Thursday, December 4, 2008
The current version of the Seeno agreement has many pros, but also many cons. Some of the language is vague, or contains loopholes; some important provisions are not mandated, only suggested "if Council so desires;" and many important provisions are not mentioned. Please read the letter carefully and submit your comments and proposed additions to the City Council members. (If you email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org they will be forwarded to all Council members.) And please plan to attend the public workshop in January when the date is announced, as well as the Feb. 3 City Council meeting.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
After the Council voted to deny the project on Nov. 18, the property owner, Albert Seeno III, wrote a letter agreeing to major concessions and modifications to the current version of the project if the Council would reconsider and rescind their Nov. 18 denial vote. There are many pros and cons to this choice. Please read the Seeno letter and decide for yourself. (The letter is also posted on the city website as a link to item XI. on the City Council Agenda.
The discussion of the Seeno letter and a vote on whether to reconsider their Nov. 18 denial vote is scheduled (item XI.) on the City Council agenda to begin approximately 9:20 p.m. on Dec. 2. Please try to attend this meeting if you are able; inform yourself about this important decision that will greatly affect the future of Benicia and let the Council hear your wishes.
If you cannot attend the Council meeting, please email your comments to the City Council members. If you email your letter email@example.com , it will be forwarded to all Council members before the meeting.
This Nov.29 Vallejo Times Herald article provides some additional details about this recent new turn of events. You can also read background information about the Seeno project and the process that has brought us to this point at http://www.beniciafirst.com/
Thursday, November 20, 2008
For more details of the torturous application process that finally led to denial, see this Seeno Project Timeline .
The following newspaper article provide details about the Nov. 18 vote:
Benicia Rejects Seeno Project
Benician's can now look forward to working with Discovery Builders in a clean new application process as the company collaborates with all community and city stakeholders from the start on a visionary 21st Century project that will meet the needs of ALL.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Around 1 AM, Council took a vote on a Resolution to Approve the EIR Addendum (which was necessary in order to approve the project). It failed, 3 No votes (Patterson, Campbell, Ioakimedes), 2 yes votes (Hughes, Schwartzman). Therefore, the project could not be approved. City Attorney was instructed to bring forth a Resolution to Deny the project at the next Council meeting.
At the Oct. 21 Council meeting, City Manager Erickson submitted a report recommending that the Council “continue” the Seeno Item until the Nov. 18 City Council meeting because one of the five Council members (Campbell) was absent. He also produced several resolutions for their consideration. In addition to producing a resolution to deny the project and the EIR Addendum (as staff had been instructed to do), he also presented a resolution to approve the project (!) and he made a recommendation that the Council enter into “facilitated” discussions with the Developer to consider additional project requirements that might enable project approval.
Lacking a fifth vote, the Council did not act on the various resolution, and instead voted to "Continue the Item" to the Nov. 18 Council meeting.
With that as background, Roger Straw submitted the following column to the Benicia Herald:
Rebuilding Eroded Trust
By Roger Straw
Benicia Herald, Guest column, October 29, 2008
In recent statements before and during the October 21 City Council meeting, I believe that our City’s professional staff exercised their authority in a questionable manner.
Prior to the meeting, City Manager Jim Erickson, Community Development Director Charlie Knox and City Attorney Heather McLaughlin submitted a Staff Report that many feel ignored the will of the Council. Many feel that in bypassing the will of our elected representatives, staff has thwarted the will of the citizens of Benicia, who elected the Council.
The record will show that on October 7, Council voted 3-2 in a very clear and difficult decision, to not go forward in considering the Benicia Business Park as proposed by Seeno and Discovery Builders.
After the motion and before the vote on October 7, Councilmember Ioakimedes said, “I have a question for the City Attorney: the motion that's on the floor right now is the resolution that is on [page] B45. There will be another motion for B47?”
McLaughlin replied, “No. There'll be another motion if you approve B45, to approve the resolution that's on page 183.” She went on, “The part that's on 47, and the part that's exhibit B, which is on page 110, will be included as part of the resolutions, so you don't need a separate action on those.”
Ioakimedes then said, “But if there's a vote to deny, then there isn't any subsequent vote, is there?”
McLaughlin: “Right.” Ioakimedes: “Ok. That's ... Thank you.”
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson then called upon Councilmember Alan Schwartzman.
Schwartzman, addressing McLaughlin, said, “…Ok, so if the one we've got on the table now passes, we can go back to the table, and think about other conditions. If the one that we have on the table now fails, we don't go any further, we're done. Is that the way I understand it?”
