Concerns include toxics, traffic, floodplain, unaffordable housing, unsafe bike/pedestrian access, and infrastructure costs issues
By Eileen M. Samitz and Pamela S. Nieberg
There can be no assumption that the Village Farms site is safe for development. It is surprising and disappointing to see a recent article attempting to dismiss the significant concerns that have been raised in the past and recently regarding toxics contamination from the former City landfill site and the former City sewage treatment plant which are immediately adjacent (north-east) to the Village Farms property.
The sewage treatment ponds are inactive but still present. Many concerns were raised regarding this issue during the previous proposal of Covell Village on this same land parcel in the Draft EIR, but were not adequately addressed including insufficient monitoring of the area for contaminants from the old City landfill site. For instance, there were only 3 monitoring wells for testing of the former landfill which encompassed 31 acres of the 186-acre landfill/sewer treatment plant site (WKA Figures 1, 2, and 5), and 3 wells on site on the 390-acre Village Farms site and one well in the Wildhorse vicinity on the east side of Pole Line Road.
Concerns regarding the toxics on the Village Farms site have been raised before. For example, data from previous toxic studies done on this area revealed Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) per state drinking water standards were found on the adjacent former City landfill for some of the contaminants including vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogen. Toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride were also found on the Village Farms site during the previous Covell Center proposal in 1997 by Dames and Moore. Yet, no clean up actions were ever taken on the former landfill site, or on the (then) Covell Center site. Only monitoring was done which was recommended to be performed four times a year. Initially testing was done quarterly, but it was reduced to only one time a year as time went on and was limited to testing only for volatile organic chemicals. However, Wallace and Kuhl reported on two samplings taken in 2019 which included testing for other toxic materials.
There are multiple problems regarding the Village Farms site, including and not limited to the toxics concerns, but the following are just some of the relevant facts:
1) This adjacent former City landfill site was unlined, therefore there was no barrier to prevent leakage from 300,000 tons of trash dumped which included commercial and industrial, as well as residential trash dumping. So, all kinds of toxic substances were dumped at this former City landfill site for decades and have been seeping into the underground water, including vinyl chloride, a carcinogen. Vinyl chloride, among other toxic chemicals, was also documented on the Village Farms site in the Dames and Moore study in 1997 from the previous Covell Center proposal EIR on the same land.
2) The Dames and Moore 1992 report stated that a groundwater SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool) for the landfill site was done and they found that vinyl chloride was found which exceeded the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) allowed by the state drinking water standards. Selenium, nitrate, chloride and total dissolved solids also exceeded the MCLs. Vinyl chloride was also found on the Village Farms site. Other toxics found included halogenated and aromatic volatile organic compounds VOCs including trichloroethylene, 1,2-dichloroethene, 1, 2-dichloropropane, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, and tetrachloroethene in down-gradient wells including two wells on the (now) Village Farms site. It is notable that vinyl chloride and other volatile chemicals can easily be lost from samples if the samples are not quickly and carefully sealed. Otherwise, the volatile chemicals dissipate, giving a false negative result.
3) The former landfill site used open burn pits for trash for several decades, including whatever toxics were in the unsorted trash.
4) No major clean-up has been done of the former City unlined landfill site. There has been inadequate monitoring reduced to only once a year on only 3 wells on the large landfill site, 3 wells on the 390-acre Village Farms site, and 1 well on the Wildhorse vicinity site just east of Pole Line Road.
5) It is notable that the former City landfill site was also used as a police firing range and so there is plenty of lead from the ammunition on the site.
The concern here is that if the City allowed the Village Farms site to be developed without significantly more toxics analysis, there could be serious consequences. Toxics on the site could result in residents becoming sick from the toxics, the City would be liable for approving the project and could be subject to lawsuits. Ultimately, Davis residents would wind up paying for that lawsuit via their taxes. Why would the City allow such risk to the community by allowing this site to move forward without far more toxics analysis?
The City’s monitoring, so far has focused primarily on the former City landfill site, not the adjacent Village Farms site. Toxics move in groundwater. While Wallace and Kuhl’s report states that the waterflow when they tested it appeared to be going north, all of the Dames and Moore studies data documented that the flow was south and south-east towards the (now) Village Farms site. This is why the 3 monitoring wells were placed on that property. Ground water flows can periodically change direction due to various factors, including changes in rainfall. Therefore, it is unwarranted to assume that the groundwater flow has changed permanently in a northernly direction.
Regarding the Geocon references, these consultants were not hired by the City, but by the same current developer. Geocon’s reporting on the toxics was dismissive and questions addressing concerns were not adequately answered during the EIR process. These consultants even recommended that the monitoring wells be moved off the (now) Village Farms site in 2004.
Regarding the 2020 Wallace and Kuhl and Associates report, it stated:
“WKA researched the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board files and found that the landfill monitoring activities were not being conducted pursuant to Waste Discharge Requirements and that the shallow groundwater monitoring activities were not being conducted under a Monitoring and Reporting Program.”
The same Wallace and Kuhl consultants pointed out that they had not gotten any summary information from the City regarding the monitoring:
“The City’s activity is limited to the sample collection and contracting for laboratory analyses. The City has prepared no summary tables for the analysis results and prepared no reports of findings.”
In addition, the Wallace and Kuhl report includes significant disclaimers such as:
“No recommendation is made as to the suitability of the property for any purpose. The result of the investigation does not preclude the possibility that materials currently, or in the future, defined as hazardous are present on the site.”
