What Is a DEIR
and How Do I Object to It?

WHAT IS IT?

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) studies specific elements (land use, traffic, safety, noise, etc.) to determine the impact of the proposed Saranap Village project to our area. 

The DEIR was released on September 19, 2014.  There is a 60 day public review and comment period. You can read it online at www.cccounty.us/5195/Saranap-Village.  There’s more information about the DEIR and the process on the website here. During the review and comment period the County Zoning Administrator held a hearing for oral comments. In early 2015, the County Planning Commission will hold a hearing to consider the merits of the project.

The Saranap Homeowners Organization (SHO) has been reviewing the DEIR and we’ve listed are many of the concerns about the proposed project below. Please use any of the information below in writing your letter to Mr. Nelson. PLEASE HELP US OBJECT TO THE INADEQUACY OF THE SARANAP VILLAGE DEIR!

HOW DO I OBJECT?

Written comments (by mail or email) on the adequacy of the DEIR must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Monday November 17, 2014 (see below for additional details on where to send the comments — be sure to include the File Numbers).

William Nelson
Contra Costa County
Department of Conservation and Development
30 Muir Road
Martinez, CA 94553
RE: County File Numbers, GP13-0003, RZ13-3224, SD13-9359, DP13-3035

OR by email to william.nelson@dcd.cccounty.us

THE COUNTY GENERAL PLAN

First, a little background.  The County has what is called a General Plan (GP).  It is basically the “charter” for the County to follow when considering development proposals.  The importance of the GP is noted in the document.  For example, numerous pages explain the process, including the number of people and thousands of hours involved in drafting the GP.  In sum, the PURPOSE of the GP is clear:  “The goals, policies and implementation programs contained in the GP represent the hopes and concerns of the residents of the County in terms of defining and preserving a quality of life.”

The State of California has mandated that the GP should only be amended if “in the public interest.” (Govt Code 65358(a)).  Public interest has been defined as “anything affecting the rights, health, or finances of the public at large.” 

The DEIR states that the proposed Saranap Village project will implement GP policies.  We strongly disagree. 

First and foremost, the developer has requested not just one, but two amendments to the GP. The first is to change zoning to Mixed Use (PU1).  The PU1 designation is given to sites requiring the maximum possible heights and densities allowed anywhere in the County!  In sum, it would allow the developer to build double the allowable height (up to 90’) and density (235 units) allowable under the GP.

The second proposed amendment is to change the rules related to Mixed Use.  Currently, Mixed Use is only allowed under the GP if there are 15 acres of land.  Here, the proposed project only has 4.6 acres of land.

These proposed amendments do not serve to preserve our quality of life, and are not in the interest of the “public at large.”  Furthermore, the proposed development would require a “Mixed Use” designation in order to double the allowable heights and density, but the size of the properties involved is less than a third of the minimum requirement to be zoned “mixed use.”  These proposed amendments to the GP should be denied.

NOW, THE OBJECTIONS TO THE DEIR

The DEIR considers whether the proposed project complies with the GP and also CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).  Each element will be discussed below.

1. Land Use Element.

Aesthetics.
There are two issues here. First, the proposed project will have a “substantially adverse effect on a scenic vista.” (CEQA).  There is no doubt that the residents near Lucy Lane will lose their beautiful view of Mt. Diablo.  The DEIR is based on photos that do not accurately reflect the blockage (see photos on the website here ).

Second, the proposed project at 90’ tall will “substantially degrade the visual character or quality of the project site or its surroundings.” (CEQA).  Just imagine the sight of a 90 foot tall building in our area, a neighborhood of primarily single family homes where no current buildings are over 35 feet tall.  Moreover, if the GP is amended, it is likely that it will pave the way for additional 90 foot tall buildings to be built in Saranap.

In your letter or comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended with accurate visuals of the project.

Growth Management/Residential Uses.
The GP and CEQA are loaded with policies reflecting that this proposal is not appropriate for Saranap. 

For example, the GP states that a proposal shall be opposed if it extends into areas lacking services and infrastructure (GP policy 3-8).  Saranap lacks many services and infrastructure, including:  grocery, pharmacy, schools, gas station, medical offices (the list is endless) requiring everyone to drive out of Saranap to those services.

In addition, the General Plan states that multiple-family housing shall be located in proximity to facilities such as arterial roads, transit corridors and shopping areas. (GP policy 3-21). This clearly does not define Boulevard Way, as it is not a transit corridor nor contain shopping areas.

The GP also states that: “(T)he predominantly single family character of substantially developed portions of the county shall be retained .Multiple family housing shall be dispersed throughout the county and not concentrated in single locations.”  (GP policy 3-21). This project conflicts with the GP because it has a high concentration of units in a very small area and disregards the predominantly single family character of Saranap.