McLaughlin: “Well, then I would suggest that we do a Resolution of Denial. You all could direct me to go back, using the model from June 3rd, with the findings or whatever you came up with.”
I find this record explicit, and without loopholes. The vote to approve CEQA documentation failed, 3-2, under deadline to pass, and the city attorney was directed by the mayor at the end of the meeting -- and agreed -- to return to the next meeting with a formal “Resolution to Deny” to conclude the rejection of the Seeno project.
Contrary to staff’s suggestion on October 21 that a “no” vote on a motion to approve leaves wiggle room for more consideration, the reason for a formal Resolution to Deny is not to state positively an affirmation which was not yet voted. The resolution is a formal statement with legal findings to solidify -- for the record and for legal reasons -- that a no vote has been taken.
Benicia needs to sit up and take notice of all this. Not only because of the stakes in approving or denying the current Seeno project, but for reasons of good and trustworthy government.
It is my understanding that staff brought forward its controversial recommendation on October 21 based not only on its rather manufactured reading of Council’s action on October 7, but that certain comments were conveyed in writing by Ioakimedes after the vote that could have been interpreted – or misinterpreted – as a wish to keep the current proposal open for discussion.
At issue here is not whether City staff should be fired, but how to regain trust after a major blunder. The human heart does not regain trust easily, and the public, having come to a high degree of respect for all five Council members despite their differences, now faces a huge hurdle in understanding the motives and honor of those who serve the Council, and by extension, the public.
Over the course of the next month, we are told that all stakeholders will be invited to sit down in professionally facilitated meetings to discuss the project, in hopes of agreement and approval at Council’s November 18 meeting. One of the outcomes of those meetings is likely to be a regained sense of trust among us all, or a further erosion of trust.
Roger Straw is a member of Benicia’s Green Gateway Group. For more information on the group, visit www.greengatewaygroup.org.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Seeno project: Benicia's message is 'competence'
by Dan Healy, Member, Benicia Planning Commission
The Times-Herald editorial of Oct. 9 ("Benicia: What message was city trying to send Seeno?") was wrong at every level. Contrary to your bizarre assertions, the Discovery Builders project was rejected for the simple reason that the developer refused to negotiate a written development agreement with the City.
As a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, I had the opportunity to vote on the project over six months ago. Our entire Planning Commission was supportive of the project, although we were frustrated by the applicant's unwillingness to sit down and negotiate a comprehensive development agreement with the City. Such an agreement, which defines with specificity the rights and responsibilities of both the City and developer, is very common for such large projects. The project developer declined to enter into such an agreement and instead demanded that the project hearings move forward. Frustrated that the developer refused to enter into a written development agreement, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected the developer's application and then immediately asked the developer to negotiate a development agreement. (Every member of the commission was appointed by former "business friendly" Mayor Steve Messina.)
That situation did not fundamentally change thereafter, as Discovery Builders continued to refuse, despite repeated requests, to enter into a written development agreement.
The Times-Herald applauds Discovery Builders for allegedly "agreeing to every one" of the City's requests. This statement is simply false. There were significant concerns raised by the Benicia Unified School District and other key constituencies that were not adequately addressed by the developer. More importantly, however, is the simple fact that the developer, while making various promises at midnight on the evening of hearings, refused to reduce its promises to an enforceable written agreement.
The Times-Herald's attack on Benicia's efforts to reduce air pollution is also absurd, given that, since the passage of AB 32, California law in fact REQUIRES that cities reduce air pollution.
It would be irresponsible for the City to approve one of the largest development in Benicia history without a negotiated, well-vetted development agreement that guarantees that the rights of both the City and the developer are clearly defined and that the project complies with California law.
As an example, last month the City and Valero refinery entered into a huge agreement for the improvement of the refinery. In that case, both Valero and Benicia residents came together to negotiate in good faith, and the result was a written agreement with served the interests of both Valero and the City.
It is not "anti-business" to ask that development agreements be reduced to writing. It is responsible governance. Nor is it "perfection" that the City seeks, although the City certainly tries to get as close as it can (the Times-Herald's advocacy of mediocrity notwithstanding).
It is not "arrogant" to seek a better project, or to demand enforceable agreements for such a project. This is called "competence".
Friday, October 10, 2008
I wish to extend sincere accolades to Benicia Herald Staff Reporter, Mr. Yevgeniy Sverdlik, for the excellent work he has done since coming to our fair city. I do not wish for this letter to be construed as criticism of his article found on the front page of Thursday's issue, entitled, "Denied: Council votes, 3-2, against business park plan", under which, Mr. Sverdlik states, "In epic meeting, mayor, two members send developer packing".