Furthermore, this Wallace and Kuhl report was done before there was any public knowledge that the adjacent Village Farms site was being considered for residential development. A residential development site, obviously, would need a much more thorough analysis for toxics for safety reasons, as compared to a dormant landfill site. Neither the old landfill site nor the proposed development site has had any significant clean-up actions.
How many people would be willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a home on a site immediately adjacent to an unlined former landfill site and sewer treatment plant which has not had any major clean up, nor had an adequate toxics assessment which could result in health impacts to them and their families?
The City has a responsibility to require far more toxics analysis than the minimal information they have for the 390-acre Village Farms site before considering a huge housing development proposal for the site. Housing at this site without further analysis of the potential toxics issue could result in negative consequences to the future residents and to the community as a whole, due to the toxics and legal liability which would become a financial liability. This analysis needs to be done before this project is even considered for development.
In addition to the toxics concerns, the Village Farms site has a multitude of other problems including:
1) A large floodplain of roughly 200-acres covering at least half of the project site. How many people want to risk flooding issues to buy a home at this site? Further, California State law now stipulates that it will no longer financially bail out flooded sites on which city’s approve development, unlike prior to this policy. Also, the flood plain span would include areas over the toxic’s leakage from the former landfill site onto the Village Farms site.
2) The Village Farms site has an active major gas pipeline underneath it running north-south down the middle of the property and through the former landfill site (see figure 4.10-1). How old and in what kind of condition is this gas pipeline? Who would be responsible if this gas line ruptured if it is not properly evaluated and secured for safety? The last thing we need is a gas line explosion disaster such as that which tragically occurred in San Bruno in 2010.
Regarding the P, G and E pipeline, it is notable that the Covell Village EIR states that: “Development in this right-of-way (including landscaping) is subject to PG&E approval, and no building construction may occur on the easement because PG&E requires access to the line for general maintenance and monitoring. Greenbelts, parks, and surface streets are the appropriate uses above such an easement.” Yet, the Village Farms project appears to have homes planned to be built on top of this extensive pipeline in some areas.
3) Unmitigable traffic and circulation impacts due to this Village Farms location at the heavily impacted Covell Blvd. and Pole Line Road intersection were bad enough in 2005 when Covell Village was proposed. But the traffic impacts have multiplied with many cars from Woodland including the Spring Lake project. The traffic there is terrible now. If 1,395-unit more units from Village Farms were added in the Covell Blvd. and Pole Line Rd. vicinity, it would be gridlock for extended periods of time. Traffic would be dramatically delayed trying to get through this intersection, and through the Pole Line Rd. and Covell Blvd. streets. Plus, cars would use other alternative routes affecting traffic and circulation in the adjacent neighborhoods, such as L Street.
4) Over 60% of the Village Farms housing would be large housing units which would not be affordable to young families and average workers. Village Farms is proposing a massive amount of unaffordable housing which could wind up sold to people moving from the Bay Area who can afford these “McMansions.” This does not help provide housing needed for our local families and workers and to help get more children residing in Davis to attend our grade schools which have diminishing student populations. Davis needs small housing units on small lots, not a lot more McMansions.
5) Lack of safe bicycle/pedestrian access issues would be a serious problem on Covell Blvd. and F Street for this enormous project. There is no ability to have safe access over, or under Covell Blvd. from this project site for any children/or bicyclists or pedestrians, trying to cross Covell Blvd. near Pole Line Road. This area has massive traffic but also high-speed accidents which have happened too often.
6) Access over or under the F St. railroad tracks is a fairy tale. Even if it could happen, the cost of this infrastructure would be enormous, like the project-proposed bike/pedestrian Pole Line Road overcrossing. These infrastructure costs would simply add to the cost of the Village Farms housing units. The same developer, John Whitcombe, promised access over or under the railroad tracks at Nishi five years ago, yet that has not happened. This is because the railroad owners are typically resistant to allowing access over or under railroad tracks for a number of reasons including potential liability issues. This problem was raised during the Nishi 2.0 debate and is the main reason why the Nishi project has not moved forward.
7) Infrastructure costs would be enormous for the Village Farms project and the concern is whether Davis residents would end up having to pay the costs to subsidize the expensive infrastructure needs that this project requires, such as the proposed overcrossing over Pole Line Road.
While it may not be obvious, the Village Farms site is in the County, not in the City, therefore it is not infill, it is a peripheral site. The bottom line is that the Village Farms site has many significant problems, as it has in the past, which is why the previous Covell Village version was voted down by the Davis voters in 2005. This Village Farms proposal is no different, except the problems would be even worse, such as traffic at Covell Blvd. and Pole Line Road. which is already seriously congested, and the current proposal is primarily large expensive housing units rather than housing affordable to our workers and families. Furthermore, it would be irresponsible of the City to even consider the Village Farms proposal without doing the in-depth thorough toxics analysis needed first. But given the many problems that the Village Farms site has, it is without question the worst site because it would bring the most impacts and has the worst project design of all the project sites being proposed for development.
For citizens concerned about this project or for more information please email email@example.com.
Eileen Samitz is a former Davis Planning Commissioner and served on the City of Davis 2001 General Plan Update land use committee and the subsequent Housing Element Update Committee.
Pam Nieberg worked in the field of toxicology for 38 years. She founded and served as president of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group (FFSOG), a community group working for 29 years with USEPA on the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Site in Davis after USEPA designated it as a federal superfund site.