Environmental Impact Report
What is an Environmental Impact Report?
An Environmental Impact Report – often abbreviated as “EIR” – is a comprehensive technical analysis of the impact of a proposed development project on the surrounding environment. The “environment” addressed by the report refers not only to wildlife and natural resources, but also to the lived environment of area residents & workers. See: http://www.dot.ca.gov/ser/vol1/sec5/ch36eir/chap36.htm#def
Where does it fit in the development process?
An Environmental Impact Report is one of the first steps in the development process and must be completed and certified before applying for a permit. The EIR would also need to be preceded by a Notice of Preparation (NOP). See: http://www.dot.ca.gov/ser/forms.htm#notices
How are a ‘Draft’ and a ‘Final’ Environmental Impact Report different?
The Draft Environmental Impact Report is the first draft of the document. This draft is released to the public and there is a limited 30 to 60 day period when the public can submit written comments. (Typically the comment time is 45 days.) The consultants must respond to substantive public comments – i.e. comments that make legitimate points about the content of the EIR. Comments that are not specifically related to the content of the EIR will be ignored. Public comments and the responses to them become part of the final EIR. Guidelines to the preparation of a draft EIR can be found here: http://www.dot.ca.gov/ser/vol1/sec1/ch2statelaw/chap2.htm#CEQA
Who are the key players in an EIR?
The Lead Agency is most important, but there are ofter other parties as well.
- Lead Agency: The lead agency, Marin County CDA in this case, is responsible for conducting the CEQA review and has final approval of the project. They are responsible for coordinating with the project applicant, public and associated agencies during the CEQA process. When more than one agency is involved in a project, the agency with primary responsibility for approving a project is the lead agency, for purposes of following the CEQA protocol.
- Responsible Agency: Other agencies with discretionary approval power over the project are called “responsible agencies.” The lead agency has an obligation to consult with these agencies during the CEQA process to ensure their input is accounted for. Responsible agencies often have a vested interest in a specific environmental resource that they are charged with regulating.
- Trustee Agency: An agency with jurisdiction over a resource held in trust for the people. This agency has no approval power over a project.
What happens when the Final Environment Impact Report is released?
When an EIR is released, the Lead Agency must vote to certify (“approve”) the Final EIR. They will do this only if they are confident that the environmental documentation is complete and fully accurate and will not expose them to lawsuits. (See Title 14, Chapter 3, Article 7, Sections 15090-15092.)
If the report shows that there are environmental impacts, does that automatically mean the project will not be approved?
No. The Environmental Impact Report will propose mitigation strategies for any documented environmental impacts. In some cases there may be impacts that cannot be mitigated. The presence of immitigable environmental impacts does not necessarily mean that a project will not be approved. According to the California Environmental Quality Act website: “if the benefits of a proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects, the adverse environmental effects may be considered ‘acceptable.’” The developer must make a written “Statement of Overriding Considerations” to explain why the benefits of the project outweigh its environmental impacts; that statement must be based on fact, reasonable assumptions predicated upon facts, and/or expert opinions supported by facts. An inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations may leave a public agency vulnerable to damaging legal action.
Who prepares the Environmental Impact Report?
The Lead Agency in charge of the project can prepare the report itself, but more commonly it pays for consultants to prepare the report.
What topics does the Environmental Impact Report cover?
There are 18 categories of environmental impacts that may be addressed in an Environmental Impact Report. However, not all of these categories are relevant to every project. The categories of impact include:
This section analyzes whether a project would have a substantial adverse effect on scenic vistas, damage scenic resources (trees, rock outcroppings, historic buildings, iconic views such as those of Mt. Tam), degrade the existing visual character of a site & its surroundings, or create a new source of substantial light or glare that would negatively affect day or nighttime views in the area. This is a major concern for the MC lights proposal, as the glare and damage to views–both day and night–would be substantial.
2. Agriculture & Forest Resources: Not Likely to be Relevant
3. Air Quality: Not Likely to be Relevant
4. Biological Resources: This is a critical component of the EIR for this particular project because of the immediate proximity to the Creekside wetlands and sensitive marsh areas. This issue was raised by the community during the 11/12/15 meeting at Bacich Elementary, but the application failed to address this key point at all. MC’s application is deficient and calls for an Initial Study as part of a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) should initiate the CEQA process because the project may result in potential negative impacts related to wildlife (as well as noise, traffic, and lighting.)
Other potential significant negative impacts on wildlife near the site include common and special-status species, such as the Ridgway’s Rail. Studies show that common and special-status wildlife species occur within 50 to 200 feet of the MC project boundaries. The nearby common and special-status bird species are protected by at least two California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations in its 3500 series. In addition, the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies. The proposed project would also violate portions of the Marin Countywide Plan 2.2 Biological Resources section (11/7/07 version.) The project could potentially result in negative impacts upon common and special-status bird species’ day and night roosting, foraging, and breeding habitat. One of those species, the Ridgway’s Rail is endangered, under federal and California law. This species nests and forages in the vegetation of Corte Madera Creek, a wetland next to the project.
Other bird species whose roosting, foraging, and breeding are the most likely among many common bird species to be negatively impacted by the project: the Western Screech-owl, the Great Horned Owl, the California Towhee, the Bushtit, the Chestnut-sided Chickadee, the American Goldfinch, the Virginia Rail, and Sora, to name just a few.
5. Cultural Resources:
This section analyzes whether a project would negatively affect historical or archaeological resources, destroy paleontological resources or disturb human remains. From the perspective of the MC Stadium Expansion this section would be relevant if an aspect of the project (the bleachers, for example), were a possible historic resource, or if area homes that are designated historic resources would be negatively affected by the project.
6. Geology and Soils: Potentially relevant in terms of the effect the proposed project may have on wildlife in the nearby Creekside tidal wetlands.
7. Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
This section analyzes whether the project has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
8. Hazards & Hazardous Materials:
This section analyzes general hazards created by a project, including the transport of hazardous materials (both during construction and in regular use), the creation of safety hazards due to proximity to an airport, interference with emergency response & evacuation plans, and/or the likelihood of exposing people do a significant risk of loss, injury, or death due to wildland fires.
9. Hydrology & Water Quality: Not Likely to be Relevant
10. Land Use & Planning:
This section analyzes whether the project would have a significant impact on land use and planning in the project vicinity. Specific concerns include whether the project would physically divide an established community, whether it would conflict with applicable land use plans or policies, and whether it would conflict with any applicable habitat conservation plan or natural community conservation plan. There are several aspects of this section that may be directly relevant to the MC proposal for lights.
11. Mineral Resources: Not Likely to be Relevant
This section analyzes whether the project would expose persons & residents to noise levels in excess of standard levels, or to excessive groundborne vibration or groundborne noise levels. It also considers whether the project would create a substantial permanent increase in ambient noise levels in the project vicinity or whether it would create substantial temporary or periodic increases in ambient noise levels in the vicinity above levels existing without the project.
This is an obvious area of direct relevance for the MC lighting proposal, as the project would directly and immediately affect all surrounding areas with far more nighttime noise than we currently have. The loud and raucous stadium cheers would echo throughout the valley until 10 pm, and possibly even later if a game went into overtime.
13. Population & Housing
This section analyzes whether the project would induce substantial population growth in an area (either daytime commuter population or residential population), and whether it would displace substantial numbers of existing housing or people (to the extent that replacement housing would need to be created elsewhere.)
14. Public Services
This section analyzes whether the project would necessitate additional public services, including fire protection, police protection, parks, other public facilities, and schools.
This section analyzes whether the project would increase the use of neighborhood & regional parks or other recreational facilities to the extent that it would cause substantial physical deterioration of the facility. It also analyzes whether the project includes recreational facilities that might have an adverse physical effect on the environment.
This section analyzes whether the project will substantially increase traffic compared to the existing traffic load & street system capacity. These impacts include increases in number of vehicle trips, increase in volume-to-capacity on roads, and congestion at intersections. This also analyzes whether the project will result in inadequate emergency access or inadequate parking capacity, as well as whether it would conflict with policies put in place to encourage alternative transportation (buses, bicycle racks, etc.)
Like sections 4 and 12, this section has obvious and direct relevance to the MC proposed lighting project. Traffic conditions along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Ross Valley are already a major problem, which is why the County is spending $13 million to study and alleviate congestion between US 101 and the Town of Ross. Even after this project, the traffic flow will rate a grade of C, according to the County. MC is right in the middle of this heavily impacted stretch. The stadium lights would generate even more traffic right at rush hour, obviously a negative development and counter to the effort to improve the corridor. Parking for 1,500 attendees does not exist and as a result attendees of the night games would spill into nearby neighborhoods searching for a spot.
17. Utilities and Service Systems: Not Likely to be Relevant
18. Mandatory Findings of Significance
This is a ‘catchall’ section dealing with a few very specific issues. It addresses whether the project would degrade the overall quality of the environment or threaten endangered species. It also considers whether the impacts assessed in the report are individually limited but cumulatively considerable (i.e. do the incremental effects of the project gain significance when considered in the context of the impacts of past and probable future projects.) In addition, this section considers whether the project will have any general environmental effects that would cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, directly or indirectly.
Why should individual citizens respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Report?
The Draft Environmental Impact Report will have been prepared by consultants who do not live in (and may have never stepped foot in) the neighborhood surrounding the project site. Furthermore, the consultants crafting the Draft EIR have a tremendous incentive to select data and statistics that portray their employer’s project in the most favorable light. As a result, many of the assumptions and conclusions in the Draft EIR may be biased or flawed. If the assumptions and conclusions are not correct, the impacts of the project may appear less significant than they are, and because of this appropriate mitigation strategies will not be considered or addressed. If the right mitigation strategies are not considered and incorporated into the project, area residents will be subjected to unmitigated impacts as a result of the project. Greater legal recourse against these impacts exists if these impacts (and appropriate mitigation strategies) are part of the public record, which they will be if they are received and incorporated into the Final EIR.