First, despite the fact there were a number of personal attacks of Mr. Seeno and his family, there are many in the community that were glad the Seeno family was in town and would like to see his property developed. Many felt that the project as proposed was satisfactory. Many did not believe the project was satisfactory, and, of course, Council ultimately denied the application. However, I don't think anybody in town felt as if they sent the developer "packing". On the contrary, I believe many people in town would like to see the applicant return to Benicia in the very near future to sit down and discuss a project that is win-win-win for everybody, including the residents, our children, the school district, and the Seeno family -- as the Mayor indicated, we all want an A-plus project.
The definition of an A-plus project is, however, up for discussion, which brings me to my point. I believe that nearly everybody in town would look forward to sitting down and working out a project that everybody agrees is win-win-win as stated above. A project that everybody agrees is A-plus. A project that allows the owner/developer to develop the land and provide much-needed revenues to the city; that provides much needed police and fire services; that allows upgrades of much needed infrastructure; that, indeed, protects the health and safety of all residents, children and students; that is environmentally friendly; that, perhaps, has a positive energy outflow and a low carbon footprint; that provides construction jobs at the outset and jobs that fit our demographics down the road, and allows the owner/developer to earn a profit for all their time and effort.
We have experienced up and downs during this debate that has lasted nearly four years on the current project, not to mention previous applications. We have all endured far too much haggling. Not to place blame on anybody in particular -- it is a difficult process to dance around when it comes to CEQA, change in city staff, and a huge project that has many consequences, positive and negative, with the possibly that some consequences may be unforeseen and unintentional. We need to identify, review, and mitigate those consequences.
I understand that Seeno purchased the land with the intent to build homes which is their forte. But, things changed. Zoning changed. Councils changed. Climate changed. And, we have gained tremendous understanding of these kinds of developments over the past 25 years. It's been a difficult path for all parties concerned, especially this owner/developer who has invested considerablbe time and money putting together what they felt was a Class A Project.
So, where do we go from here? I suggest that we do not send Seeno "packing". I don't want Discovery Homes to go away. Rather, I would like to invite Mr. Seeno and his associates, Mr. Evola, representatives from Labor, the "Activists", and all interested parties to gather together and discuss and agree upon an A-plus project.
The fact is, we have a fairly solid foundation with all the work that has gone into this process to date. Everybody is aware of what everybody else wants, so we have an excellent starting point. We've passed the "On your mark" stage. We can move right into, "Get set", and, then, hopefully, in the very near future, we can proceed to "GO!", and we can get a project off and running of which everybody can be proud!
I'm confident with all the brainpower we have in this City, with the expertise of Seeno, with the dedication of our City Council, and professionalism of our Staff, it can be done! I'm looking forward to everybody's input, cooperation, and agreement so that we can break ground next year, as was suggested at the Council Meeting.
On your mark, get set, Go!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
[To refresh you memory about the reason for the traffic study please view some of the previous posts on this blog, particularly this one on June 4. This timeline of the project approval process is also quite revealing. ]
The Benicia Business Park public hearing is at the end of the City Council agenda, and is not likely to begin until around 8:00 pm. It may last until quite late, and many people will not be able to stay, but a good citizen turnout at the beginning would be very helpful.
In a nutshell, in order for the Council to approve the proposed project on Oct. 7, they must agree to sign a "Statement of Overriding Considerations." That statement admits that the proposed project will generate traffic emissions which will cause significant air pollution impacts that exceed State thresholds for ozone precursors.
(Ozone is a serious public health hazard, and Benicia already has higher levels of ozone than most Bay Area communities. The toxic effects of the localized traffic emissions will be particularly severe for the school children and residents around Robert Semple school near E. 2nd Street and I-780. But the increased ozone level and its increased ozone-related health hazards will be experienced by everyone city-wide. )
The Statement of Overriding Considerations goes on to make the very dubious claim that there are no other mitigation measures that can be employed to reduce the traffic impact to a less than significant level. Finally, it makes the unproven claim that the economic benefit to the city's tax base is so great that it creates an "overriding consideration," thus allowing them to approve the project and override the clean air requirements of CEQA law and accept the ozone air pollution burdens and adverse public health effects that will accrue from the project.
