No decision on Cordova Hills

Vernal Pools, from ECOS
Vernal Pools, from ECOS

I attended the six hour long (!) hearing on Wednesday. Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna asked a series of probing questions, many of which had to do with what effect the lack of a university would have on the project benefits and impacts. The private university that had been part of the project withdrew, no replacement has been found, and many people including myself doubt that a replacement will be found. What university would want to be located on the far edge of the Sacramento region, in a place not accessible by public transportation from the rest of the region? Every other institution of higher learning in the region is accessible by public transportation, and SacRT is currently spending millions to extend light rail to Cosumnes River College. Free land is not a sufficient enticement.

Planning staff could not really answer questions about the lack of a university because they had decided that they would only analyze the “with university” scenario in the environmental impact statements and other documents. Supervisor Serna clearly felt that this was a mistake, as did most of the people in the room. Without any hard information, planning staff could make only vague guesses, and seemed lost at sea.

Specifically, the lack of a university would change the jobs/housing balance and would increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the development, leaving it further from meeting SB375 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Somehow, the developer and planning staff were able to get a midnight agreement from the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that additional mitigations would meet the goals, but there was doubt expressed by many about this. Since SB375 requires that developments “adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts”, it left me scratching my head as to how planning staff and developer were suddenly able to come up with more mitigations that they hadn’t initially included.

Since the development is outside the Urban Services Area, which under the Sacramento County General Plan defines the area which is expected to be developed in the next 25 years, the planning staff and developer kept touting that the development met the criteria established by LU-120, so that it should be accepted even though it was outside the area. The LU-120 is a series of criteria which judge the quality and sustainability of the project. The document is here, but be prepared to spend some real time working to understand it. I spent much of the six hours looking at and trying to understand it, and I’m not completely there yet. Planning staff presented a slide which contains the same information in a different format, and I was not able to find that slide on the website. The slide crammed text onto the slide so that no one could read it.

When challenged by supervisors to explain why the project had received the scores on several of the criteria, planning staff was very vague in their answers, basically saying “well, that’s what we decided.” When asked how the lack of a university would affect those scores, they really had no idea, because, again, they had chosen not to look at this scenario. I suspect that the LU-120 scores will end up being the major flaw in the planning process, and will leave any approval of the development open to legal challenge.

The hearing was closed with no decision. The development will be taken up again by the Board of Supervisors on January 29 at 2:00PM, at which time planning staff promised that they would have answers to some of the supervisor’s questions, and a response from SACOG on the implications of this development which was not included in the MTP (Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035 / Sustainable Communities Strategy “The Blueprint for Sustainability”).

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and members spoke eloquently and in great detail about why the project should be disapproved. Two ECOS references of great interest:

I will have more to say about Cordova Hills, as I have the time. The developer’s lawyer said that this development was a “poster child” for quality, sustainable development. Well, it certainly is a poster child, but it is a poster child for sprawl. I think that this particular development has much more impact than one would expect, as approval would open the floodgates for sprawl developers wanting to go outside the Urban Services Area, to latch on the to Southeast Connector for access, and to try to sell their development with promises of a university.

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