Finally, the Growth Management Plan states that: “responsible management of growth in the county is key to preserving the quality of life for current and future county residents.” 

In your letter or comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended to consider these growth management policies.

2. Circulation (Traffic) Element.

The DEIR admits that the project would increase car trips by nearly 5,000 per day, but that it would not conflict with current policy.  We disagree.

First, the DEIR does not include all additional traffic.  The DEIR does not appear to include additional traffic from employees going to and from the project.

Second, the DEIR does not take into account the County’s policies regarding multi-modal transportation.  The DEIR and the developer admit that Boulevard Way is not conducive to cycling and walking.  However, they argue that sidewalks and bike lanes adjacent to the project are sufficient.  This is ridiculous as it amounts to such a small portion of the entire roadway, and is in between two very dangerous portions of the road.  The N - S portion of Boulevard Way is already a hazard, and so is the four lane W-E portion, where cars are inclined to speed.  In fact, the DEIR noted that many pedestrians jay walk to Moruccis.

Moreover, if no one can walk or bike to the project due to the existing hazards, they will be required to drive, increasing the traffic on Boulevard Way.  We are also concerned about the safety of our Sufi neighbors, as they are required to walk to their Sanctuary.

This project violates all aspects of smart growth because it generates more cars and is counter to the goals of reducing car miles and emissions.  Moreover, the DEIR did not take into account the multi-jurisdictional projects relating to improved access for bikes and pedestrians, such as the Olympic Corridor Trail Plan and the Iron Horse Trail. 

It is important to note that the City of Lafayette has also expressed serious concerns about the DEIR.  First, the DEIR’s speed analysis did not look at speed issues on roadways other than the project site.  Second, the DEIR did not address possible impacts to the Walnut Creek BART. Finally, the DEIR provides insufficient information on the project’s impact on current transit.

The only mitigation identified in the DEIR is to build a bike lane adjacent to the site.  This is silly for obvious reasons.  In sum, the unnecessary improvements  (ie: art work, roundabout, and moved oak tree) offered by the developer should be declined in favor of necessary improvements to make Boulevard Way safer and to mitigate the impact of the additional 5,000 (minimum) car trips per day.

In your letter or comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended to study these traffic issues.

3. Housing Element.

Both the GP and CEQA have guidelines regarding housing developments.

The GP states that: “New residential development shall be accommodated only in areas where it will avoid creating severe unmitigated adverse impacts upon the environment and the existing community.” (GP Policy 3-28).  In addition, the GP policies include: (1) to create a jobs-to-housing balance, (2) create housing opportunities for all income levels, and (3) create a diversity of housing options.  Finally, CEQA states that the project would cause significant adverse impacts to population and housing if it would induce substantial population growth in the area, or displace substantial numbers of existing housing.

The addition of 235 units is substantial.  It is unknown if the housing is available to all income levels, but presumably not.  There is no doubt that the units will be out of reach of many income levels.  Moreover, the DEIR identifies several projects in Walnut Creek, but it doesn’t appear complete.  The project eliminates 25 units of affordable housing and there is no low income housing being constructed.

The DEIR also discusses the availability of walking to employment, but it seems very unlikely that the employees of the project would be able to afford the housing available.

Finally, the DEIR found that even though the growth was substantial, it determined that it would not create a “significant adverse impact.”  But, the problem with the DEIR’s analysis is that it only considered a significant impact for the County as a whole, not for Saranap.

In your letter/comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended to include studies of the following: 

  1. Whether the project includes housing for all income levels and provides diverse options,
  2. The impact of all proposed Walnut Creek projects, and
  3. The impact of substantial population growth on Saranap, not just the entire County.
4. Open Space Element.

The DEIR confirms that there are no parks in Saranap.  This project does not provide any parks or open space. This should be requested from the developer.

In your letter/comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended to include the study of open space and/or a park in the proposed development.

5.  Noise Element.

The DEIR did a noise study, but only studied the project site.  The increased noise from additional traffic has not been studied in the surrounding residential areas, especially near homes adjacent to Boulevard Way and Saranap Avenue.

In your letter/comments to Mr. Nelson, please request that the DEIR be amended to include the study of the noise impacts of this project, including additional traffic noise, on the neighborhood.

6. Safety Element.

There are many safety concerns identified in the DEIR.  Most concerning is the lack of bike/pedestrian lanes on Boulevard Way.  It is likely that kids and adults will want to walk or bike to the development, but will be in grave danger traveling on Boulevard Way.

Both the GP and CEQA have policies regarding safety.  The GP states that physical conflict between vehicular traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians shall be minimized (GP 5-15).  CEQA states that a project would have a significant impact to transportation conditions if it would conflict with adopted policies regarding public transit, bicycle, or pedestrian facilities or otherwise decrease the performance or safety of such facilities.   

