City’s Consideration of Safeway College Avenue Shopping Center Continues to Roll Forward

Community Comments on Draft Environmental Report
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

 

Despite summer vacations, Oakland’s approval process for the Safeway College Avenue Shopping Center Project has continued to move forward.  The draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the project was released on the Friday before the July 4th holiday weekend, and the comment period closed on August 16th, forty-six days later.  Despite the pleas of RCPC and many others (including the City of Berkeley, whose city council is in recess until September), City planning staff and the planning commission refused to extend the comment period.

The planning commission did make one concession.  One public hearing to accept oral comments on the DEIR had been scheduled for July 20th.  That hearing, put at the end of a long agenda, drew such a huge crowd that the hearing had to be moved from the usual planning commission hearing room to city council chambers.  With well over a hundred people submitting speaker cards, it soon became apparent that the commission would not be able to hear everyone’s comments that night.  Consequently, the commission opted to hear some speakers, but also continue the hearing to its next meeting on August 3rd.

The August 3rd hearing was also packed, although by the time the commission plowed through all the speaker cards submitted at both meetings, some audience members had already given up and gone home.

The vast majority of the many speakers were there to criticize the DEIR and point up errors and omissions in its analysis. Many speakers complained that the DEIR underestimated traffic impacts and totally failed to address impacts on the surrounding neighborhood streets.  Speakers also questioned the DEIR’s analyses of air quality, land use, and visual impacts.  To be fair, however, Safeway had done an extensive job of mobilizing its supporters, so there were also speakers who extolled Safeway’s expansion plans and urged the project’s approval.  This was despite Chair Vien Truong’s initial plea that speakers restrict themselves to commenting on the DEIR, not on the merits of the project.  At the second hearing, Commissioner Michael Colbruno also interrupted the stream of speakers to complain that almost all the topics being raised by speakers had been addressed in the DEIR and he wished speakers would restrict themselves to pointing out additional topics not already discussed in the DEIR.  This prompted a rejoinder from RCPC Chair Stuart Flashman, who noted that the question was not whether the DEIR had a subject heading, or even some commentary on a topic, but whether there was substantial evidence in the DEIR to support its conclusions.  He noted that many of the critical comments were about the DEIR’s lack of factual evidence and the shortcomings in its analyses.  These, he said, were legitimate concerns that should be taken seriously.

In his comments on behalf of RCPC, Mr. Flashman (who noted that he practices land use and environmental law) laid into the DEIR as a “shoddy” piece of work with multiple deficiencies.  He, along with many other speakers, urged the commission to withdraw the document for extensive revision.  That plea went unheeded.  At the close of the hearing, however, several commissioners expressed concern about problems with the DEIR.  Newly-appointed commissioners Chris Pattillo and Jonelyn Whales both promised to submit written comment letters documenting their concerns.

When the dust cleared at the end of the comment period, more than seventy-five comment letters had been submitted, including a five-page comment letter from RCPC with many pages of attached documentation and separate comment letters from trained professionals (retained through community contributions and a matching grant from the Rose Foundation for Community and the Environment) that addressed the DEIR’s analysis of toxics, air and water quality, and traffic and parking impacts.  The RCPC comment letter is posted on the RCPC website at http://rockridge.org.

The next step in the process will be for City staff and the EIR consultants (hired by Safeway) to review and respond to all the comments.  The planning commission will then face a decision about whether to certify the EIR as complete and final or require its revision and recirculation for additional public review and comment.  Once the EIR has been certified, the project itself will be considered by the commission. If there is an appeal, the decisions on both the EIR and the project could go to the city council.  All this will likely take at least another three to six months.

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RCPC comment letter on College Ave. Safeway DEIR1.2 MB