Last Thursday, March 17, Brea’s Planning Commission received a memorandum from Community Development Director David Crabtree, written by City Planner Jennifer Lilley, in short titled, CEQA Process Clarifications.
While it’s intent was to counter the growing public objection to the department’s bypassing much of the customary process CEQA provides to properly assess environmental issues it was little more than a last ditched effort to mislead the Planning Commissioners.
Here’s an excerpt, “In summary, the environmental checklist process, the requirement for new and updated technical studies to assess impacts and the expanded review process for the Hines application serve to respect the legal requirements of CEQA as well as the City’s commitment to informing the public beyond the legal minimum.”
What is the real question?
No matter how many times I plowed through the mountain of documents supporting the Staff Report, 1,553 pages, I kept coming back to the simple question… Why?
Why has the City Planner chosen to conduct CEQA in this manner? To keep the public from becoming formally involved? Why is there all this circular logic to defend the use of an Addendum by citing the Addendum itself?
I get it that CEQA requires new development projects to consider previous EIRs, that the city should consider whether the project is compatible with the General Plan.
What is not clear is why the City Planner considers Brea Place as a part of the 2003 Brea General Plan and not a standalone project. It seems little more than an excuse to back into the General Plan’s EIR as well.
So what if the corner of Birch Street and St. College was already broadly analyzed as a possible site for a mixed use infill project. The GPAC and authors of the General Plan didn’t close their eyes in 2003 and imagine the Hines project!
Brea Place is unique, a specific project with quantifiable impacts of its own!
CPRA + CEQA = NONE
I’ve submitted several CPRA requests seeking copies of correspondence, memos and documents providing details about how this process has evolved since it was launched by Hines in 2015. Requests, for the most part, come back with the stock answer, “After conducting a search of the City’s records we found no records responsive to your request.”
I challenged this with City Manager Bill Gallardo who described the planning process as a protracted, complex undertaking that doesn’t occur in a vacuum. That being said, I asked him… so, where is the paperwork?
No emails, no letters, no records of communication, no plans, no decisions. Nothing. He agreed that was a little strange and promised to get back to me.
(Subsequent to this point I discovered documents proving public opinion is rooted in the truth, that documents were withheld from the Commissioners and destroyed in direct violation of city records retention policy. See blog post published on April 7.)
Finding the missing link.
My last request ask for the following:
- RFP to conduct an Initial Study of the Hines Brea Place project.
- Proposal from Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA) to produce an Initial Study.
- List of all parties invited and/or noticed to participate in Scoping meeting(s), including affected agencies.
- Copies of invitation, notice and list of attendees at all Scoping meeting(s).
- The final Initial Study, environmental analysis and review of the proposed Hines project, produced by Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA).
The only thing I got was Kimley-Horn’s proposal to write the addendum and a link to the city website where I found “Report 2” which was 1,211 pages released before… jammed into a single document. None of these was responsive to my request!
What, no RFP? The Kimley-Horn proposal estimated 258 hours to complete the project at a cost of $59,981.00! Was this done on a handshake? Were no other firms invited to submit proposals? Where is the documentation?
Worse yet, the proposal begins, “This Scope of Work assumes an Addendum to the Brea General Plan Final Environmental Impact Report (Final EIR) would be prepared…” Really? Damn!
Tell me how Kimley-Horn can assume anything without having had some communication outlining the scope of work being sought by the city? Wouldn’t that be included in an RFP?
Again, the simple question… Why?
An Initial Study… was it done or not?
The Staff Report released for the last Planning Commission meeting on 02/28 clearly states…
“After project submittal to the City, staff contracted with the consulting firm Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA) to perform an Initial Study and subsequent environmental analysis and review of the proposed Hines project. In it’s capacity, KMA serves as the City’s resource for environmental review…
An Initial Study was performed by KMA, and analysis and discussion performed with City staff and our legal counsel and identified that an Addendum to the General Plan EIR adopted in 2003 would be the proper environmental review tool to consider potential for environmental impacts…”
Okay, whoa. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either an Initial Study was done… or it wasn’t. If it was done, I want a damned copy of it posted on the city website immediately! If it wasn’t, staff better revise the staff report to reflect the truth and admit no study was done.
And they’ve ignored cumulative impacts!
Amongst the many things Initial Studies consider are what’s called cumulative impacts. If they’re of sufficient magnitude they will force a new EIR to be done. With the Hines project, two cumulative impacts jump right out.
Recreation: CEQA requires the analysis of impacts on parks and recreational facilities and the potential for a new development to increase use of parks to a point where the facilities would be degraded. Although the Addendum states that there would be a direct connection from the Tracks at Brea Trail to Brea Place, there is no mention in the recreational analysis of the impact of this increased direct access and use by approximately 2,000 more people.
Traffic: Also, none of the analysis in the Addendum appears to consider the cumulative addition of the Brea Place project’s impacts to other identified project impacts from developments like La Floresta and Central Park Village. The Addendum says that Brea Place would add 7,000+ daily trips to the roadway network and that this would not cause a significant impact. But the Central Park Village project, proposing about 5,700 additional trips, states in its EIR that it would have a significant and unavoidable impact at the intersection of State College and Lambert.
There are many, many more reasons to doubt the Addendum sufficiently analyzed the Brea Place project’s impacts. Is the City Planner attempting to hide behind the allowable Addendum process? Why?
Why should we trust that any of the analysis in the Addendum is a true and thorough representation of the project’s impacts?
You’ll hate the final… Why.
By choosing to use an Addendum, the City Planner is graciously allowing the public to make comments during the public hearings for the project, but there is no requirement for the City to consider, and respond in writing to, these comments.
With an Addendum, the City is not required to develop an Initial Study and to conduct the public scoping meetings required with an Initial Study, nor does the City have to open a formal public review process, allow the public sufficient time to review the environmental documents, and record and respond to any concerns the public has about the impacts that it would have to endure.
With an Addendum, the public can’t propose alternatives or mitigation measures and force the City to seriously consider and respond to those suggestions.
The City Planner has tried to pass the buck to Kimley-Horn and stifle any meaningful public input. Rather than admitting error and putting it right, a memorandum is sent to the Planning Commissioners, a “Hail Mary” attempt to further cover things up.
What should the Brea Planning Commission do now?
Just because something is permissible, doesn’t mean it is prudent. Falling back on the Addendum is a perfect example. A loophole may make that approach permissible but it is obviously not prudent.
If there was ever any project due for a reboot, it’s Brea Place.
I believe the only way to put the Brea Place project back on track is for the Planning Commission to immediately continue the item when it comes up on the agenda. Don’t waste time on that Hines dog-and-pony show or further public comment.
Cut to the chase. Instruct staff to issue a legitimate RFP for an Initial Study, to hold proper scoping meetings, and only then determine whether a new EIR should be done or not.
And for crying out loud try and do a decent job of maintaining a credible, accessible public record.