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The Community Site for East San Carlos Residents

EIR Comments

EIR Comments

Dear Residents,

Here is feedback on the SCTV Environmental Impact Report from Scot Marsters.

The Greater East San Carlos Association and the neighborhood are very grateful to Scot for taking so much of his time on issues not only in our neighborhood but throughout all of San Carlos.

Comments on the Draft EIR for the San Carlos Transit Village.
Submitted by Scot Marsters 1/28/10

The EIR states there are no significant impacts or that what little impact its construction causes can easily be mitigated. I disagree with these assumption and would like to ask that the following significant impacts be included, potential mitigations be considered and inconsistencies with the General Plan be addressed.

Land Use and Planning – The EIR asks that the entire length of the project be rezoned to Planned Community as stated in City Council Resolution 2003-79. Resolution 2003-79 Section 4.843 also states that the entire rail corridor shall be planned to appear as one integrated project. The existing EIR only looks at the area from Arroyo north. Please include in the EIR, plans for the rest of the project from the southern San Carlos city line to Arroyo St. including landscaping plans and the location of the design entry feature announcing entry into the City of San Carlos as in Resolution 2003-79 Sections 4.842 and 4.850. Please also explain why the southern part of the rail corridor should be rezoned Planned Community in the absence of a plan, as the existing uses south of Arroyo are allowed under the existing land use designation, whereas rezoning the area south of Arroyo to Planned Community would allow for expanded or additional land uses such as multi-family residential. The land along side the railroad tracks in San Carlos has been an eyesore for well over 15 years, the entire corridor needs to be addressed, not just part of it. One suggestion has been to take some of the vacant land and use it for a city garden.

In addition very little is mentioned about High Speed rail and its impact on the project. Please include possible impacts to the project due to tunneling, trenching and the impacts due to additional above ground tracks and any impacts from the electrification of CalTrain, as all are foreseeable projects that could have impacts on the project.

Visual Quality – The EIR under Visual Quality suggests that the project would have no impact on scenic views from both sides of the berm. Under the reduced Intensity Alternative the views of the hillsides are described as minor and background.

In 1994 the city declared the views from the residential neighborhood on the east of the berm looking west to be significant and special. Here is the line of reasoning.

First in the City Attorney’s analysis of Measure D the 1994 Ballot measure for the Grade separation states,  “The EIR finds the project with mitigation has no significant adverse effects. There are three exceptions where in spite of mitigation measures, the environmental impact cannot be rendered insignificant: a) displacement of certain businesses along the east side of El Camino, primarily north of Holly Street; b) increase in noise during construction; and c) the creation of a significant visual and physical barrier and the loss of several prominent views, including those of the eastern façade of the Depot”.

In stating the above the City declares that the loss of prominent views is an environmental impact that cannot be rendered insignificant.

Second, the berm was designed as compact berm at the additional cost of 20-30 million dollars in order to keep the height down for no other reason than to preserve the views from the east side (Mike Garvey former City Manager comments during High speed rail tour).  In doing so it preserved the views of the hills preferentially over the view of the historically significant Depot from the east. (If I spent 30 million dollars to preserve a view I would consider it significant and special).

Third, in 2003 City Council Resolution 2003-79 of the Railroad Corridor Development and Design Guidelines, Section 4.849 states that “The project architecture should incorporate varying heights that are sensitive to the scale and massing of east side residential areas, and accommodate and preserve significant views”.

Fourth, in 2009 The City Council approved the General Plan which states in Policy LU-8.21 “Maintain Railroad Corridor Development and Design Guidelines unless it conflicts with other parts of the General Plan”.

Fifth, the General Plan Policy LU-9.9 states “Encourage the design of development to minimize the obstruction of significant views of the San Francisco Bay, the western Hills, or other significant natural vistas to the greatest extent possible”.

The EIR needs to include loss of views as a significant impact under Visual Quality based on CEQA Guidelines “The project would have a significant effect on the environment if it would (a) have a substantial adverse effect on a scenic vista; (b) substantially damage scenic resources, including, but not limited to, trees, rock outcroppings, and historic buildings within a state scenic highway; (c) substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings; or (d) create a new source of substantial light or glare that would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area” and include suggested mitigations. In addition General Plan Policy LU-9.4 states “ Mitigation measures shall be utilized to the greatest extent feasible for neighborhoods surrounding new proposed development”.

Others and I have suggested several mitigations. The idea of an urban forest with 4 layers of trees between the project and the residential neighborhood was suggested. The General Plan Policy LU-9.5 states “Require buffering, screening, setbacks, or other measures for new and expanded multi-family residential and /or commercial/industrial developments adjacent to single-family residential neighborhoods to minimize impacts and compatibility conflicts”. Unfortunately the EIR shows a landscaping proposal that has little or no landscaping planned for the east side of the project. Please include in the EIR an expanded landscaping plan for the east side of the project, both north and south of Holly Street, including potential landscaping proposed by the city along the east side of Old County Road (Personal discussion with Robert Weil). Also discussed with the developer was the idea of modifying the plan to have reduced height in several locations. One such example was to reduce the height of the sections of the buildings that run parallel to the CalTran tracks. Additional mitigations should also be identified and considered, and if none can be found then additional public amenities benefiting the effected individuals should be considered.

Height and Massing – According to the City of San Carlos General Plan 2030 document, Land Use Policy LU-8.3 “Ensure that new development is sensitive to the character of adjacent structures and the immediate neighborhood” and Policy 9.13 “Require appropriate transitions of building scale, massing, and height to adjacent single-family homes”. Also from Resolution 2003-79 section 4.8.48 “Provide interesting architecture incorporating tiering of building heights and articulation of building elevations from all views of the project. Building articulation should break up building massing and provide visual relief of all elevations”. In addition section 4.849 states “Project architecture should incorporate varying heights that are sensitive to the scale and massing of east side residential areas and accommodate and preserve significant views”. Unfortunately the planned project and project alternative suggested by the City, both fall far short of accomplishing these goals. As all projects must be consistent with the General Plan, this is a significant impact that must be detailed in the EIR and additional mitigations suggested. If no mitigations can be suggested, additional public amenities that benefit the impacted community should be considered.

In addition Resolution 2003-79 Section 4.845 “The focal point of the Depot Area should be the historic San Carlos Depot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area shall accommodate community interaction and diverse activities. Additionally, development within the project adjacent to the Depot should be sensitive to the massing and scale of the Depot”. Please explain how a 3 story, 47-foot tall building, just south but right next to the depot is sensitive to the massing and scale of the single story Depot?

Also General Plan Policy LU-8.11 “Discourage abrupt changes in building scale. A gradual transition between low-rise to mid-rise buildings should be achieved by using the low-rise buildings at the edge of the project site. Consider the relationship of buildings to the street, to one another and to adjacent structures and land uses, especially single family residential”. Explain how the southern most building of 47 feet, with a parking lot on one side, the Depot on the other and across the street from the Drake building aligns with this policy.

Transportation – In EIR section TR-1 the assumptions of the project are based on a significant number of people using public transportation and a Traffic Demand Management (TDM) plan. The existing City TDM plan has no enforcement mechanism to reduce traffic to a desired level, so the developer could put the plan into effect and if residents of the proposed development still choose to drive, the city would have no recourse to deal with the impact of the increased traffic. Please identify alternatives beyond the existing TDM and mechanisms for enforcement. In addition please provide details as to the full impact on traffic if no TDM were in effect and what impact the projects increased traffic will have on various intersections if no TDM were in place. One suggested mitigation that came at a Sierra Club meeting was to uncouple parking from the rental units. A potential compromise is to uncouple parking spaces after the first for each unit. Neither of these potential mitigations works without a permit-parking program to protect the surrounding neighborhood and businesses (more about permit parking under parking).

Parking – The community to the east of the Legacy/JPB project is currently significantly affected by the loss of approximately 100 parking spaces due to the raising of the berm. Just look at the number of hours the San Carlos Police Department and City Staff have put in dealing with complaints of CalTrain riders parking in front of resident’s homes. The complaints arise from three different groups: daily commuters, people who park in the neighborhood because they are going out of town and can not park in the CalTrain lot for more than 24 hours and people who are using the train to attend sporting events. They all park in the neighborhood avoiding paying the $2 per day fee charged to park in the CalTrain lot.

The General Plan Policy LU-1.7 Encourage mitigation of parking conflicts and LU-9.3 states “Assure that redevelopment, public or private, mitigates any negative traffic and parking impacts on or adjacent to residential neighborhood”. The Legacy/JPB EIR ignores the existing and potential future parking issues completely even though the property owner that the SCTV will lease the land from created the problem and would benefit from solving the problem.

In addition the project moves the existing parking spaces for CalTrain riders further away from the loading platform exacerbating the problem for the residents. This is a significant issue that has been completely ignored by the EIR. Please include this as a significant impact of the project and include mitigations.

It has been suggested that as part of the High Speed rail project the loading platform could be shifted south, thus impacting additional east side residential streets, and move it further from the proposed residential buildings located north of Holly, making it less likely they would walk to public transportation. Another reason impacts from High Speed rail must be considered, as part of the project is that according to resolution 2003-79 Section 4.885 “Adequate parking for existing and future CalTrain and Samtrans needs shall be maintained”. Since CalTrain and High Speed rail have entered into formal agreements to share the right of way, High Speed rails impact on parking needs to be addressed at this time; otherwise land for parking for High Speed rail may not be available.

Others and I have suggested mitigations. We have been working with San Carlos City Staff and SamTrans staff to look for potential solutions. Implementation of permit parking or modified a modified permit-parking program paid for by the developer, landlord or the City could be one potential solution. I also believe that this EIR needs to be sent to the Transportation and Circulation Commission for review (this could come at the request of staff, the Planning Commission or the City Council).

Shuttles – Because the project includes not only a mixed-use development but also a new San Mateo County Transit Center, please indicate what the long-term plan is for addressing the issues with shuttles on the residential neighborhood to the east. How will new shuttles from additional development on the east side or neighboring communities be addressed? If the existing traffic signal light is moved to East San Carlos Ave. as suggested by Robert Weil at the recent GESC meeting, how will this impact the shuttles, the taxis and the “Kiss and Ride” drop off? Currently the existing shuttles park in such a way that they force southbound traffic on Old County into the lane of oncoming traffic, will this be fixed as part of the new San Mateo County Transit Center? Could all shuttles move to the west side and could the existing space be used to truly connect the station to the East-Side in a welcoming manner or will the East-Side of the station forever be uninviting to the residents and businesses?

Traffic – I understand that Legacy is proposing to install an additional traffic signal light at Cherry Street and El Camino. The additional traffic signal light will slow traffic down along El Camino, what corresponding steps will be taken to slow down traffic along Old County? Relative to El Camino, there will now be 2 fewer traffic signal lights on Old County from Brittan to the northern City line. I would like to suggest a mitigation of lowering the speed limit to 30 miles per hour on Old County, at least from Terminal Way to Taylor way. This section of road is the only street in San Carlos that has single-family homes fronting it with a speed limit of over 30 miles per hour. In both Redwood City and in Belmont the speed limit on Old County is 30 miles per hour or less. Also after the berm was installed and Old County was narrowed, the speed limit was never reduced. Another possibility is installing Stop signs at Old County and Taylor Way or Terminal, or some combination of both.

Public Amenities – Included in Resolution 2003-79 are the following guidelines and policies for the project: Section 4.824 “Encourage recreational facilities and/or other community activity options along the narrow lots to the south of Arroyo Avenue within the project area” and Section 4.825 “Encourage the incorporation of community amenities within the project area through flexibility in parking requirements”. While the project includes the flexibility in parking requirements, the only public amenity proposed is a public gathering place located so close to El Camino as to make conversation pretty much impossible and located so close to retail, that one assumes it will actually be used by the retail uses and not by the public. In addition no other public amenities are proposed including in the area south of Arroyo. So, what additional public amenities will be included in the project and how will they benefit the current and future residents of the City? What would help the City of San Carlos address the lack of things for teens to do in our community would be a skate park. Other suggestions have included a dog park or additional park on the East Side.

Noise – Construction noise was an issue with the raising of the berm. The residential neighborhood had to endure jack hammering at 6 a.m. in the morning. Frequent calls to the public works department and the police didn’t help. How will the developer and the City handle noise complaints both during and outside allowed construction times? As construction is expected to continue for several years, every effort should be made to reduce construction noise.