If you don't feel that is an acceptable trade off, now is the time to let the City Council know! (Click here to send them emails)
And by the way, project denial would not be the end of the project. Instead, it would finally open the door and allow a fresh start for the developer to work with the City and the community on a new vision for the project, clearly outlined in a detailed Specific Plan. Many details of the community’s vision have already been thoroughly described throughout the approval process by many individuals and groups (most recently in a detailed document posted by the Green Gateway Group at http://www.greengatewaygroup.org/ ), so the developer would not have to start over with no ideas and a blank slate.
If you have time, in preparation for the Council meeting you will find it useful to read the Staff Report and the Public Comments pertaining to the Seeno hearing on Oct. 7. To read them click on this link to the Oct.7 City Council agenda and scroll down to item VIII. Public Hearings, B. Benicia Business Park. Then click the links to Staff Report and Public Comments. (They are both very large files and may take several minutes to download.)
Monday, August 25, 2008
Jerome Page, Chair Benicia First
We wish to announce an event that we believe will be of considerable importance to all concerned with the health of the children of Solano County.
There will be an open public forum at Benicia High School, September 18th at 7:00, sponsored by Benicia First, on Air Quality and Children’s Health with the latest research on traffic’s role.
This forum will include presentations by an exceptionally distinguished panel of nationally and internationally recognized experts in this field, including:
Dr. Ira Tager, a world-renowned epidemiologist with over 25 years of experience as principal investigator of community based studies of childhood respiratory diseases, including asthma. He serves as Director of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Prevention Research Center, funded by the CDC. He has taught at Harvard, UCSF and UC Berkeley, and has published 60 papers on childhood respiratory disease. He is currently engaged in heading up a national critical review of studies of health effects of traffic-related air pollution.
A second panelist and speaker will be Paul Roberts, PhD, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Sonoma Tech. Dr. Roberts also has national and international experience in research and leadership in this field and has been on numerous Environmental Protection Agency reviewing panels. Among his many field research projects, he has done air quality studies in Mexico, the southwest, Texas, the Great Lakes region and is currently heading a Nevada study of air toxics near roadways.
Our third panelist and speaker is Jenny Bard, Regional Director of Clean Air Programs for the American Lung Association of California, with extensive experience in the relationship of air quality and health, particularly children’s health.
This is an issue of importance to all in our County concerned with health in our communities and we are privileged to have three professionals with such exceptionally rich background in the field of air quality and children’s health.
There will be opportunity for public questions and answers.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
It is extremely disappointing that the Council did not consider a vote to deny the project outright, thus allowing all parties to immediately move forward in the development of a new project -- with all the "conditions of approval" from the old project built right into the new project's concept and description.
Nevertheless, this time extension does at least give the community time to become more informed about what kind of a truly visionary and appropriate Business Park could be possible in Benicia, one that actually fits our General Plan vision and our Economic Development Strategy, and conforms to the energy-constrained future we face in the 21st Century.
In order to facilitate that information process, BeniciaFirst will hold an important public forum at the high school on June 24, at 7:30, with a panel of experts addressing the twin issues of how communities can achieve environmental and economic sustainability.
The first part will explore what kind of development is appropriate for communities in order to reduce their carbon footprint and why this is so urgently important. The second part will provide authoritative information about the burgeoning CleanTech R&D industry and the promise it offers in fiscal and economic benefits, and in high quality jobs for our local employment pool, if we capitalize on this opportunity by designing a Business Park with CleanTech R&D as its conceptual centerpiece . Mayor Patterson and Council member Ioakimedes will also participate in the panel, discussing the implications of the topics for Benicia.
Go to http://www.beniciafirst.com/ to read more details about the forum and related issues, and CLICK HERE to download the FLIER. Please mark you calendar, plant to attend this important forum, and tell your friends and neighbors!
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Question: Does this debate represent a clash between pro-development and anti-development forces?
Nothing could be further from the reality of the case we have presented. The central issue is the quality and practicality of the currently proposed plan. What Seeno is proposing is a dated plan for a commuter-driven park--one that is geared to attract conventional warehousing and shipping, with a commercial area located at the freeway. Such an outmoded model ignores the new realities upon which Benicia First has focused. We face an energy-constrained future economic environment as highlighted by the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, which mandates drastically reduced "vehicle miles traveled" generated by any new project. At the same time, there is a revolution in thinking about green industrial development together with an unprecedented demand for the kind of research and development campus for which Benicia is uniquely suited.
Question: If your concerns and hopes for achieving what you call a 21st Century project are spelled out in "Conditions of Approval" set by the City, would this not be a solution?
