Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald, Letters
Environmental misdirectionBy Jeff Carlson, March 12, 2019 at 6:00 am
The corporate interests desperate to salvage an ill-conceived waterfront slag cement mill application, now staggering on its last legs under appeal, will attempt to pull off a sly last minute magic trick. Like most magic tricks, it relies on misdirection to draw the observer’s attention away from what they should really be looking at. Instead of talking about community values and our aspirations for the future character of our city for decades to come, the applicants want us to focus on the arcane intricacies of a technical environmental review process.
It’s a cynical calculated strategy designed to take a process intended to inform decision-makers and the public and turn it into an inaccessible debate among “experts” — impossible for the general public to follow or critically evaluate. Just check out the EIR analysis of traffic impacts from all the heavy diesel truck and crosstown freight train trips the project would generate at various intersections. See if you can make heads or tails of how they arrive at their numbers. Likewise for the modeling of the impacts to air quality from all the various pollutants the project would release. One more version of an environmental report and re-hash of emissions thresholds and mitigations adds nothing useful to the discussion, but the applicants are determined to create the illusion that the decision should hinge on nothing else.
The city staff who worked on this project application for years recommended that the permits be denied, not because the project crossed this or that threshold of significance in the environmental review, but because a heavy industry project in that location is fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood land uses. The city commission primarily responsible for making rational decisions about land use compatibility and planning overwhelmingly agreed, and voted to deny the permits. The city’s general plan update process conducted at a cost of millions of dollars with broad public participation over a period of years resulted in a very different vision for a walkable connected waterfront, in line with the Bay Commission’s public access guidelines.
Why should we pay any attention to one more round of technical environmental analysis? If a deep-pockets corporation can pay experts-for-hire to come up with greatly improved numbers at this late date, it only goes to show what those numbers are really worth. It’s particularly galling after years of trying to avoid and game the environmental review process that the applicant’s would now so desperately cling to it as their last hope.
Former City officials and some members of the lead agency repeatedly demonstrated impermissible pre-approval of the project over a period of years prior to environmental review, beginning with the resurrection and transfer of a lease for public trust land with amendments that anticipate major impactful development. A one-vote majority of the Vallejo City Council colluded in secret with the applicants in a private planning initiative, and explicitly tied the goals of their ad hoc committee with approval of the project before even a first draft EIR was ready. CEQA requires that the public be allowed to evaluate and comment on an environmental analysis based on a stable project description. All the talk of trying to approve a final version of a radically altered project now without re-circulating a new draft EIR for public comment is not at all realistic and will never fly.
This decision is not about thresholds of significance or mitigation measures, it’s about what we value as a community and consider worth preserving and protecting. Residents in the proposed project impact zone already suffer some of the highest rates of pollution-related health effects in the state, including low birth weight babies and heart and lung diseases. No matter what a final EIR and the mercenary experts have to say, it won’t change the fact that instead of an accessible walkable waterfront, local residents would get heavy neighborhood truck traffic and another load of particulate and gas pollutants on top of the unfair burden they already carry.
Let’s ignore the magical misdirection and expert dog and pony shows masquerading as participatory public forums, and keep our attention focused where it belongs. The quality of economic development matters, and the old take-whatever-comes-along approach to city planning is completely irrational. The council is under no legal obligation to wait for another version of the EIR, and I’m sorry — the applicant’s fairness argument is laughable. This project was never worth anywhere near the resources and effort the city put into it, and the costs in terms of political division and acrimony continue to pile up. Time to pull the plug and turn out the lights on this magic show.— Jeff Carlson/Vallejo