As part of the EIR for raising the berm, noise impacts were studied and the conclusion was that there would be no increase in noise to the residential neighborhood to the east of the berm. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Almost everyone who lived in the neighborhood and still does, knows that we have seen a significant increase in the noise level in the neighborhood due to the raising of the CalTrain tracks. Somehow the way noise was studied is flawed. In the 2003 East Side Specific Draft EIR, a 1999 noise study (post construction of the berm) yielded the following comment “Based on these noise studies, the noise from CalTrain train passbys is between 57dBA (at McCue Avenue) and 85 dBA (at Riverton). Based on the noise studies, it appears that the noise from single events along the rail line does have the potential to exceed the single event noise criteria typically used to minimize speech and sleep disturbance (50 dBA in the bedrooms and 55 dBA in other rooms). Therefore, the impact from noise from trains on the proposed multi-family development would be potentially significant”. It goes on to talk about how to mitigate the noise for the proposed development, but fails to discuss mitigation for the existing single-family homes to the east. 85 dBA is in the unacceptable level according to the General Plan and the CEQA guidelines on noise “A significant noise impact would occur if the project would result in (a) exposure of persons to or generation of noise levels in excess of standards established in local general plans or noise ordinances”, in addition the EIR claims that an additional 1-3 dBA will be bounced back from the 49-foot wall. Now once again we are being asked to believe that a new noise study, which claims no significant noise increases to our neighborhood, is not flawed. The SCTV EIR noise study claims that placing an almost continuous 49-foot high wall, which will bounce noise back into the neighborhood, will result in no significant increase in noise to the neighborhood. Any reasonably sane individual would find this difficult to believe. So we can only conclude that the noise study is once again flawed. Resolution 2003-79 Section 4.900 “Require the appropriate acoustical studies and appropriate mitigation of noise impacts for all new uses within the project area”. So please provide examples of acoustical studies in other locations similar to this where 49-foot walls of similar length have been installed and provide details of what impact they had on noise. Also please conduct a complete noise study of the neighborhood taking into consideration: current noise conditions, the potential for increased noise bounced into the neighborhood from the 49-foot wall, increased noise from the new signal at Cherry, noise from the new parking lot and the impact of a canyon effect, where we will now have 49-foot buildings or larger at either end of the neighborhood. Another option would be to build a 49-foot wall where the edge of the buildings could potentially be and conduct a noise study to see what impact the wall would truly have. Another idea would be to conduct a comprehensive noise study before and after the project with mitigation measures, including potential compensation for increases in noise to the impacted residents. I think the EIR is incomplete and additional studies need to be completed before this document is approved.

At best the noise studies should say that they are not sure what impact the walls will have on noise in the neighborhood. If we use sound walls along the freeways as examples, they have had unforeseen and unintended noise consequences in other locations.

Currently there are approximately 80 trains per day using the CalTrain tracks. What will be the increase in noise impacts when CalTrain reaches the stated goal of 160 trains per day and High Speed Rail reaches their stated goal of 20 trains per hour in each direction per day? This will amount to one train every few minutes. Please include a copy of the High Speed Rail Noise and Vibration Impact Report and explain what impact the proposed SCTV buildings would have on noise bounced back into the East Side Neighborhood based on their data.

Please also explain why businesses near the neighborhood that would have a far smaller noise impact on the neighborhood, such as in a 2006 proposal for “Broadway Towing” a business located 300 feet from the neighborhood applying for a conditional Use Permit, had a staff recommendation to deny the permit based on noise and parking, yet the SCTV EIR suggests it would have no significant impact on noise.

It seems that the EIR is more interested in noise within the planned buildings and cares little about increases in noise to the surrounding single family residential neighborhood, which already has noise levels that exceed the normally accepted exterior noise exposure limits (General Plan).

Potential mitigations to the affected single-family homes could include: no interest loans from CalTrain or the Developer for installing double paned windows, door replacements and chimney toppers to help decrease the interior average noise levels of the existing homes similar to what the San Francisco airport provided to residents in Milbrae. In addition other possible mitigations should be looked into and possibly implemented.

Connectivity to East-Side Residential Neighborhood – There is little in the project that connects it to the East-Side neighborhood physically or visually. The General Plan Policy LU-1.3 states, “Ensure that development within the TOD corridor maintains and improves the mobility of people and vehicles along and across the corridor” and CEQA Guidelines “A significant impact would occur if the project would (a) physically divide an established community”. While the east side of El Camino gets a complete facelift, the East Side gets cut off from the rest of the community both physically and visually. General Plan Goal LU-5 states “Promote connectivity and provide retail and services within walking distance of homes and employment areas”, explain how this project connects to the surrounding residential neighborhood to the East instead of cutting it off further from the rest of San Carlos. Please suggest mitigations to address this.

2030 General Plan Policies – Policy LU-8.2 “Ensure that new development is sensitive to the character of adjacent structures and the immediate neighborhood”. Please explain how the proposed project meets this policy in relation to the East-Side residential neighborhood. Policy LU-8.4 “Promote pedestrian-scaled design through site planning, building design, finish details and landscaping for all types of development by requiring height and locational transitions between buildings of varied levels that are sensitive to the interrelationships of surrounding uses and structures, especially residential”. Please explain how the proposed project meets this policy in relation to the East-Side residential neighborhood. Policy LU-8.10 “On all sides of buildings, require the incorporation of quality architectural design elements for all building facades and stepping back upper floors in order to reduce bulk and mass and to break up monotonous wall lines”. Please explain how the proposed project meets this policy in relation to the East-Side residential neighborhood. Policy LU-8.19 “Residential structures shall be designed to be compatible with existing structures in the vicinity, avoid obstructing views from adjacent structures or views of community importance, avoid interference with the right or ability to use solar energy and be consistent with the community design principles”. Please explain how the proposed project meets this policy in relation to the East-Side residential neighborhood. Please suggest mitigations to address these concerns.

Drainage – Recently flooding occurred at the Holly Street underpass, what impact would covering a significant portion of this property with impervious surfaces have on runoff and filling the storm drains? Will putting in subterranean garages displace the water table exacerbating the existing flooding issues in the residential neighborhood to the east?

Financial – Currently the City of San Carlos has a 3.5 million dollar budget deficit in the General Fund. The proposed project would add approximately $200,000 to that deficit based on the Financial Impact document presented by staff at the EDAC meeting. Unfortunately no representatives from either SamTrans/JPB/CalTrain or Legacy were present at the meeting, so EDAC was not able to ask specific questions about the projects financial impact on the city. It seems that with the current financial situation of the city and no easy solutions in the near future, that an additional hit of $200,000 to the General Fund would be a significant impact to the city. What discussions have been held to address this concern? Please suggest possible mitigations for this impact.

While many in the community would like to see Transit Oriented Development occur on the site of the proposed development. The density of the project is being forced on the developer, thus creating many of the significant impacts, by SamTrams/JPB/CalTrain in order to pay for both the new SamTrams Transit Center and all the upgrades to El Camino in the Grande Boulevard Initiative. This effectively forces the project to maximize density where a more reasonable density would be acceptable to the nearby neighborhood. As with the raising of the berm this project will be here for many years to come. The City has one shot to get this right, as any problems that arise after the buildings are in place will likely not be addressed. The East-Side neighborhood has struggled for almost 20 years to get issues associated with the building of the berm addressed. The hope is that many could be corrected as part of this project; the concern is that any new issues that arise will never be addressed.

Summary

All in all, I think the EIR is missing some critical information and it fails to list and address several significant impacts to the East Side residential neighborhood. In addition, the plan for the SCTV is inconsistent with many of the General Plan goals and policies. Some of these issues mentioned above are so important they have multiple goals and/or policies in the General Plan. In addition all the additional concerns need to be addressed before the project moves forward. In the long run I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest for the four groups (GESC, Legacy, SamTrans/CalTrain/JPB and San Carlos City Staff) to meet and discuss additional mitigations for the project, if the developer plans to moves forward. As the plan stands now, it certainly does not meet CEQA Guidelines nor is it consistent with the City of San Carlos’ General Plan.

2 Comments

  1. good questions, that need to be answered.

  2. Scot,

    Thank you for such a detailed and thorough analysis of the EIR. The more I examine the document the more certain I feel that there was a distinct lack of due diligence in assessing the environmental impacts. The high volume of boilerplate text regarding specific issues is only one indication of the deficiencies in the document.

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