Essentially,this approach heightens one of the major drawbacks of the Seeno proposal. With a project that incorporates neither coherence nor a visionary comprehensive plan for a campus-style R&D park, attempting to reshape that project through hundreds of conditions simply underlines and emphasizes its flaws and its fragmented character. It would require permitting and overseeing virtually all detail of the development and attempting somehow to create coherence through endless, difficult management of detail. It would require enormous oversight responsibilities for the city extending through 25 years into the future. We do not think this feasible or realistic. Practical enforceability is questionable. Nor do we believe it possible to create an integrated, coherent, energy sensitive and future oriented project in this fashion.
Question: Didn't the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) with the recently produced Addendum give this project a clean bill of health?
No. The voluminous comments submitted by Steve Goetz and Don Dean, both professional planners, detail the numerous flaws and inadequacies of the FEIR and the present revised proposal. We cite here just one dramatic example: its treatment of traffic increases and resulting air pollution impacting Semple School. If you think the health and safety of Semple school children are important, consider this. The FEIR contained a gross error in its estimates of future traffic on I-780 and East 2nd St., adjacent to Semple School. Real world traffic projections put that figure far over the prescribed limit for locating new schools.
NOTE THIS CAREFULLY. The City Council must legally agree that these unavoidable negative impacts on air quality affecting the Semple School, are justified by "overriding considerations"; in short that the benefits of the Seeno project override those impacts. Would you want that Resolution of CEQA Findings signed?
Question: If this project is denied, won't that delay development for many years?
In reality the highly questionable phasing plan of the present proposal already delays the industrial development for five to ten years. Currently there is a great need and business climate for the kind of development that Benicia should be getting. Venture capital is flowing to precisely those research and development, future-oriented clean tech projects that are most desirable for Benicia. There will never be a more obvious window of opportunity for Benicia to get the green industrial development that enhances and serves the city while exploiting its unique demographics and location.
Question: With denial, what would happen next?
It would be essential for the city to send the strongest possiblesignal to Seeno that it wants to cooperate, proactively andimmediately, in helping the company to both advance a new plan and to recruit the kind of research and development ventures, (biotech and alternate energy enterprises and other supporting businesses) that are now demonstrating such promise for the future in the Bay Area.
Question: What can I do?
A first and extremely important step would be to attend the Council meeting June 3rd, (which starts early, at 6 p.m.) This is a crucial point of decision on this project to approve or deny.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
- A visionary, future oriented plan for the 527 acre Seeno Project.
- The recognition of Benicia’s unique situation on the I 80 corridor between Sacramento and San Francisco and its’ proximity to both Davis and Berkeley with their leadership in green industrial development, research and development, and the need for clean building technology.
- A Project that reflects this city’s unique character and priorities.
- The traffic impacts of this project on Semple School.
- The air quality impact on Semple School.
- The possible Urban Decay of downtown Benicia.
- That the Seeno Project is based on an old warehousing and shipping model over an anticipated build-out of 20-25 years.
- The 35 acre commercial development will require a fully staffed police facility.
The Benicia Planning Commission has already voted 6-1 to deny the Seeno Project. It is crucially important that everyone possible attend this meeting and voice their disapproval of this flawed proposal or provide support to those who do.
Meeting begins at 6:00. If this is early for you, don’t sweat it, just come when you can. Bring a friend! (The actual Seeno Hearing is last on the Agenda, and probably won't begin until 7:00 or later.)
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Benicia First will give a short slideshow presentation on May 20 documenting the many reasons why the City Council should deny the current project due to General Plan inconsistencies, environmental threats, and inadequate documentation provided by the applicant. (Denial of the project would create the opening for a completely new project to be formulated that fits the needs and vision of Benicia in the context of major new 21st Century constraints and opportunities.)
Seeno will undoubtedly make sure there are many pro-Seeno advocates in attendance at the meeting, expressing their opinions why the current project should be approved, regardless of its many shortcomings. If you are supportive of our alternative vision for the project, we urge you to make your voice heard now at this crucial juncture. Try to call or write the City Council before the meeting. (Call 746-4210 to leave a message for City Council; or write an email message to them and address it to firstname.lastname@example.org )
If you cannot attend the meeting, watch it on Cable Channel 27. If you can come to the meeting, you don't have to speak if you'd rather not. Just your presence there is very important (and you can hand in a short note if you like).
It may be helpful to review this video of the City Council's statements at the Feb.19 EIR Hearing, in which they stipulated the conditions and documentation that they required Seeno to provide in the revised project before they would approve it (many of those conditions and documentation have not been provided).
Saturday, May 10, 2008
We want our City Council to keep downtown alive, to reap the most revenue possible, and leave an inheritance for Benicia for the 21st century; a legacy of intelligent land use planning, development, and a reputation for smart growth.
Benicia can be the leader in Solano County, situated perfectly between Davis and UC Berkeley for a high tech, green, campus style development in the Benicia Business Park. But Seeno wants us to wait for him to build his passé commercial development as a first phase, and wait for the second phase, proposed for 5-8 years from now…..that will be too late.
A huge opportunity for Benicia has arrived. There are investors RIGHT NOW ready to invest in and facilitate green technology and there are companies RIGHT NOW looking for places to build imaginative, clean-tech developments. There are also countless numbers of bright, educated people right here in this town, that are willing to help forge a vision for the Benicia Business Park, aka the Seeno Project.
The trick is what to do with the old project we have now. There is precious little to be recommended in terms of the needs of Benicia and the 21st century. The conditions recently styled by the City Staff are easily dodged or ignored. And we are not equipped to establish a development agreement (although that would be preferable to nothing at all). Seeno has said that they will not accept a development agreement anyway.
Maybe there is way to find a win-win solution here.
First, the Council must insist that Seeno give it time to learn about alternative, profitable possibilities.
Second, the Council needs to work with Benicia First in helping to create a forum with speakers from the field of clean-tech, with examples of cities working with these concepts of green industry and research and development campuses. Let’s listen to the experts.….let’s learn together.
Third, given that the future of Benicia’s well-being lies in Council’s hands, they must negotiate with Seeno from a position of strength and accommodate both the town and Seeno….. by opening their minds to the possibilities and find an alternative where Benicia AND Seeno can win.
This is not an easy task, but I sincerely believe that the Council has the ability to accomplish this for Benicia. The challenge is this: Why settle for second best? A brand new, clean tech project is the right choice for Benicia.
These reports clearly indicate that it would be far better for the healthy economic future of Benicia if the Seeno Business Park proposal would begin Phase I of the project in the industrial zone (with a specific focus on cleantech R&D and industrial production) instead of the currently proposed Phase I focused on a freeway-oriented commercial development.
The reports describe a dramatic explosion of University R&D, spin off businesses, government initiatives and grants, venture capital, etc., all focused on cleantech innovations spread across a wide spectrum of industries. So far, most of the action has been focused in the South Bay (Silicon Valley area) and San Francisco, but they are experiencing increasing pressure to locate elsewhere due to space constraints, housing costs, and traffic congestion.
Benicia is perfectly situated to capitalize on this economic opportunity, as we are situated 40 minutes from both UC Davis and UC Berkeley -- two of the key cleantech research centers -- with acres of vacant land already zoned industrial. We also have a perfectly matched employment pool (well educated, much of it white-collar professional, management, office, and skilled technical), most of whom currently have to commute elsewhere for jobs. And we have relatively low cost housing (in comparison to Silicon Valley and SF) and good schools. Since cleantech R&D would probably also pull some researchers from the university centers of Berkeley and San Francisco, it might give us a better shot at getting a ferry stop here. This could be Benicia's golden egg. But only if we act now, gaining first move advantage while the opportunity is still fresh.
Here is a link to Benicia's 10-year Economic Development Strategy which was adopted by the City Council Sept. 2007. On page 9 it sets out our city's strategy to increase "campus-style office" and "clean energy, high-tech R&D uses in our industrial districts" over the next 10 years. And on page 11 it states that such uses are more likely to provide jobs for Benicians because of our community demographics (which are described on page 2 & 3). It states on page 12, "The City Council's adoption of this Strategy will provide policy direction to City employees and a clear message to prospective businesses about our community priorities and economic development interests."
Please click on the links below to read these important reports and articles that document the cleantech economic opportunity:
1. Clean Technology And the Green Economy, March 2008
2. Clean Energy Trends 2008 , March 2008
3. Innovative Energy Solutions from the SF Bay Area: Fueling a Clean Energy Future, June 2007
4. The Economic Development Potential of the Green Sector, June 2006
1. Bay Area in league of its own
"New game: Cleantech didn't even have a name five years ago."
San Francisco Business Times, Jan. 4, 2008
2. Hopeful cleantech hubs proliferate around the bay
"Cleantech is the Bay Area's future."
San Francisco Busines Times, Dec. 14, 2007
3. East Bay mayors, UC unite for 'Green Wave'
East Bay leaders, hoping to capitalize on energy research emerging from UC and LBL, intend to create a regional environmental hub.