The DEIR states that it is difficult to merge onto Boulevard Way from Warren Rd because of lack of visibility.  It will also be difficult for homeowners on Boulevard Way to come and go with the increased traffic.  Our neighbors at Boulevard Ct have stated that turning left out of their street is already dangerous.  Finally, the DEIR mentions that people are jay walking near Moruccis. 

These safety concerns are not being adequately mitigated by the proposed project.  The only mitigation required of the developer is bike lanes and sidewalks immediately adjacent to the project, but this only amounts to a very small portion of Boulevard Way.

In your letter, please request that the DEIR study the impact of additional bike and pedestrian traffic on Boulevard Way to determine if the developer should be required to participate in making Boulevard Way safe for everyone to travel.  In addition, a Traffic Plan for Boulevard Way should be created.

Thank you!


Controversial "Saranap Village" Project
Proposed for Boulevard Way

Is this a good fit for Saranap?

There’s a proposal before the County to build a mixed-use development with commercial, retail and residential units on four sites near the corner of Boulevard Way and Saranap Avenue.

Take a look at what is being proposed, then make up your mind about this project


Let’s take a look at some of the details:

The developer, Hall Equities Group, applied to the County for a General Plan Amendment that would allow them to get around current development regulations that we all must follow when building in Saranap. The General Plan is the County’s blueprint for development. It is the “constitution” for land-use development in Contra Costa County. Changes to a General Plan are made only in the rarest of circumstances and therefore, amendments require approval by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

The developer is proposing significant changes to our neighborhood — changes that will irrevocably and permanently destroy the character of our Saranap. Here are just a few of our concerns:

HEIGHT

The developer’s plans call for buildings of up to seven stories and heights in some cases from 78 to 90 feet, approaching three to four times the height of the existing buildings along Boulevard Way and Saranap Avenue.

The current zoning and General Plan allow, in the affected area, buildings up to three stories with a maximum height of 30 feet or up to five stories with a maximum height of 50 feet, depending on whether the parcel is zoned for residential or commercial use. That equates to a maximum of four stories if commercial is proposed on the ground level.

The maps below show existing height limits for each section of the proposed “Saranap Village” project and can be compared with the height limits the developer is planning for the project. This will require a General Plan amendment. Staying within the existing height limits in the General Plan will still allow a significant, but not as overwhelmingly massive, project and that will allow the developer to build a project that can be successful and harmonious with the Saranap neighborhood.

DENSITY AND TRAFFIC

In addition to building approximately 43.541 square feet for commercial uses, the developer proposes 235 apartments and condominiums. This is nearly DOUBLE the units allowed by the County General Plan and current zoning. This is exactly how a transit village would be planned… like the transit village on Treat Blvd. at the Pleasant Hill BART station, and the new transit village planned for the parking lots at the Walnut Creek BART station. But Saranap doesn’t have a BART station. Saranap is not a transit village.

The effect is shown in the County's Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). Table 4.16-6 estimates the net increase for traffic generated by this project to be 4,998 MORE VEHICLE TRIPS PER DAY!

Site A, one of the four sites that make up the developer’s proposal, currently includes an empty lot at the corner of Boulevard Way and Saranap Avenue; a small retail/office complex at 1285 Boulevard Way; 24 rental units at the Sandpiper Apartments at 1180 Saranap Avenue; and a single-family home next door to the Sandpiper Apartments at 1176 Saranap Avenue. The developer is proposing to build a block-long and block-wide seven-story building with a maximum height of 90 feet. It will have commercial space on the first three floors, 391 parking spaces in the basement and first two floors, and 143 apartments on the top five floors, at a density of nearly 100 units to the acre, more than three times what current regulations allow.

And Site A is only one of the four sites included in the proposal. All four sites exceed the height and/or density limits set in the current County General Plan.

It’s important to note that the project area is only about 20% of the length of the four lane section of Boulevard Way, leaving 80% in its current condition. So clearly this project is not a fix-all for Boulevard Way.

This hardly seems like a good fit!

Over the next few weeks and months SHO will share more details and concerns with you about the traffic burden that this project will impose on our neighborhood; about the heritage oak tree that will be relocated just to accommodate the developer’s project; and much more. Please, get involved!

Speak Up! It's important that the County not amend the General Plan:

If you think this project needs to be trimmed down to be built within existing zoning laws and in compliance with the existing General Plan, this is the time to speak up. If the Contra Costa County General Plan is amended, it sets a it sets a precedent for more oversized buildings in Saranap. Certainly at risk are the rest of Boulevard Way to the freeway and all the commercial areas near Olympic Blvd., Tice Valley Blvd., and the south end of Boulevard Way.

