Understanding CEQA.

With the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts in the early ‘70’s, the Federal government set legal standards to protect human health and improve the natural environment. Concurrently, the State of California followed suit by enacting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 1970 to protect the physical, biological, and human environment.

In simple terms, CEQA Guidelines require that every project undertaken by a state or local agency, Brea is a local agency, must include analysis of the potential impacts on the environment and mitigate (lessen) any negative effects that are considered significant. CEQA Guidelines apply to public and private projects and nearly all projects in California undergo CEQA analysis.

What’s in it for you?

A vital part of the CEQA process is public involvement. Thanks to CEQA, the general public must have an opportunity to comment on any project that could potentially affect them. CEQA also requires that the lead agency, the City of Brea’s Planning Department, respond to public comments in writing, providing evidence for their responses and addressing all comments related to the environmental document and any issues within it.

Strike one!

The first step in an environmental review is the initial study, which helps the lead agency determine a broad estimate of impacts that may occur. There is no evidence that the Planning Department conducted an initial study for the Brea Place project. Without this crucial first step, the Planning Department essentially eliminated all meaningful public involvement opportunities from the project.

Strike two!

The Brea Place project, at more than 500 dwelling units, requires the Planning Department to conduct at least one scoping meeting where it formally invites the public, representatives from neighboring cities and counties, responsible agencies, and public agencies with jurisdiction to learn about the project, express their concerns, and comment on environmental impacts or suggest alternatives.

Strike three!

Normally, a lead agency (the Brea Planning Department) would send out a request for proposals for environmental analysis documents beginning with an initial study and continuing on to the appropriate level of documentation.

In the case of the Hines Brea Place development, the Planning Department decided that it would prepare an Addendum to the 2003 General Plan environmental impact report (EIR), dodging the requirements for an initial study and leaving the public out of the process. In other words, the public has no opportunity for involvement in a project that could significantly affect them.

Adding insult to injury.

As if this behavior weren’t bad enough, it is abundantly clear that the Planning Department has usurped the oversight, guidance and authority of the Planning Commission.

It is inconceivable that the Commission, assuming they were provided full and timely information, would have allowed such an unwarranted deviation from accepted best practices… from a proven process of environmental stewardship that is inclusive of the public.

By short-cutting this process for the Hines project, the Planning Department is evading this important step and increasing the potential for the project to have significant impacts that will affect Breans for generations.

This is not game over.

We need to demand that the Planning Commission put on the brakes, voting to continue further review of the Hines project, instructing the Planning Department to go back to the beginning of the environmental analysis process and properly follow the CEQA Guidelines.

We need to demand an adequate environmental review and public opportunities to comment on its conclusions. Through the public review and comment period, we’ll have a legitimate chance to collaborate with the Planning Commission, the City Planner and Hines to design a project that will address residents’ concerns, produce a project consistent with the surrounding community and provide the developer with a fair and reasonable return on their investment.

If we can fix the process, we can fix the project.

City Planner Makes Midcourse Correction!

Likely City Planner Jennifer Lilley was left with no choice but to rein in the runaway process jamming the Hines Brea Place development down the throats of the Planning Commission and the general public.

Also likely that public pressure will only continue to mount as the word of this boondoggle spreads. I’ve only run into one person who thinks relying on a 14 year old EIR is okay – I’ve nicknamed him “Clueless in Brea.”

Late this afternoon the following was sent to City Council, Planning Commission and key city staff. What a classic example of damage control.

From: Lilley, Jennifer

Subject: February 28 meeting.

Hello Commission.

I wanted to provide for you an update on our February meeting agenda. As you know we have been preparing to have the Hines application come to the Commission at this hearing. City staff has been working to ensure the Commission and the public have time to learn about this project and absorb information before a decision is made. To that end city staff is recommending the following:

  1. The Hines item scheduled for February is recommended to be continued.   Staff will present the report at this meeting including a history of the site, the entitlements an overview of the request and a summary of the environmental analysis. Given many folks from the community will likely be present we would recommend the public hearing be opened for questions and for the Commission and staff to get input on what questions or information the community may need.
  2. At the next meeting (March 14 or 28) dependent on the Commissions decision the applicant and their technical team would present their application and information. Public input again would be taken and questions and comments could be addressed. The Commission can determine if they are ready to make a decision or need additional information and direct staff to that end.

