In a letter dated Tuesday, July 17, the city of Davis continued to express objection to the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) findings in connection with the 2018 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for UC Davis, arguing that “the FEIR is significantly flawed and requires revision in order to make it legally sufficient under CEQA.”
The city, as it has previously asserted, believes that the CEQA findings “improperly conclude that impacts of the LRDP will be less-than significant without analyzing the impacts that will occur if the housing contemplated under the LRDP is not developed before enrollment increases.”
The city is now claiming to be in support of the LRDP in general and its goal of providing housing for 10,958 students and employees on campus. At the same time, Whitney McDonald, an attorney with Richards, Watson & Gershon (RWG), writing on behalf of the city, argues that “it is obligated to point out that neither the Draft nor the Final EIR properly evaluate the potential environmental consequences of this important, large-scale, and long-lasting plan.”
The city in particular is concerned that the Final EIR was released on July 2 and is presented to the Board of Regents for certification 17 days later, effectively foreclosing “the ability of the public and the City to continue to work with UC Davis to remedy the FEIR’s deficiencies and address the City’s concerns.”
Ms. McDonald provides three major areas of concern. One is that the LRDP will be built within the next 12 years without providing any assurances, including an identifiable and enforceable implementation plan, “that this will actually occur.”
This is along the lines of other criticism that the university has in the past promised a given percentage of student housing on campus and then not delivered on those promises.
Ms. McDonald notes: “The FEIR fails to properly evaluate or disclose the near- or interim-term impacts of the LRDP on important issue areas such as transportation, air quality, and noise.”
She argues: “The LRDP would create significant environmental impacts in these areas with the addition of new students, employees, and their dependents well before the plan is built out in 2030-31. But the FEIR provides no analysis of these impacts, improperly claiming that to do so would be misleading. This is simply not true and the result is a legally inadequate FEIR.”
Further, she argues: “The FEIR fails to incorporate feasible mitigation measures to address significant environmental impacts. Many of the measures that are identified do not ensure adequate mitigation and allow deferred implementation until well after significant environmental impacts will occur, in violation of CEQA.”
The city, Ms. McDonald writes, “believes these issues may be addressed through further analysis and adoption of additional mitigation measures, but more time for consultation with the City and others, and a revised FEIR, will be necessary.”
She argues: “Such a collaborative approach is critical to the ongoing relationship of the City and the University, and has been urged by other commenters such as the County of Yolo, which ‘urges serious consideration of the City’s comments.’”
Indeed, as the county aptly put it: “As a partner, it is important that UC Davis be responsive and understanding of the needs of our local communities and strengthen this collaborative relationship. In the spirit of this collaborative partnership, we trust UC Davis will consider and address the comments brought forward by the City of Davis and other jurisdictions.”
The city adds hopefully: “Response to Local Community Requests. We are hopeful that more direct and responsive collaboration can occur now, before any action is taken on the FEIR or the LRDP.”
However, it warns, “Absent such steps, the FEIR will remain legally inadequate, and the City may be forced to pursue other legal remedies to ensure that the environmental impacts of the LRDP are addressed appropriately.”
In a separate letter, the city summarizes its concerns, noting: “Many of the findings rely on an analysis that improperly compares potential impacts of the LRDP against an environmental baseline that is projected to exist 12 years in the future. As a result, the CEQA Findings fail to identify substantial evidence to support the impact determinations that rely on this faulty baseline.
“As a result of the FEIR’s use of an improper future baseline to evaluate impacts, the CEQA Findings do not address a number of potentially significant impacts that are anticipated to occur before full buildout of the LRDP.”
The FEIR, Ms. McDonald continues, “does not incorporate all feasible mitigation measures to reduce significant environmental impacts. This is particularly problematic in light of the fact that the FEIR improperly relies on full development of the housing goals stated in the LRDP without ensuring that new housing will be built before enrollment and employment increase.”
She continues: “The CEQA Findings rely on mitigation measures that impermissibly defer implementation of actual mitigation until well after the significant impacts occur.”
She adds, “The response to comments included in the FEIR do not supply substantial evidence to support rejection of the new or revised mitigation measures proposed by commenters, particularly those proposed by the City and other public agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The proposed Overriding Considerations contained in the CEQA Findings rely on the housing goals identified in the LRDP to override the significant and unavoidable impacts associated with increased enrollment and employment at the University. However, the record lacks substantial evidence to support this finding because neither the LRDP nor the FEIR ensures that the housing will actually be built,” Ms. McDonald continues.
She concludes: “As a result of these flaws and others, the City objects to any effort by the Regents to approve the LRDP at this time, including certification of the FEIR. The City instead urges and requests that the Regents continue any action on the LRDP to allow for necessary revisions to the EIR.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting