The Town's website contains an uncorrected Press Release that erroneously indicates that comments to the scope of the Library EIR need to be submitted by December 28th, 2011. This date was extended weeks ago to enable residents who missed the Dec. 8th Scoping Meeting to submit written comments regarding the scope of the project EIR through to 5:00 pm on January 11, 2012. This correction should be highlighted on the Town website, but we have found not even a correction made to the original press release to alert residents that additional time exists to provide their comments. Given this omission, the following information is being provided to help those who would still like to provide their comments on the EIR scope. If you are so interested, please read on.
What this is about. The scope of the EIR essentially provides the agreed on boundaries of those areas to be addressed in the EIR document regarding the potential environmental impacts of the proposed library project. If, for example, the scope does not include noise impacts (which in fact it doesn't), then such impacts won't need to be addressed and no mitigation of possible noise impacts will be required prior to approval of the project by the town. However, if comments are submitted in this scoping process requesting that noise impacts be evaluated, then these must be included in the EIR review and the town must take whatever steps are feasible to mitigate noise as required by CEQA. Should the town fail to mitigate possible noise impacts, there could be legal remedies—so long as "noise" is a part of the initial scope.
What items can be included in the scope? Here is a copy the CEQA Environmental Checklist Form that provides a guideline to what types of items can be included in the scope of EIR processes. If you scan this document, you will see both line item descriptions (page 2), followed by expanded examples of how each of those areas might be applied in a particular project situation (page 5 and forward). These examples can illuminate how each area may need to be reviewed by the agency. Your comments can include as many of these as you think important.
How the EIR Scope has been defined by the Town. The Town (as lead agency) initially defines the scope of the EIR. Michael Kashwagi (a new contract staff member of the ALBSC) and Neal Martin, our contract Town Planner, with help from LSA Associates (the town's contracted environmental consultants) submitted their scoping statement in a staff report to the Council at the November 16th, 2011 meeting. This document was attached to the Council packet as Item No. 19. It is worth reading this document carefully, not merely because of the importance of how LSA defines the scope but also because of how the documents explains why the town's obligations under CEQA changed as a result of the controversies raised by the whole process. (See next item.)
The Amendment to the LSA Associates Agreement. As Kashiwagi and Martin write in their staff report to the council, LSA was hired to prepare an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND) for the Library, which can only be used when there is little or no dispute about the environmental issues associated with the project. Due to the controversy associated with the project, LSA needed to augment their scope of work to conduct a full EIR, at an increased cost to the town of $86,230. As described in the Staff Report's "Discussion" section (page 2):
As the process has evolved some community members have expressed concerns about
environmental impacts that might result if the new library were sited in Holbrook-Palmer Park.
Specifically concerns were expressed at the Park and Recreation Commission meetings on July 6,
2011 and October 5, 2011, at the ALBSC Community Meeting held on September 8, 2011 and at
the City Council meeting on October 19, 2011. Those concerns generally relate to loss of existing
park and recreation space, traffic volumes and traffic safety in the park, and adequacy of parking. In
terms of the California Environmental Quality Act and case law these concerns are classified as
What an EIR can accomplish. It is important to note that, as a public agency, the Town of Atherton needs to take action to mitigate significant environmental impacts of any project it wants to approve. Preserving open space, reducing greenhouse gases, and accounting for the transportation impacts of land-use decisions are aspects that must be mitigated or the project approval can be appealed. For more background on CEQA and the EIR process, see Wikipedia's CEQA description, the Planning and Conservation League Foundation's site and Senate Bill 375 "Redesigning Communities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions."
How to address assumptions. Look closely at mentions of "staff guidance" as these may be used as givens, facts, truth or general guidance to underlie the proposed scope, when there may be no actual data available to support them (such as who the majority users of the project library would be). Some of these assumptions may have been provided by the ALBSC or the Library JPA but have not been verified.
Deliver your comments by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, Jan. 11th. You may email your comments on the EIR scope to Lisa Costa Sanders, Deputy Town Planner, at Lcostasanders@ci.atherton.ca.us or drop it off at the Administrative Building, 91 Ashfield Road, Atherton. These comments need to be delivered by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, January 11, 2012.
[Please note: the above information is not legal advice but rather an overview of the EIR Scope elements obtained by a lay review of the available and cited documents and suggestions received from a number of others to help residents understand this process. Please direct any questions you may have to Lisa Costa Sanders, Michael Kashiwagi or Neal Martin.]