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Petaluma Planning Commission rejects Deer Creek Village EIR


Petaluma planning commissioners rejected the final environmental impact report on the proposed Deer Creek Village shopping center in a meeting Tuesday that lasted until midnight.

The wide-ranging, four-hour discussion often strayed from the task of determining whether the report was sufficient to recommend certification by the City Council. But ultimately, five of the six commissioners present determined the report was inadequate.

The site plan for Deer Creek Village.

Only Gabe Kearney, the City Council liaison to the commission, found the report complete.

It now heads to the City Council, which will decide whether to certify the report. An affirmative vote would give the project its overall approval, although the project would return to planners for approval of architectural details.

The report evaluated environmental impacts of the proposed 36.5-acre shopping center at Rainier Avenue and North McDowell Boulevard. It is proposed to include 344,000 square feet of commercial space, mostly retail, and a gym, banks, offices and restaurants.

A home-improvement center is planned as the primary tenant with other smaller anchors. Lowe’s, the long-planned anchor, pulled out of the project in October, citing city delays in approving the project. The timing also coincided with Lowe’s closure of underperforming stores nationwide.

Developers Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco are in negotiations with Sonoma-based Friedman’s Home Improvement and Home Depot to occupy the main anchor site.

Aside from Kearney, the other commissioners — Jennifer Pierre, Dennis Elias, Melissa Abercrombie, Alicia Kae Herries and Bill Wolpert — said the report failed to consider two important traffic impacts: whether a long-planned Rainier freeway interchange with 101 was a “reasonably forseeable” project and the cumulative traffic impacts if the only Rainier project built is a cross-town connector under the freeway.

Kearney said his vote was based on current conditions, not speculation about Rainier’s future build-out.

“I’m not going to make a decision based on whether or not it’s going to happen,” he said, saying he didn’t think that would hold up legally. “You don’t make a decision on this project based on the Rainier funding.”

Assistant City Attorney Leslie Thomsen earlier advised commissioners not to base their decisions on speculation about Rainier’s funding sources.

“The applicant is entitled to have the project reviewed on existing conditions,” she said.

The city has for three decades anticipated some kind of construction at Rainier, either an overcrossing, an undercrossing or a full freeway interchange. The city committed $7 million last year toward the planning and design of an undercrossing and an interchange remains on the wish-list.

But commissioners were bothered by Rainier’s uncertain funding because much of it was anticipated to come from redevelopment funds. A recent state Supreme Court decision is forcing the dissolution of redevelopment agencies statewide and the future of planned projects is unclear.

Herries called the report “distressingly inadequate” based on incomplete assumptions, outdated data, unknowns and minimized factors.

Pierre remained concerned about traffic impacts the shopping center would have on nearby roads, intersections and neighborhood streets.

Elias had several concerns including Rainier funding, whether the project was truly mixed-use, storm water retention and traffic and air quality impacts.

The EIR identified air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic and cumulative traffic noise as “significant but unavoidable” impacts of the project and others planned in the area.

Environmental laws say that if the specific economic, legal, social, technological or other benefits of the proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects, the environmental effects may be considered acceptable.

No date has been set for City Council consideration, but that could come in the next few months.

13 Responses to “Petaluma Planning Commission rejects Deer Creek Village EIR”

  1. follow the money says:

    I don’t think you guys are following the script. McGuire’s group take the $100,000 they got from Regency and apply it to oppose Deer Creek who now know the rules for getting a project done in Petaluma, so they pay $100,000 to McGuire’s wingman, David K, who now goes to the people standing on the river and proclaims he has the money to appeal Dutra. And that folks is why Petaluma is known as a business friendly town.

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  2. 100% Pro Business says:

    Alright, lets disect this one. I too have a businesss degree, but so what.

    No, you don’t “…have to approve of every new development in Sonoma County, just so I can be “pro-business”, but you should evaluate the project fairly. Petaluma hasn’t approved a significant project in years and has put many fees and hurdles (stacked Planning Commission) in place to make sure no projects get approved. Regency/Target took eight years to get through the process. Hardly ‘approving everything’.

    Now the statement; “In general Sonoma County needs to look more like Marin, and less like San Jose.” This sentiment describes exactly what is wrong with the process. Petaluma should look like Petaluma. The city shouldn’t try to look like anything else.

    The next quote, “There’s more to being “pro-business” than just building more strip malls”, shows that you are unfamiliar with the project and do not know the definition of a strip mall. Likening something you are against with a pajorative name is quite a commmon anti- tactic.

    Petaluma shouldn’t approve ‘everything’ that comes along, but one or two projects every ten years or so would be a boon. The process should be fair and transparent. A very small vocal minority should not control the entire process. Petaluma used to be a nice city. Today it has the worst streets in the bay area. Embarassing city parks. Too many people for the existing infrastructure. The list goes on. Every time Petaluma treats a business this way it probably discourages another two or three from considering Petaluma. That contributes to the City’s budget woes and compounds the growing problems.

    Sorry for the long-winded dissertation, but this is quite frustrating to watch. I have no connection to Deer Creek other than being embarassed that ‘my city’ treats business this way.

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  3. chuck says:

    I have two degrees in Marketing and have been in business my entire career. I am 100% “pro-business”. I do not, however have to approve of every new development in Sonoma County, just so I can be “pro-business”. In general Sonoma County needs to look more like Marin, and less like San Jose. There’s more to being “pro-business” than just building more strip malls.

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  4. Piling on says:

    OK- I will pile on. Donna, you impacted the environment when you logged on and wrote your response. Used electricity, a computer made of metal and plastics, probably from your house with a gas furnace, washing machine, etc. If we took all those things away from you and left you standing in a field, you would still have an impact on the environment.

    This is just a shopping center. In a vacant lot. Next to a freeway. In a commercial area. Designated for this type of use. Serving people who already live here and have to travel elsewhere to buy what they want.

    The Planning Commission displayed bias and a complete refusal listen to facts. I would count on the paid expertise of Deer Creek’s consultants long before I listened to the rantings of a professional florist expressing her expertise on riparian habitat.

    How was that for piling on? Anti-business they are. No getting around it.

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  5. Donna Norton says:

    So, here comes the pile on again. It’s all about being “anti-business”!

    There’s a few things to be considered before people continue to take the bait of this obsessively repeated refrain.

    First of all, whether it’s a city project or a county project, the EIR is paid for by the project developers. The firms compiling the information from consultants (“experts”) are deemed to be neutral (both the firms and the consultants they hire). There’s a lot of questions that arise right there about the system. I would think any firm compiling the EIR data from its hand-picked, expert consultants would be very incentivized to make sure their findings favor the project. These firms and consultants compete for business, and after all, who’s paying them?

    And EIRs (Environmental Impact Reports) are concerned with, gee, “impacts.” One would think that if the impacts are too detrimental, then the project would be rejected. In this case, the EIR itself identifies “air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic and cumulative traffic noise” all as being detrimentally unavoidable significant impacts. Some Commissioners identified additional inadequacies in the report, such as storm water retention. That’s a lot of serious negative baggage to just brush aside.

    But there’s a convenient, built-in work around in EIRs when there are “significant” environmental impacts that are tagged as “unavoidable.” A project developer (or a city or county for that matter) doesn’t have to work seriously on alleviating a negative impact if the report simply labels it as “unavoidable.” That label is often arbitrarily applied to avoid further expenses on the part of the project developers to make costly adjustments to alleviate the negative impacts.

    EIRs are reviewed by Planning Commissioners specifically to spot inadequacies or flaws in the report. (Remember, they are reports compiled by consultants that are ultimately paid for by the developers. There’s a reason EIRs are subject to a review process.) Developers are in business to make a profit, which is fine. But that profit should not come at the expense of the community. EIR “inadequacies” that are not properly addressed usually manifest themselves as additional expenses that come out of taxpayers’ pockets at a future date.

    Planning Commissioners are tasked with evaluating the merits, accuracy, or completeness of an EIR. THAT IS THEIR JOB.

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  6. Social Dis-Ease says:

    An ICLEI town only wants ‘Smart Growth’ that they control, with their players, Period.

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  7. Ring Ring Ring says:

    A tin foil hat and insanity make for the expertise required to engage in development.

    That and inherited money.

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  8. Antonio says:

    “Assistant City Attorney Leslie Thomsen earlier advised commissioners not to base their decisions on speculation about Rainier’s funding sources.”

    The entire argument made by the planning commission members about Rainier was discouraged by the attorney yet they stuck to their guns. Very very foolish.

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  9. GAJ says:

    What WAS the last development of any significance approved by these people?

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  10. Jim says:

    Sweet, more anti-business decisions by Petaluma. I’d like to see a calculation of how much sales tax revenue is lost to Rohnert Park from Target sales. 10+ years of delay…hundred million? At least Cotati has a Lowe’s and Rohnert Park has a Home Depot. More sales tax revenue for Rohnert Park. This is why Rohnert Park’s city parks are nice and Petaluma’s are disgusting.

    What about the “greenhouse gas” and air quality considerations related to people driving to Rohnert Park to shop because Petaluma officials are idiots? Anyone factor that in?

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  11. Dogs Rule says:

    Oh come on everyone knows it takes 20 years, 4 lawsuits and millions of dollars in “studies” to build anything in Petaluma. That’s in the Petaluma City handbook.

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  12. Petaluma Closed for Business says:

    I’m sorry Lori, but you were far too kind in this article. Petaluma once again showed its true anti-business stance with this charade of a process.

    The Planning Commission members had their NO’s ready before this meeting began. They asked unintelligent questions and had difficulty comprehending simple concepts even after repeated explanations. They are not even pretending to be reasonable and are looking for any reason they can find to say no. This is a complete farce.

    Kudos to Gabe who broke ranks and voted for the project. Now it goes to Council (at least elections are coming). Then it goes back to this farcicle Planning Commission. Petaluma is going to kill itself with self inflicted wounds.

    Petaluma wonders why it is perpetually broke. Think about it on your next trip out of town to get something you need.

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  13. Average Joe says:

    The Petapol crowd won another hard fought battle against jobs and tax revenue.

    It should be comforting to the panhandlers and homeless that occupy the area to know they will have better air quality and less green house emissions.

    Heartless fools seem to lose no sleep.

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