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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

School Board Rams Through Approval of Environmental Report

School District Adopts Mitigated Negative Declaration  

Environmental Impact Report Will Not Be Prepared for ECCL

Commenters Rebuffed

At a hastily called special meeting of the Emery School Board Monday evening, members of the public were handed 13 pages of responses to the Community Comments submitted last Thursday as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process required of the Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL) project.  Normally packet materials for a meeting, even a special meeting, would be provided to the public hours or even days before the meeting starts.  But in a move that could be interpreted as strategic, the District apparently wanting to to maintain the upper hand and preclude public comments, released the documents for public scrutiny only minutes before the start of Monday's meeting.

The District rebuffed chief concerns of the commenters, in particular indicating that they did not view the ECCL's inconsistencies with the City's General Plan as a problem.  Instead, they were only concerned about those policies that were adopted for environmental reasons and that had physical impacts on the environment.  At least one commenter went to great lengths to try to explain that the City's General Plan contains such a great emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian improvements precisely because of environmental concerns, such as concerns about greenhouse gases caused by an over-reliance on cars, and so failing to comply with the General Plan and the Bike/Ped Plan's policies does have a physical environmental impact.  District Board member Josh Simon responded in part that the General Plan is merely a "plan" and not a "design" document.
School Board member Josh Simon
Emeryville's General Plan needn't be taken
so seriously

However the District's responses revealed one major victory for the Community Commenters, who had complained repeatedly that the language in the District's Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) was wishy-washy when speaking of the mitigation measures the District was proposing to undertake to minimize the environmental impacts of the project.  As a consequence, the District agreed to change many instances of "should" "would" and "may" to "shall" or "will" making it clear that the District is in fact committed to performing many of the mitigation measures described in the MND.  A few other minor victories were had when the District conceded that merely doing various geological reports were not adequate mitigation measures by themselves and that any recommendations that might appear in such reports would also be implemented by the District.

Verbal testimony given Monday as well as a number of other comments by the Community Commenters were brushed aside without an adequate response and the Tattler is still trying to digest the 13 pages of responses thrust on the public at the last minute.

Five community members rose to speak about specific concerns in the MND and the District's responses to the Community Commenters.

School District officials have noted there is no time for delay with construction of the Center of Community Life, they are up against "hard deadlines" they say and next stop for the contentious project is the Emeryville Planning Commission on July 25th.  The District likely has concerns that the Planning Commission takes compliance with the General Plan more seriously than they do.

1 comment:

  1. kevin christopherJuly 16, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    I believe that the Board was in a tough spot here, given the time and resources it had devoted to its consultants on this report; a group of non-experts, the Board relied upon the assuaging responses of the hired consultants to bless this project.

    I strongly urge the Board in future proceedings to consider a better process for representative community engagement. The Board's consultants spent months compiling data and interviews and then merging those into a substantial report released last month. The Board, individually through each member's own analytical reasoning, and corporately through consultant discussions and legal consultations, was able to dig into the mitigated negative report according to its job duties. Public stakeholders, with the real stakeholders being busy parents with family responsibilities and jobs, had 30 days to review the report and provide written responses. The Board then spent a long weekend with public comments AND consultant responses to community responses before last night's meeting. In addition to the consultants' initial report and responses (which as Brian pointed out were not adequately made available to the public before the meeting), the consultants were allotted 20 minutes of presentation time to kick off the meeting. By contrast, public comments were limited to 3 minutes.

    This kind of A-B-A posturing works well for plaintiffs, movants, and appellants in litigation, but this is not litigation. Josh Simon said last night that he appreciated public engagement. I found his demeanor sincere, but I hope that upon reflection he will recognize that the process undertaken in vetting this report substantially deferred to the contracted consultants in negative mitigation against public input.