We urge you to participate in protecting our Saranap by taking the following simple steps, and checking back to the www.saranap.org website for updates.

Join in and help us support reasonable development in Saranap:

What can you do to help? Check the items below that indicate what you will be able to do, enter your name and email address, then click the Submit button to let us know:


    

Yes No
Yes No
Yes No
Yes No





Why do we need your name and email address?
So we can keep you informed about updates to the status of the proposed Saranap Village project and information from the Saranap Homeowners Organization. Your name and email address will not be shared or used for any other purpose.

     


1. Talk to your neighbors about your concerns:

This is a way for you to have an immediate effect in your neighborhood. Let your neighbors know your concerns about the change to the General Plan and the “Saranap Village” project, and tell them to go to the www.saranap.org website where they can find more information and see accurate renderings of what this massive project is going to look like. We will also need volunteers to circulate petitions to retain the existing zoning in Saranap and oppose the General Plan Amendment.

2. Email Candace Andersen, our County Supervisor:

Here is a sample message to Supervisor Andersen that you can use or modify using your own words:


Dear Supervisor Andersen,

I am opposed to amending the General Plan to allow such an inappropriate development as the proposed Saranap Village. It is oversized and completely out of character for our neighborhood.

Let the developer bring a plan to Saranap that we can support which adheres to the current General Plan and zoning regulations.

I urge you to vote to deny the request to amend the General Plan to exceed current height and density limits for Saranap.

Thank you


Click on the following link to open your email program with a new blank email addressed to Candace Andersen, Supervisor for Contra Costa County District II:
Candace.Andersen@bos.cccounty.us
Copy and paste the sample message into your email program.
Please have each person in your household send an email as well if they have separate email accounts.
THE NUMBER OF EMAIL MESSAGES THE SUPERVISOR RECEIVES COUNTS!

If you prefer, write a letter to Supervisor Andersen:

Supervisor Candace Anderson, District II
309 Diablo Road, Danville, CA 94526
Phone: 925-957-8860 Fax: 925-820-3785

3. Let the planning staff at the County Community Development Division of the Department of Conservation and Development know that you are opposed:

Here is a sample message to Deputy Director Aruna Bhat that you can use or modify using your own words:


Dear Ms. Bhat,

I am opposed to amending the General Plan to allow such an inappropriate development as the proposed Saranap Village. It is oversized and completely out of character for our neighborhood.

Let the developer bring a plan to Saranap that we can support which adheres to the current General Plan and zoning regulations.

I urge you to recommend denial of the request to amend the General Plan to exceed current height and density limits for Saranap.

Thank you


Click on the following link to open your email program with a new blank email addressed to Aruna Bhat, Deputy Director — Community Development Division, Department of Conservation and Development for Contra Costa County:
Aruna.Bhat@dcd.cccounty.us
Copy and paste the sample message into your email program.

If you prefer, write a letter to the Director of Community Development:

Aruna Bhat
Deputy Director — Community Development Division, Department of Conservation and Development
30 Muir Road, Martinez, CA 94553
Phone: 925-674-7205 Fax: 925-674-7258

4. Attend County hearings about the project:

The County Community Development department and the Board of Supervisors will hold a series of hearings about the proposed change to the County Building Code, the Draft Environmental Impact Report, and the final approval of the project. If you can, attending these hearings as someone concerned about the project will be very valuable. Check back here and look for our email messages as hearing times and dates are announced.


Thanks for your interest!
Questions, Comments, or suggestions? Send us an email:



Exactly what is a Draft Environmental Impact Report?

Click here to open a page that has information explaining what a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) is and what's contained in the DEIR for the Saranap Village project. Not to scare you, but the DEIR for this project has 15 sections (including 7 appendices) totaling 1,887 pages. The DEIR section has 389 pages and a well-constructed easy to use table of contents.

The material in the full 1,887 page DEIR has been and is being reviewed by some of your neighbors who are members of the Saranap Homeowners Organization. The information on this web page is based on what we have reviewed, and additional pertinent information will be include on the saranap.org website to keep our Saranap neighbors up to date about this important project. If you have expertise reviewing EIRs and are willing to help, especially if you are a traffic engineer or a land use attorney, please let us know. Click here to use the questions or comments button above to contact us.

To keep up to date, you can fill out the Join In form with your name and email address. You can also check ‘Yes’ for any of the actions that you are interested and able to do, but this is optional. Then submit your response and we’ll keep you in the loop — but we won’t overwhelm you with email. Click here to fill out our Join In form now. Want to remove your name from our list? Click here to send us an email with that request. Please include your name and email address in the body of the message.




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