On Tuesday, council pulled a consent item that authorized the city to spend around a quarter million dollars on a Supplemental EIR (SEIR), with the costs reimbursed by the project applicant for the Aggie Research Campus.
While the current proposal for the ARC is “in substantial conformance with the Mixed-Use Alternative version evaluated in the 2017 certified EIR (for MRIC),” there are some changes of circumstances particularly with regard to traffic that the EIR would examine.
The item brought concerns from critics of the project, including the criticism that there was an attempt to hide this as a consent item.
As Councilmember Lucas Frerichs pointed out, the council received requests from the public to pull the item from consent – which they did.
“It’s on the public agenda,” he said. “It was posted last … Friday. It has received a variety of mentions in local media as such. I don’t think there’s any smuggling going on or any subversiveness.”
Rik Keller, speaking during public comment, told the council that “this project will actually exacerbate the existing jobs-housing imbalance and increase commuting to our community which according to SACOG is already a net importer of commuters and already has the longest commuting times in the whole region.”
He criticized the consultant Rainey, saying they “messed up the jobs-housing ratio in the previous EIR and misstated the analysis. They need to be directed to get their analysis right this time.”
Mr. Keller later added, “I would push for a subsequent EIR to be considered rather than the weak and rushed supplemental EIR plan that’s proposed right now.”
Roberta Millstein said that while Rainey explains why an addendum isn’t sufficient, “they don’t explain why we don’t need a subsequent EIR.” She said, “I think the council needs to insist on hearing the justification for choosing a supplemental EIR over a subsequent EIR which is more extensive.”
She notes as well that Rainey only mentions traffic as a change factor since 2016, but “it doesn’t mention other potentially changed factors like air quality, noise, biological features – I think council needs to insist that all potentially changed factors need to be considered for the EIR is complete.”
Ms. Millstein like Rik Keller was concerned about the compressed timeline for the release and consideration of the EIR.
She pointed out, “Rainey’s timeline does not allocate time for the commissions to comment on the EIR.” She said that the council needs to make sure “that the relevant commissions have time to bring their expertise to bear on the EIR.
“The applicant not the city put this project on hold and they’ve had plenty of time to bring the project back. There is no justification for rushing things now,” she added.
“ARC would be a massive project, much larger in scale than anything else in Davis, on prime farmland, 200 acres, and it deserves to dealt with thoughtfully,” she said.
Colin Walsh pointed to major changes in both the project and the circumstances. “Both of them with new potential significant impacts that require additional environmental above and beyond the EIR prepared in approximately 2017… It probably meets the criteria for performing a subsequent new EIR.”
He called for the city to circulate and prepare “a clear new project description – the current project description is very vague – to the old one and a checklist that documents all aspects of the project that has changed or not changes and the significance of those changes.
“The council should be insisting on this from the staff as a starting point,” he said.
City Manager Mike Webb explained the city’s rationale in proceeding on a supplemental rather than subsequent EIR.
“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 yeas 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.”
Council agreed to approve the item on a 5-0 vote to move the process forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting