The deadline to submit comments on the ARC (Aggie Research Campus) Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR) is April 27—a week from today. On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and provide staff and the EIR consultant with comments on the DSEIR.
The meeting will occur via Zoom and happens amid concerns from some in the public that critical issues might not get adequate inquiry, due to the restrictions as well as the concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Aggie Research Campus is a proposed 228.5 acre project that will consist of 2.65 million square feet of innovation space and business uses with an additional 850 residential units. The project is located immediately east of Mace Blvd. and will require council approval and subsequent approval from the voters in an election at this time scheduled for November 2020.
On March 13, the city issued a notice of availability of the Draft SEIR. There is a 45-day comment period for the Draft SEIR, which ends on Monday, April 27, 2020. The Planning Commission is required to hold a public meeting “to provide an opportunity to the public and the commission to review and provide oral comments on the Draft SEIR. The Planning Commission is being asked to comment during the April 22, 2020, public meeting.”
The Final SEIR will then come back before the Planning Commission for recommendation to the City Council and the Council will be asked to certify the Final EIR as it makes its final actions on the project.
The DSEIR concludes that there are a number of significant and unavoidable impacts—with other impacts that can be mitigated to less than significant levels.
Some of the biggest figure to be generating GHG emissions, impacts to local neighborhood street traffic, increases to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), impacts to pedestrian and bicycling facilities and impacts to transit services.
Traffic and mitigating traffic impacts figures to be a major issue for both the Planning Commission and and the public overall.
According to Fehr & Peers, “the ARC Project would generate 23,888 new daily (external) vehicle trips, with 2,232 trips occurring during the AM peak hour and 2,479 trips occurring during the PM peak hour.”
For the ARC Project, the EIR notes that “the worst-case intersections were determined to be I-80 WB Ramps/Mace Boulevard during the PM peak hour and I-80 EB Off-Ramp/Chiles Road during the AM peak hour under Cumulative Plus Project Conditions, due to worst LOS, highest delays, and highest volumes.”
They further found that the impact of additional traffic at I-80 and CR 32A interchange would “exacerbate these LOS F conditions and exceed applicable Caltrans LOS thresholds.”
The SEIR finds: “When the percent demand served drops well below 100 percent, the demand for travel cannot be served within a single hour due to either upstream or downstream bottlenecks. This can lead to ‘peak hour spreading’, which is generally defined as more than one hour of congested, stop-and-go conditions.”
In effect, the project would cause the system-wide percent demand served to decrease from nearly 100 percent under existing conditions to just 82 percent for AM peak hour and 85 percent for PM peak hour.
However, with the recommended changes, “these percentages increase to 99 percent during the AM peak hour and 97 percent during the PM peak hour, a substantial improvement.”
Most importantly, with such enhancements, “vehicle queues would no longer spill back onto the I-80 mainline with implementation of these enhancements.”
Overall, they concluded, “Background traffic growth will require improvements within this portion of the study area regardless of whether the project is developed.”
“What the report confirms is that the many local road and intersection improvements made possible by our project will measurably improve area traffic conditions, including for South Davis residents, even as we’re bringing new jobs and housing to the community,” said Aggie Research Campus Project Manager Dan Ramos. “We also know that I-80 improvements are desperately needed, and we’re firmly committed to helping make them happen as soon as possible.”
During the discussion at the BTSSC (Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission) meeting and on April 9, Mr. Ramos pointed out that when they did the original Mace Ranch project “one of things that we did, and Mace Ranch was a major contributor to funding to widening Mace Blvd overpass the first time around.
“The development project was the key to funding,” he said, though he acknowledged there were a lot of matching funds as well.
Attorney Matt Keasling noted that the biggest issue facing the project and the largest chapter of the EIR is traffic.
Greg Rowe, a member of the Planning Commission, submitted comments to the BTSSC, which found that while there would be significant and unavoidable impacts from the project, recommended certification of the SEIR.
Mr. Rowe presented five primary concerns to the BTSSC.
He found, as noted previously, “Vehicle trips for the ARC Project would greatly exceed projections for the previous MRIC project. VMT impacts will be significant and unavoidable.”
Second, “Roadway enhancements (lane extensions, more lanes, etc.) that allow more traffic may discourage alternative commute modes (biking and walking).”
Third, “Inability of proposed transportation/circulation enhancements to fully mitigate traffic impacts coupled with indeterminate funding sources.”
Fourth, “Limited control by the City of Davis over the scope and timing of traffic improvements on I-80.”
And fifth, “Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Programs: As shown in my comments, TDM programs are a standard, boilerplate mitigation identified in many CEQA documents. Such programs have limited practicality, are difficult to sustain over the long-term, and should not be relied upon to significantly improve traffic and circulation conditions.”
Recognizing some of this, there was significant support by the BTSSC to include the proposals for mitigation measures into the project baseline features as a means of ensuring that the commitments made by the developers are enforceable.
Matt Keasling acknowledged that this project requires the cooperation of other jurisdictions in order to mitigate impacts.
“There are other jurisdictions that have ownership and control over a lot of intersections where we need to do improvements,” Mr. Keasling pointed out. Among them are Caltrans and Yolo County. “It is not strictly up to the city of Davis to buy off on it. The city does have the ability to require us to seek the approval to do that.”
Later he clarified that the developers would still be responsible for the money to do those upgrades, but this requires them to work with other agencies and entities besides just the city to perform those tasks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting