Tag Archives: benicia

Housing Update should be adopted with “Environmentally Superior Alternative”

[BenIndy Editor: note that the Environmentally Superior Alternative is NOT easy to find in Council’s January 24 packet. Staff analysis of it can be located on numbered pages 93-95 (PDF pages  98-100) in Attachment 1 – Resolution – Statement of Overriding Considerations – Certifying the EIRThe complete DRAFT EIR is not provided in the January 24 agenda. It has a more detailed description on pages 6-53 to 6-25 (PDF pages 519-521.   – R.S.]

Protecting Historic Benicia

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007-2020

This Tuesday (Jan. 24) at 6 p.m. the Benicia City Council will consider adopting the Environmental Impact Report for the mandated update of the Housing Element of the General Plan. You may not realize what this means.

Let me explain.

In the City of Benicia the need for housing is being addressed substantively, urgently and comprehensively pursuant to state law. But it need not be an either-or-choice between protecting historic districts, places and needed housing. In fact, proposed overlay zoning on historic districts and places is deemed an environmentally cultural resource significant impact for the Housing Element.

The proposed overlay zoning is a significant impact on the historic districts listed on the National Register, the highest ranking in the United States.

The Housing Element Update Environmental Impact Report provides a remedy which is to avoid the impacts to cultural resources by adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative.

2023-2031 Benicia Housing Element – LINK: Environmentally Superior Alternative Analysis

The Environmentally Superior Alternative avoids impacts not just to historic districts and places (city cemetery) but also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and water quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).

There are substantial reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative so why wouldn’t the staff and Planning Commission recommend that alternative to the council?

One reason might be because based on recommendations from the Association of Bay Area Governments to meet the State Housing Community and Development guidelines is to have a 15% “buffer” number of rezoned parcels to meet the mandated housing units of 750. It is calculated that removing all the historic districts, the city cemetery and Jefferson Ridge and Park Road projects would still provide 50% percent over the mandate.

Another reason might be that applying the zoning overlay for multifamily/mixed use on Southampton neighborhoods would be a harder local political fight than targeting the historic districts and places.

Another reason might be that by adopting the maximum number well beyond the mandates and buffer, that future development and land uses are cast now beyond the reach of future councils. Once the sites are identified in the housing element this time they are “forever” sites going forward and subject to less public review.

But reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative go beyond avoiding significant impacts to historic districts and places and reducing environmental impacts listed including air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It sends a signal that when the Seeno or so-called Eastern Gateway project is assessed we could count on the council adopting the environmentally superior alternative rather than a Seeno-preferred project.

Or what about a Valero Refinery project? Can we count on the council adopting an environmentally superior alternative?

If not now, when?

Benicia has experience with public participation for the needed future community planning for the proposed infill development. Indeed, the General Plan Oversight Committee in the late 1990s used this approach to find common ground between those who opposed and advocated for affordable housing. The accord reached was to include the neighborhood in the process. Dialogue is better than majority rule because it fosters solution-based conversations and in the end better planning (e.g. East 5th Street process).

More compact infill development in the Housing Element’s Environmentally Superior Alternative reduces the impacts to the climate by reducing vehicle miles traveled because the development is within the city’s core. This is consistent with Benicia’s General Plan, which proudly is based on sustainable development.

We can thoughtfully plan our community based on the Environmentally Superior Alternative — instead of sliding into the “development by right” that enables developers to potentially avoid needed environmental assessment for some areas.

Where we build and what we build is a climate issue.

— Elizabeth Patterson/Benicia Mayor (2007-2020)

Benicia Historical Society joins others in calling for ‘Environmentally Superior Alternative’

Council to pass Housing Element Update on Jan 24 – Protect Historic Benicia!

Where….  City Hall Council Chambers, 250 E L St.
When…….Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 6:00pm

In response to the State requiring designation of sites for new housing, the Benicia City Council will be voting on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a zoning amendment package which would impact the historic integrity of the :

    • Downtown Historic District
    • Arsenal National Register and City Historic District
    • City Cemetery National Register District

The zoning amendment would allow higher density housing and 3 story buildings up to 35 ft. tall – and on First St up to 40 ft. tall – on selected opportunity sites. These sites are located primarily in and around Downtown and the Arsenal, and include the City Cemetery.

The EIR states that environmental impacts to the Historic Districts can be eliminated by removing the Historic District opportunity sites and is referred to as the “environmentally superior alternative”.  The City would still have more than double the proposed housing required by the State.

Please attend the meeting in person, if at all possible, to show your support for this Environmentally Superior Alternative EIR, rather than the staff recommendation, and removing the City Cemetery site.  Speaking is not necessary.

For additional information, see https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/housingelement.

Protect our historic districts and places on the National Register – the highest level recognition of historic significance

By Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Goetz, January 19, 2023

Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something

  • Adopt the Environmentally Superior alternative project
  • By adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative (ESA), the historic districts and places are removed thus no significant impact to cultural resources
  • Housing Element with this ESA still has more than 15% buffer as “insurance” for parcels that may not be developed at designated densities and affordability
  • Remove Park Rd and Jefferson Ridge as “opportunity sites” because city has already approved development
  • Reduce impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation by adopting the ESA.
  • Avoid potential threats to the viability of our heavy industry while also avoiding threatening public health and safety.
  • After adoption of Environmentally Superior alternative initiate planning for community goals for East side where most of the high density and affordability parcels are identified.
  • After adoption consider planning tools to achieve density and affordability, e.g. minimum affordability requirement range between 20 and 25%; required density for designated parcels.
  • Avoid losing additional land use control in the next update of the housing element (2031) through “by right development” if city does not adopt planning measures to meet state housing requirements

The following letter is from Steve Goetz

(Click image to see the 1999 General Plan)

Next Tuesday (January 24) the City Council will consider changing the Benicia General Plan to accommodate over 250% of Benicia’s share of the region’s housing need. Specifically, the Council will consider adopting a Housing Element to the General Plan that will accommodate 1,174 units above the 750 units mandated by the state for Benicia by 2031.

Click image for DRAFT 2023-2021 Housing Element

We need housing so why would providing more housing than what the state requires be a problem?  A review of the information developed for the Housing Element shows this level of rezoning will significantly damage the character of Benicia’s two historic districts and historic cemetery disproportionately burden the East Side compared to other areas of the city, and concentrate new lower-income housing next to heavy industry.  In other words, the City is proposing an effort in gross excess of what is required or suitable for the intended purpose, meeting the definition of the word “overkill”.

(Click image to see the Housing Element Draft EIR)

The City’s own Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Housing Element says that the close proximity of the proposed housing sites to historic buildings will substantially damage the significance of these historic districts.   The EIR says we can protect these historic districts and meet Benicia’s share of the regional housing need by removing the 17 housing sites proposed in these historic districts.

The EIR concluded that the project alternative to remove proposed housing from the historic districts is “environmentally superior”, meaning it not only eliminates damage to Benicia’s historic districts, it also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).  Most importantly, the EIR finds that this environmentally superior alternative would accommodate Benicia’s share of the regional housing need.

The second problem with proposing an excessive amount of housing is that over 70% of the total amount of housing proposed in the lower income categories is located in the East Side.  This proposal is clearly against the General Plan policy that requires dispersal of this housing across the city.

Finally, this Housing Element shows that this concentration of lower income housing is in the most environmentally challenged area of Benicia. There is a reason why there are some undeveloped sites in the East Side.  These sites happen to be near heavy industry. We have located heavy industry away from housing so it can contribute to our economy without being a nuisance and without endangering public health.  This Housing Element threatens the viability of our heavy industry while also threatening public health and safety.

Last week’s staff report to the Planning Commission on the Housing Element explained that these disproportionate impacts to the East Side are a result of the City Council’s direction.  In other words, the City Council is choosing to propose 2.5 times the amount of housing needed for the region to the detriment of our historic districts, the East Side, our heavy industry, and public health and safety.

One commenter at last week’s Planning Commission hearing on the Housing Element said most public comments were only looking at how the Housing Element was affecting them and not how it could benefit those who need housing and want to live in Benicia.  The comments in support of our historic districts, heavy industry, and public health were not generated by concern about how the Housing Element would affect them, but how it would affect Benicia’s future and the type of community we hand down to future generations.

We look to our City Council to address city needs in a way that balances benefits of a proposed action against the disadvantages and how it supports the city’s overall goals.  The Housing Element is not balanced, but is overkill, representing new housing any cost.  A balanced approach to meeting our state obligation for new housing is the EIR’s environmentally superior alternative, which satisfies our housing priorities while also serving other city priorities.

>> Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something.  You can also call your City Council at 707-746-4213 now and leave a message. Write to our Council members:

Local non-profit sues City of Benicia – Development threatens Civil-War era buildings and grounds

[To sign a petition in support of this lawsuit to stop the City of Benicia plan, see “Help Us Appeal the City’s Approval of these projects!” on Change.org.  For earlier stories on this see below– R.S.]

1000 FRIENDS PROTECTING HISTORIC BENICIA

Press Release, November 21, 2022
Contact:  Elizabeth Patterson, elopato29@gmail.com

1,000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia, a local non-profit, fights to save Officers’ Row, in the nationally recognized Benicia Arsenal Historic District, from city approved development that will destroy the district’s historic significance. The development threatens Civil-War era buildings and grounds surviving from President Lincoln’s commissioning of the Benicia Arsenal Army base.

Present-day aerial view of Benicia’s Officers’ Row

WHAT:  1000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia is suing the City of Benicia to stop it from issuing permits and is seeking a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the City and its agencies and commissions to set aside and void the City’s recent approvals of two development projects in the Benicia Arsenal Historic District.

“Projects that destroy or impair the significance of a site on the National Register, as these projects do, clearly have the most significant adverse impact on historic resources,” said Gary Widman, former Chief Counsel for the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and the Office of Historic Preservation.

BACKGROUND:  In August 2022, the City of Benicia approved two development projects for Officers’ Row in the heart of the Benicia Arsenal Historic District which the U.S. government listed on the National Register of Historic Places, deeming it worthy of preservation due to its historical significance to the country.

The Jefferson Ridge Project would build 121 housing units and 2,000 square feet of commercial/retail space on Jefferson Street, including the former flagpole assembly area between the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and the Lieutenant’s Quarters. A total of 16 three- story structures would flank Jefferson Street, dominating the three historic houses adjacent to this project and blocking character-defining views of the Carquinez Strait.

The 1451 Park Road Project, would build 17 apartments in 2 two-story buildings incompatible with the scale and style of the historic non-commissioned officers’ quarters immediately west on Jefferson Street.

​Designated a State Historical Landmark in 1935, the Benicia Arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and was a key contributor to establishment of the National Park Service’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area in 2019.

The Arsenal’s Officers’ Row offers one of the nation’s most impressive ensembles of mid-19th-century military architecture and open spaces, largely intact as built over 150 years ago. Meticulously planned by the Army, the layout is a prime example of military site design, with careful thought given to building scale, placement, and sight lines.

The two projects needed the City of Benicia to determine that they qualified for fast-track approval under a new state law, California Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), that restricts review of projects to their consistency with “objective standards.”

Members of the community highlighted several conflicts with the Arsenal Historic Conservation Plan (AHCP) and objective planning and zoning standards for both projects. This included several standards for which the City claimed the projects demonstrated consistency.

The City subsequently removed many of the standards it had identified as conflicting with the projects as proposed.

The City also failed to incorporate many standards from the AHCP. In particular, a commenter stated that in reviewing the 1451 Park Road Project, the City only applied 37 of the 64 design standards and guidelines from the AHCP that apply to the design of residential buildings in Officers’ Row.

The City failed to consider public safety standards because City staff stated that Senate Bill 35 applications were not subject to any such standards, since they contain subjective as well as objective elements and therefore had to be considered subjective.

Despite the various inconsistencies, on August 26, 2022, the City issued ministerial approvals for both projects. The City subsequently denied members of the public the right to appeal the two projects.

ACTION:  The lawsuit challenges both approvals based on errors in assessing environmental hazards and violations of City of Benicia ordinances concerning the current general plan and zoning.  

1000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia is a non-profit Benicia organization represented by attorney Doug Carstens, Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer, a public interest-oriented law firm specializing in environmental and land use law. Individuals of the non-profit and other members of the public are on record with the City with many protest letters and public hearing appearances over the past two years. The goal of this campaign is to establish a park that will honor and protect the nationally recognized Arsenal Historic District forever.

WEBSITE COMING SOON:  1000FriendsPHB.org
SEE ALSO EXISTING WEBSITE:  YES! Benicia Arsenal Park



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