Earlier this week, we attended the scoping meeting for the Aggie Research Center. The portion of the meeting that I viewed – which was supposed be in an open house formula – grew contentious as a small number of folks led by Roberta Millstein and Colin Walsh disrupted the meeting and questioned the process.
From the city’s perspective, with respect to the concerns being voiced by a very small fraction of community residents – they believe that by accommodating those community concerns and holding the scoping meeting at all, they were going above and beyond the legal requirements.
As it turned out, no good deed shall go unpunished and they likely succeeded only in providing another platform for dissenters to push back against the city.
There were three major objections raised on Monday by Colin Walsh and Roberta Millstein.
One of them was that the applicants are proposing the use of about 6.8 acres of the adjacent 25 acre city parcel that will not be developed as mitigation land. Under Measure R, the developers are required to provide 2 to 1 Ag mitigation, which means for a project proposed at 187 acres, they will have to provide about 374 acres for mitigation that would be put into permanent easement.
As the city has made clear that 6.8 acres – a tiny percentage of the overall mitigation land – is only a proposal by the applicants. And they would have to compensate the city for that land.
Assistant City Manager Ashley Fenney pointed out that the city has not accepted anything relating to the 6.8 acres, “all the city has done has been to accept an application” and they are preparing a CEQA analysis to evaluate the proposal. “There has been no agreement as it relates to the 25 acres, it is a project proposal that will be evaluated along with the overall project.”
The second objection is, “Why is there such a short window for people to respond?” They pointed out that they have until December 9 to have comments. “That seems like an incredibly short period of time for people to get counseled, get legal letters written and environmental letters,” one commenter at the meeting said .
The city responded that this meeting was under the guise of the scoping meeting. Sherri Metzker pointed out, “A scoping meeting has a very limited purpose – it’s main purpose is for you all to help us identify what the changed circumstances might be that are out there, that we have to take into consideration.”
She said, “This isn’t by any means the last time that the city’s members are going to have a chance to comment.”
She pointed out that they still have to do a 45-day circulation when they publish the EIR, then they have to respond to the comments and circulate that.
“We’re going to have the exact same thing happen again,” she said, noting the comment periods in the previous EIR rounds.
Colin Walsh interjected, “We’ve been told that what we’re doing here is optional, that what the city’s doing is optional… Once you decided to do a NOP, and to do the scoping, under what authority is the city not following the legal requirements for notice and for comment periods?”
Roberta Millstein added, “Are these typically 30 days?” She argued, “We’ve been given a much shorter window. In fact, the window has only been extended because some people asked for it to be extended.”
The Rainey representative pointed out, “There’s no legal requirement when you do a supplemental EIR to have a scoping meeting.”
Ashley Feeney added, “This meeting is being done to solicit some additional comment and also have an opportunity for people to voice things that they want the city to take into account for changed circumstances.”
From the critics perspective – if the city is going to do a scoping meeting, they believe that they should follow legal parameters of scoping meetings. From the city’s perspective, they clearly believe they are going above and beyond their legally required course of action and therefore believe they are justified in cutting the process a bit shorter at this point knowing they still have plenty of opportunities for people to weigh in.
While I understand the concerns of the critics that this is shaping the project – I also know from past experiences, vast changes occur to projects at all stages along the way and perhaps most when it gets toward the latter stages and goes before the council.
Finally, there were complaints that the chart was not accurate in comparing MRIC to ARC. From what I could tell there appeared to be a few small discrepancies.
The issue of the parking spaces is a bit interesting – especially since the 4,340 number has become a rallying point for critics who believe that the project will add too much traffic and congestion.
The chart claims that the projected parking for the previous project was 6,032 whereas now it is 4340. I saw a comment from one of the critics that the actual number of parking spaces should have been between 8,000 and 9,000. They also question how the project proponent can decrease the number to 4,340 which they see as about half of the city’s requirement.
Strangely I could not find where the 6,032 parking figure for MRIC actually came from, there was never a number laid out in the MRIC EIR or project proposal that I saw. (Perhaps I missed it in the tons of documents from the previous project).
I have made this comment previously – but process is often a point hammered home by critics of projects – along with these kinds of issues involving the exact the number parking spaces and the like.
Critics of Nishi in 2018 hammered the project because of its compressed timeline and various other procedural and process-based issues.
But in 2016 the voters voted down Nishi by a narrow margin based primarily on perceived traffic impacts and lack of affordable housing. When the proponents fixed those problems – by avoiding Richards and by providing affordable housing – the voters approved the project on the basis of their calculation of the need for additional student housing in town.
That vote was overwhelming.
ARC is not going to come down to the host of procedural issues that are being laid out right now. There is an elephant looming and everyone knows it.
Hundreds of people have turned out for several public meetings in South Davis for the traffic impacts on Mace. Compare that to the less 20 people who turned out on Monday for this project.
This project will sink or swim almost entirely based on the perception of how long people believe that ARC will cause them to spend in their cars. Can the applicants solve that problem and convince voters that this will not inconvenience them or convince them that there are more important issues than a few extra minutes sitting in traffic a couple of times a week?
That’s the key to this project. Everything else is window dressing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting