Last night’s Planning Commission meeting featured the unveiling of the Environmental Impact Report on the Housing Elephant. The meeting started at 5PM with a poster presentation on the EIR. About 25 citizens were present, maybe a few more came and left. This is a summary of the information that I got from the the meeting, not a transcript, and items from both the poster session and the formal session are mixed in. The video of the formal meeting is posted on the city’s web site.
The consultants from RECON were there to explain and answer, also City staff. During the informal poster period the 5 members of the Planning Commission were also circulating and conversing. There was a printed copy of the 753 page EIR, in glorious color and with foldouts. It’s a weighty document. It is required that, in order to be responded to, comments on the EIR be written and delivered within the 45-day comment period which ends March 14.
There was a presentation of the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which created the requirement for the Environmental Impact Report and also the livelihoods of companies like RECON.
At this time there are actually six alternatives under discussion:
1. Ready Made (RM)
2. Build Your Own (BYO)
3. Modified Mixed Use Places (MMUP)
4. No Project (Continue With Old General Plan)
5. Sustainable Mixed Use Places/Environmentally Friendly (SMUP)
6. Whatever plan the City Council approves which may include parts of the others.
Alternative 4 is alive because the voters could decide against the plan. Alternative 6 is alive because the EIR, though required, can be taken as advisory rather than mandatory. Quite many of those in attendance seemed to prefer alternative 5, the SMUP scheme.
It was emphasized that this is a Program EIR (PEIR) which is different from the EIR needed for a particular project. When I asked about Density Bonus Mike Strong reported that the PEIR used just the R-30 numbers. Any project that uses Density Bonus may be required to supplement the EIR and traffic study at the expense of the applicant.
The traffic study was done in June 2015, the posters showed projected traffic levels in 2035 for alternatives 1, 2, 3, and 4. It was stated that since Plan 5 is a proper subset of Plan 3 there was no funded traffic study for it. The commission discussed and then accepted this story. I observe that in January 2016 some of our streets seem quite more congested than the numbers reported in the PEIR; the details of this are worthy of a written response.
There were about 12 posters. Half of them were brand new, showing CEQA requirements, the SMUP option, and the projected 2035 traffic levels of alternatives 1, 2, and 3. The traffic levels were grim, I gather that improving this is not part of the Housing Element but could be covered when the Circulation Element of the General Plan is updated in a year or so.
I had thought this meeting was about the form of the EIR rather than its content, which is scheduled to be taken up at a later meeting, so I did not comment on any particular site, but used my 3 minutes to raise the issues of Density Bonus and I did question the traffic numbers.
In oral communications, one speaker from our Greek Orthodox Church spoke in favor of site C-6, owned by that group, because they want to develop actual affordable housing on it. A group of about 6 citizens spoke against site L-7, the city-owned property on QGD to the north of the botanic garden. Nobody spoke about site ALT-5, probably this will happen at the big meeting. Sites L-7 and ALT-5 were not in the SMUP map but Council could anyway include one or both in the final.
Other oral communications were from about 6 citizens who were quite fluent in questioning various aspects of the housing scheme such as the fact that the HE as written will produce mostly “market rate” housing and little “affordable” housing. Also raised was the fact that the HE guts the provisions of Proposition A and shifts power from the voting citizens to the city staff.
One Commissioner asked whether population increase due to the HE would increase the number of students, especially in K-6 in Cardiff and Leucadia. I think the response was that this is not part of the study requirement of either CEQA or their contract with the city. In any event the school district will benefit from increased tax revenue and should make their own projections of demand.
In other business the Planning Commission discussed item 10A, specific suggestions for additional public outreach. I spoke against this “scathingly brilliant” idea because I think the Planning Commission should stick to deliberation rather than action, because this is distracting them from their already overflowing agenda, and because we have reached the point of diminishing returns and most of our citizens have chosen not to pay attention. The Commission was unanimous in disagreeing with me and they directed that their bright ideas be sent to the City Council.