Chronicle, SFGate, Dec. 4, 2007
The Council is faced with the following choices: (1) To attempt to reshape the current version submitted by Seeno by the use of either a huge number of conditions of approval or by a development agreement or (2) To deny the project and ask Seeno to return with a new proposal reflective of the cities needs and desires and the new economic realities of the time.
The character and economics of industrial development have radically changed in just the past few years, a change not reflected in either the initial or the revised plan presented by the Seeno Company. Even if limited solely to an economic evaluation and assessing only the future economic prospects for Benicia, the Seeno plans have not made sense. The first plan was an incredibly bad proposal, a dated warehousing and shipping model, involving no concern for scenic values, environmental impacts, economic sustainability, energy efficiency, market realities or the Benicia General Plan.
While the alternative plan now presented has attached some of the buzzwords of the new industrial era, and has reduced impacts, it is clear that at the conceptual level it remains mired in the past. There is neither a deep understanding of nor a deep commitment to anything resembling a coherent, integrated research and development campus, anchored by some major technological core. This is reflected in its phasing plan; it is reflected in its fragmented approach and it is reflected in the complete lack of any overarching vision of the whole project. Its scope is reduced but it is still far from the kind of project envisioned in Benicia’s Economic Development Strategy. It still does not conform to the General Plan, still provides no evidence of serious economic analysis and is still starkly deficient in any awareness of current trends or the rich potential of the Benicia site.
Whether north Benicia development will ever achieve what the city has set forth in its development strategy, is heavily dependent upon (1) the developer sharing with the city the same goals and vision for the overall project; (2) finding the right kind of high tech, research and development venture to anchor the development and to stimulate related technological enterprise, and (3) creating the kind of campus setting that fits this type of industry. It is precisely this kind of venture and this kind of planning that is now attracting major economic focus and venture capital and has the Bay area leading the state, at a time when general business credit is very tight. There is little indication to date that the Seeno Company understands these realities. One crucial planning reality is that any initial development begun without such understanding can immediately close off all the rich potential and possibilities of Benicia’s situation.
What we do not want, what we absolutely must avoid. is to begin with a large commercial development, potentially conducive to urban decay and then “phase” into a string of warehouses and random unrelated activities created over the next twenty-five years.
In our view, the establishment of hundreds of conditions of approval is a woefully inadequate method to deal with the shortcomings of the Seeno plan. It is a fragmented approach; it will neither create nor insure a coherent project and is a virtual guarantor of continuous oversight problems. There is no way that the present proposal can be nudged, negotiated or forced into anything resembling what this city wants, or to fit the demands for sustainable, future oriented, technologically oriented, green industrial development. Nor do we believe that moving to a development agreement, while a step better than detailing conditions of approval, can solve that fundamental problem.
For these reasons, we believe it to be imperative for the city to deny this project and ask Seeno to come back with a new sustainable, campus oriented, cleantech project reflecting current and future economic and environmental realities, demands and opportunities OR, to bring in a partner, capable of such planning. We further believe that the city should assure the Seeno Company that it is prepared to engage actively in expediting such a proposal and cooperating fully in its realization.
Seeno Fined 3 million for environmental damage, Antioch
Intentional Killing of endangered species
Department of Justice Summary
General story: Additional detail
Rating of Seeno by homeowners satisfaction: JD Powers Survey
2007 Survey: Among 16 area builders, Seeno rated last.
Follow the story of Measure P in Pittsburgh—Allowing major Seeno growth.
Another story on Measure P;
Seeno, hazardous waste fine, ($300,000) Antioch
Seeno investigation for environmental damages from Grading, permits etc. Pittsburgh
Seeno Construction Accused Of Destroying Pittsburg Creek
Nevada gaming interests of Seeno
See Bottom, 2nd page and on.
Seeno family, relationships, fines and interests in Nevada casinos.
Major Study of Social Change (UCBerkeley) by Tamsen Anderson focusing upon the evolution of one bay area industrial suburb (Pittsburgh)Contains a very interesting section on the role of Seeno.
Claycord.com Blog with assessment, from within the communities, of Seeno and its methods---includes pictures, data and reactions
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
We hope you will plan to attend those meetings, or watch on cable channel 27, and write letters to the Council voicing your concerns about the type of project you would like to see. The ultimate outcome of the Seeno Project will forever shape the character and direction of our town.
