In advance of the end of the comment period to the Draft Subsequent EIR for the Aggie Research Campus, the Planning Commission listened to 29 public comments and then many of its members made critical remarks themselves.
In total, 29 people spoke during public comment but only about 10 of them, most of them UC Davis students, were in clear support of the project with the rest having varying levels of concern.
Several of the comments focused on the timing of the project, given the economic collapse amid the shutdown of the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, concern over the ability of the developers to actually ensure that 60 percent of the units are filled with people working at the park, and the use of 6.8 acres of the mitigation from the city’s 25-acre property as well as the utilization of the top soil from an adjacent property.
Commissioner Herman Boschken argued that this was basically a traditional business park, noting that there are no provisions to restrict it to high tech or research and development use.
“We see a lot of enthusiasm especially by students, believing the notion that it’s actually going to be a research park,” he said. “I have great doubts about that.”
He believes that can be resolved if the city said “this park can only be used for research or research-related business activities.” He said, “That doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
“We have heard nothing from UC Davis in support of this project,” he said. “I wonder, where are those folks?”
Later he expressed concern that a lot of the businesses that move to the park will be moving in from elsewhere, a process he referred to as cannibalizing the rest of the city.
“What reality is there that 1200 will come from the city, when we already have low levels of vacancy?” Robertson said. He added, “I could easily see those 850 units going to non-employees simply because there’s no mechanism (that’s) been identified in the EIR… so we’re going to have additional trips generated by the 850 residents who are working in Sacramento or somewhere else than the project itself.”
He argues the DSEIR understates the trips because it assumes that some percentage of them will be working at the project “because people live and work inside the project.”
Robertson wondered where even the 1200 is coming from given the lack of housing for students. He said, “I’m really skeptical of the determination.”
Nick Pappani, a representative from Raney Management, explained that this “is trying to determine what the project’s fair share of housing should be. How many units should be included on site. How many units do we think can be accommodated elsewhere in the city based on the housing element.”
He said, “The traffic analysis is actually based on mixed use data from several hundred mixed use sites similarly situated, similar type uses.” He added, “It wasn’t tied specifically to the math used to determine the project’s fair share.”
David Robertson said that “the 60 percent of the residents living at the project… that doesn’t really inform environmental analysis.”
Greg Behrens from Fehr & Peers agreed, saying “that really isn’t included in part of this analysis.”
David Robertson asked, “Has a mechanism been identified that would allow the project applicant to actually allocate any percentage of the units to people who actually work there?”
Sherri Metzker said, “So far all the discussion has indicated that it would be in violation of the fair housing laws and so we don’t believe we have that ability.”
Commission Darryl Rutherford asked them if the applicant meets the spirit of the open space requirement by utilizing the 6.8 acres from the city’s 25-acre property. Nick Pappani indicated this was not an issue for the EIR.
But Rutherford said, “To me the way it is being proposed does not meet the spirit of the open space requirement that the city has put into policy in that the project should find an additional 6.8 acres to mitigate.”
Rutherford did take issue with the notion that there needs to be some sort of pause here due to COVID-19.
“All of this was laid out prior to COVID-19,” he said. “I’m really getting tired of this whole excuse that the COVID-19 response should be something that stops city business. We’ve all had to adapt to it. We as commissioners, we’ve taken an oath to uphold a duty as volunteers and if we are not able to uphold that duty then we as commissioners… should recuse ourselves from that position and let someone else who is in a better position take care of it.”
Finally, Rutherford indicated his strong preference to have affordable housing onsite. He said there is no place offsite anyway.
Greg Rowe noted the proposal to excavate soil from the bypass isn’t necessarily to raise the foundation level.
“The ARC site has some deficient soils,” he said, citing the 2015 Draft EIR. “They need to correct that and the method they’re proposing is to import 130 cubic yards of soil from the Howatt Ranch to the ARC site to improve soil conditions. It isn’t necessarily to raise it above flood.”
Rowe cited a number of deficiencies in the EIR.
“I’m also concerned in the urban decay category that if you look at the UC Davis website and the kinds of businesses they are trying to attract to Aggie Square,” he said. “It’s all the very same business that this Tech Park is trying to attract.”
He is concerned along with Woodland, because “it seems to me with three tech parks trying to attract the same clientele we are looking at over-saturation of the market.”
Greg Rowe concluded, “I could not support this document at this point being accurate and complete.” He added that the failure to take 60 percent into account at all—“that’s extremely disappointing and actually downright frightening.”
Comments are due by next Monday and this project will come back to the Planning Commission after those comments are incorporated, and the Planning Commission will determine whether to recommend to the city council that they certify this subsequent EIR.
—David M. Greenwald reporting