Oct 28 2011

Letter to City Administrator Regarding Blair Park Next Steps

Mr. Grote:
    According to a partial rough transcription of a presentation by Mr. Delventhal to the Piedmont Recreation Commission (see below), the City has already authorized work on what he refers to as an “addendum” to the Blair Park EIR.  As you know the terms “addendum” and “supplemental” have very different meanings under CEQA, and for those of us who are familiar with CEQA and are following this project, it is confusing to hear that the City has begun the “addendum” process, but has not yet made a determination as to whether an addendum or supplemental is required. 
    Perhaps I missed the Council action approving a modification to the LSA contract; if so, could you please post the work scope and budget on the City’s Blair Park website or identify where it could be found on the Clerk’s website.  If no contract modification has been authorized, perhaps Mr. Delventhal misspoke when he said that work was already underway.  Since the process and cost of doing either an addendum or a supplemental to the EIR would be considerably different, it is unclear to me how the consultant could provide the City with a scope of services to do this work until that decision is made. 
   Typically, a decision as to whether to prepare an addendum or supplemental is made by staff (in consultation with the City Attorney).  Although Mr. Delventhal’s comments are unclear, it seems as if staff may be expecting the Council to make such a determination.  That would be a highly irregular process because, as you know, the City Council does not have the expertise to make what is fundamentally a technical and legal determination under CEQA. 
    As a professional planner faced with the determination as to whether to prepare an addendum or supplemental numerous times, it is quite suprising to me that there is any question as to whether a supplemental is required; it clearly is.  The significant changes to the project description and the errors and omissions in the EIR are more than sufficient bases to make that determination.  Preparing a supplemental EIR is without doubt the prudent determination in order to avoid potential challenges to the process. 
   In general, it would be very helpful to the public to have information as to what staff proposes to bring back to the City Council in December.  Obviously the new plan will be before the Council.  But will the Council also be making the determination on the level of CEQA, or might it take action on an addendum and on the project?  What action do you expect the Council to take prior to sending it to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation? 
   Throughout much of the Blair Park process, the information available to the public in regard to the process has been opaque, at best.  While I appreciate that the City posted the significantly revised project description well in advance of the Council meeting where it will be considered, a stronger effort at process transparency would go at least some way toward improving the tone of the discussion, and begin to allow people to focus on the real issues associated with this project rather than be fearful about an unknown process.  
   Towards that end, it would be very helpful if you would post on the website any new significant information regarding the project as it becomes available to the City.  As has already been mentioned, new scopes of services for LSA and other consultants should be posted when they are available so that the public has some sense of what information is likely to be available when the project returns to Council.  When the project advocates and/or the City prepare a detailed estimate of the cost for the proposed project, it should be posted as soon as it is available. 
    It is remarkable to me that this project on public property has gone this far in the process without an independent cost estimate – even if that estimate changes as the project changes.  Finally, it would be helpful if you would provide the public with information on the process you are recommending the Council follow for addressing this project, step by step – at least as far as you can discern it at this time.  What are the main decision points, when do you expect to get to them, and what information will be available prior to those decision points?  I recognize that this is likely to be a moving target and that the process will change based on subsequent decisions, but setting forth some process so that the public can anticipate and understand the City’s approach and actions will, in my opinion, significantly improve the climate for discussion.  As noted above, this new approach would begin with a better description of what is anticipated to be brought to Council in December. 
   Thank you for considering my requests. 
Dan Marks, AICP
Piedmont Resident
(This statement expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)
 Rec. Meeting 10/19/12 Start about 40:25:
“we [staff] have been working hard and it [the final plan] is now in a form and shape the CEQA attorneys and the CEQA experts . . . are satisfied with . . . We started an addendum . . . that addendum has been on hold . . . that addendum will reach a conclusion (as to) what actions the City Council needs to take (41:30) based on the project now versus the project in December. That could be on one hand a recirculation of the EIR and another six to twelve months, or they could conclude on the other hand that the changes are not substantial, and essentially the original EIR and its conclusions identifying significant and unavoidable impacts are basically unchanged . . . [at the next meeting] the City Council will decide whether the project will move forward or not.” 

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