The city of Davis has announced once again that it will hold a scoping meeting for the Aggie Research Campus – this follows the decision by council earlier this month to undertake a supplemental EIR with a new traffic study.
The meeting will be held at the Davis City Hall Conference Room on Monday, December 2, from 5 to 7 pm. According to the notice, the meeting will be “an open house format” and they invite the public to drop in to review the proposed project exhibits as well as to submit written comments any time between those hours.
The Aggie Research Campus application proposes 2,654,000 square feet of innovation center/business uses and 850 residential units of varied sizes and affordability:
The project was originally known as the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and on September 19, 2017, the council certified the Final EIR “determining that it adequately evaluated the environmental impacts of the proposed MRIC project and a related Mixed-Use Alternative.”
Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney noted in an email to the Vanguard, “The EIR included an analysis of the potential physical environmental impacts of a Mixed-Use Alternative, at the same level of detail performed for the proposed MRIC project.”
At this point the project was then put on hold.
He notes that once the council certifies the EIR, further review “associated with subsequent discretionary actions related to the project” is guided by Section 21166 of the Public Resources Code and CEQA Guidelines Sections 15162-15163.
Neither of these regulations “include requirements for a new notice of preparation (NOP) and scoping meeting. The only specific requirement for a lead agency to issue a NOP and hold a scoping meeting is at the outset of the initial environmental review of a project (CEQA Guidelines Section 15082).”
The city issued its NOP and held a scoping meeting for the MRIC EIR process, as required, Mr. Feeney told the Vanguard.
He said, “While preparation of a new NOP and subsequent scoping meeting are not required for a subsequent EIR or supplemental EIR, the City of Davis is sensitive to the community’s concerns and chose to hold a scoping meeting. As a result, the City has scheduled a scoping meeting for the proposed Aggie Research Campus project on December 2, 2019.”
He stated, “The meeting is intended to focus more appropriately on collecting comments related to the changes in circumstances that may have occurred in the project vicinity since the certification of the MRIC EIR in 2017, given that this is an important criterion to consider when preparing further environmental documents for projects, according to CEQA Guidelines Section 15162(a)(2).”
The purpose of this meeting is to “solicit input and comments from public agencies and the general public on the proposed supplemental EIR.”
Mr. Feeney added, “As an additional effort to provide ample opportunities for public engagement and input, City staff will not only hold the voluntary scoping meting but will also extend the period to accept written comments from public agencies and the general public that are interested in providing input as to the scope and content of the supplemental environmental information to Monday, December 9, 2019 at 5:00 PM.”
There were some public calls to proceed with a subsequent rather than a supplemental EIR, but at the November meeting, City Manager Mike Webb believed that proceeding with a supplemental rather than a subsequent EIR was appropriate.
“What is before the council tonight is a request to enter into a contract to begin environmental analysis,” Mr. Webb explained. He said they will start by looking at “those areas where there’s likely to have been a change in circumstances.
“We have very good reason to believe… that traffic is one of those changed circumstances that needs a careful look at,” he further explained. For him that means that they look at the preparation of a supplemental EIR. “Biology is the other element that we have identified as wanting to make sure that we take a look at it to see if there have been any changes in circumstances or conditions on the site or in the area.”
He said that air quality and noise would be looked at “because they are tied to traffic – the traffic analysis.” That triggers a look at greenhouse gases and health risk assessments as well, he explained.
“Those are all affected or impacted by the traffic data and the analysis that happens there,” he said.
Mike Webb said, “The difference between a supplemental EIR and a subsequent EIR is a subsequent EIR studies all of the chapters under CEQA.”
That would include areas such as Cultural Resources, Ag Resources, Geology, Hazards – “those chapters would all be revisited.” He said, “At this point in time, just based on preliminary look at the site in the time that’s passed, it was just 2017 when the EIR was certified, I just think that there’s not a strong belief that cultural and geological resources have changed in the last two years on the property.”
Mike Webb said it comes down to studying those things that we believe or know that circumstances have changed, versus “basically opening every chapter – even if those chapters don’t need to be opened.”
He did say that they want to start looking at the analysis and “the consultants won’t know for sure until they start digging into it if there are other areas that would necessitate looking at.
“Addendum would not be an appropriate mechanism to look here,” he said. “At this level, a Supplemental EIR would be the appropriate starting point for their analysis.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting