davis pointed out, “The Final EIR may be flawed but we cannot formally declare it as so without a certification process.”
To those who argued that this would set a precedent, Councilmember Rochelle Swanson vehemently disagreed, stating, “I disagree about it being precedent setting. This is unusual. This is an investment in our community that I am confident beyond confident that no one else would have stuck it out as long as this.”
She said she met with an investor who wants to invest in our community and “they’re nervous, they’re wondering what we’re going to do. So this is real.”
In response to a concern about “future fighting,” she said, “I don’t believe there will be future fighting if we don’t move forward. Because there won’t be anything to fight about anymore.”
She said we lack research space to do anything we want to do at this point.
“Are we open for business?” she asked. “I don’t think so. That breaks my heart because I’ve invested seven years in this.” She added, “This is an inflection point to decide whether or not we’re really moving forward.”
The next step is more substantial than the one taken back in February. That vote simply opened the door to allow the council to consider certification; this would eventually result in the decision to certify or not certify.
Now the council will have to decide whether the EIR is flawed or not.
In February, Robb Davis stated, “An EIR might enable us to move more quickly.” All Mike Webb would acknowledge is that it wouldn’t hurt to have a document and the analysis that one can go to.
Staff also clarified under what conditions a new EIR or a supplemental EIR would be required. The answer is not only changed circumstances, but more impactful changes. In other words, you can think of the current EIR as a ceiling – so if a new project comes in with a smaller footprint or fewer housing units, in the case of a mixed-use project (that the council still lacks support for), then it would not trigger another EIR.
However, expanding the footprint, the square footage, the impact, could trigger a supplemental.
Even the advantage to the applicant isn’t quite as clear as it might seem.
On the one hand, you have the comment from Mike Webb that having a certified EIR might speed up the process, but, on the other hand, he also made it clear that there was no expiration date for the work done to date.
That means, in point of fact, there is no ticking clock for certification. They could simply sit on what they have and add to it in the future for a new project.
In February, we concluded this doesn’t open the door to the new project.
First, council has not made a determination to certify the project. They have only decided to review the Final EIR and then will decide whether it is sufficient.
Even if they end up certifying the EIR – there needs to be a project (which there is not one now). The project still needs to go to a vote of the council and then to the public to be approved.
It bears repeating that no project has won a Measure R vote. Some have argued that this will make it less likely that one would be approved, but it stands to reason that by the time a project comes forward, whether or not they have to do an additional EIR, the public can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the project based on the merit of the project before them, rather than about a small decision that was made a few years early at best.
More likely than not, there will be additional environmental evaluation for any project coming forward.
In the end, unless the developer puts forth a viable project, this is all a moot point anyway.
—David M. Greenwald reporting