Your packet is being prepared and we will have it available as soon as possible. Once it is available to the Commission it will also be made available to the public. If people are contacting you looking for information staff encourages you to direct those folks to the city and we are happy to set up meetings with groups or individuals to walk through information and answer any questions.

If there is anything else we can help you with, please let me know. Thank you so much.

Alternative fact number 1.

“City staff has been working to ensure the Commission and the public have time to learn about this project and absorb information before a decision is made.” Hogwash. Every effort was made to smuggle this past the watchful eye of the public knowing the rejection would exceed the blowback over Madrona.

Alternative fact number 2.

“Staff will present… a summary of the environmental analysis.” What environmental analysis? The 14 year old EIR that has long passed its “use by” date? We don’t need some self serving “summary” of an outdated report, couched in language designed to overcome public objection.

Alternative fact number 3.

“At the next meeting… the Commission can determine if they are ready to make a decision.” Hold on! The Commission has every right to continue this until a new EIR is completed by a firm with a successful history of providing such service to Brea before. Like for Chevron’s La Floresta project or Central Park Brea on the old hospital site.

Why do we have to listen to the applicant and their technical team’s dog and pony show before proper studies (by firms not on the Hines payroll)? Answer… we don’t.

Alternative fact number 4.

“If people are contacting you looking for information staff encourages you to direct those folks to the city…” so we can jam one more barrier between you and the people you’re charged with representing!

We understand the ethics involved, that Commissioners are not supposed to prematurely form opinions prior to the public hearing. We get that. But there should be no roadblock placed between the Commission and the public by city staff. Unacceptable!

A battle won but the war continues.

People of Brea, the impact zone of this project stretches across the entire city. This is not a problem limited to the closest neighborhood. If you cross Brea once a day getting a child to school, to buy groceries or getting to work – you will feel the effect first hand.

Keep the Planning Commission meeting on the 28th on your agenda and the Hines Brea Place project on your radar.

Brea 92821

Dear Ms. Lilley…

On the heels of last Thursday’s resident’s meeting on the Brea Place development by Hines, the following communication to City Planner Jennifer Lilley has circulated from former Brea Council member and Mayor John Beauman.

John has been considerate enough to allow Brea Matters to add this to the public discussion before the next Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, February 28.

Dear Ms. Lilley,

This paper is a flashback — based on the best of my recollection — when I served on the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC), 2000-2001, prior to being appointed to the City Council in Nov. 2001, serving through Dec. 2010, including two terms as mayor.

The General Plan (GP) was approved in Aug. 2003, which I had the opportunity to participate in, including staff presentations. In light of the extensive overview of the overall GP, no particular concerns were noted or addressed for what is now the Hines’ project site, which is understandable in light of the broad scope of the GP, a 2-inch-thick document covering a broad array of diverse study areas.

For the reasons stated below, applying the 2003 GP EIR to the proposed project is both inadequate and inappropriate.

The GPAC committee consisted of fourteen (14) members, representing a cross-section of the community, with a variety of professional and educational backgrounds. None of whom had expertise in urban development or zoning.

Our focus as a committee was principally on the overall GP rather than on any specific urban-infill site. Our collective knowledge was based solely on what consultants and staff presented. Our ability to ask relevant questions across the broad range of development was naturally limited by our lack of specific experience and knowledge.

At the time, there was no compelling reason to dig deeper into any potential future land uses for that site, since no specific concerns were raised. Even with it being designated Mixed Use I, there was no discussion or insight into what any future development may look like, especially without specifics.

I certainly did not imagine a project the scope and magnitude of the proposed multi-story apartment complex.

Our limited knowledge at the time was not even remotely adequate to project any future potential use for that site. In conclusion it was virtually impossible to even wrap one’s imagination around what any potential future project could potentially look like, all of which necessitates the need for a current EIR.

One last word, when reviewing that particular area, one envisions that any development on that site would be consistent with the community at large. Such a large apartment complex as is being proposed certainly isn’t.

Respectfully,

John Beauman, former Mayor

There, Ms. Lilley, is the real truth.

You are allowing this development agreement with the Hines Development Corp. to advance in a manner that is, if not illegal, certainly unethical and… as Mr. Beauman suggests, “is both inadequate and inappropriate.”

You have two weeks to rectify this situation, bring the Brea Place project to a temporary halt while initiating the sort of envisioning and environmental scrutiny a project of this scope… and Brea citizens, demand.

First, fix the process then fix the project.