To prepare for the May 6 City Council meeting, it may be helpful to view this video of the Council's discussion at the Feb.19 EIR Hearing, in which they stipulated the conditions that must be present in the Project before they would grant approval, and the review process that would be required.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Their vote to deny approval did not stop the project in its tracks, however, because it is merely their recommendation that they are now sending on to the City Council. All eyes now turn to the Council and their May 6 City Council meeting (and possibly also May 20 and June 3). If the Council votes to concur with the Planning Commission recommendation and simply denies the current project outright, it would give Seeno and the City plenty of time to work together on developing a new project concept and design that is truly visionary and appropriate for the 21st Century and consistent with the comprehensive sustainability vision and goals of our General Plan.
NOW is the time to write to the City Council and let your concerns be heard!
Mayor Patterson, email@example.com
Tom Campbell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Hughes, email@example.com
Mike Ioakimedes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Schwartzman, email@example.com
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The Planning Commission will be faced with a decision to stop this project in its tracks by nonapproval of the project's "Master Plan overlay", thus sending the project back to Seeno with instructions for them to come back with a truly visionary project, or they may just make a neutral report (or a positive recommendation) and pass the buck on to the City Council. It is crucial for everyone who is able to come to that Planning Commission meeting! (and/or write or call the Planning Commission by this Thursday to voice their concerns.) It will be televised on Cable Channel 27.
People can read the Staff Report and links to other documents that the Planning Commission will be considering if they go to the Agendas section of the City website at this link and this link . They can also read about problems with the current project, and ideas for a more visionary and sustainable project, at http://www.beniciafirst.com .
After the Planning Commission makes their recommendation this Thursday, the City Council is required to either approve or disapprove the proposed project within 30 days! This means they must take it up and make a decision at their May 6, May 20, and or June 3 City Council meeting, and make a decision no later than June 3. This means there is a window of time between now and June 3 (and the sooner, the better!) for citizens to make their wishes heard loud and clear to the City Council about the type of development they feel is appropriate for the Seeno project.
Write, call, or go see them in person. This project will forever determine the economic and environmental destiny of our town. Now is the time to act.
City Hall, 250 E. L Street (MAP) ; 746-4200.
City website: http://www.ci.benicia.ca.us ; (City Council page)
Mayor Patterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Campbell, email@example.com
Mark Hughes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Ioakimedes, email@example.com
Alan Schwartzman, firstname.lastname@example.org
It is reduced in size, providing for greater open space and attention has been given to certain mitigations of environmental impacts. It proposes to incorporate LEEDS standards in building design as well as Low Impact Development standards both of which are highly desirable and commendable.
Nonetheless, a number of issues and questions remain, An example would be traffic near the Semple School with its air quality, noise and safety problems. Using the state standards for siting of schools which set a maximum of 100,000 vehicle trips daily close to the school, we noted in our analysis of the initial project that this could be projected to 137,000 at project build out. The project reduction being proposed would reduce this to 131,000 trips a day, hardly an adequate mitigation. Other problems of traffic, including noise and safety, were dealt with very cursorily and clearly inadequately in the EIR.
Further, the very significant danger that the large centralized commercial development will compete with and negatively affect Benicia's efforts to revitalize First Street as its business center still exists.
We believe that such issues require an initial study before project approval.
However even more important is what we regard as the central issue and problem with this proposal. It is that while smaller and less environmentally intrusive, this project continues to reflect the same fundamental conceptual flaw as the original, its lack of a coherent and integrated development basis.
What is singularly lacking is any attention to the desirability of a campus setting, or a research and development core, biotech, for example, which would shape the entire project and provide the nucleus and engine, helping to stimulate additional high quality R&D ventures as well as subsidiary and supportive projects.
We express again our concern that Benicia not settle for a backward oriented project simply framed as an extension of our existing industrial park. In the explosively changing economic climate of these times, the long term viability of that type of static twentieth century model would be in great doubt.
It is vitally important that what takes place in this last major piece of Benicia's developable land be aesthetically inviting, with attractive structures, scenically placed, green in design, economically viable over the long term, sustainable in every sense of that term and productive of the kind of high wage jobs matching the demographics of Benicia. By virtue of location, transportation and its special characteristics, Benicia is in a uniquely strong position to attract such an economy. Why would we consider anything less?
Further, the type of light industrial and warehousing development suggested in this plan is in direct contradiction to the city's planning. The Economic Development Strategy developed by the EDB commission and adopted by the Council last September, sets out an overriding economic goal of encouraging a campus-style project in our industrial areas, specifically encouraging "clean energy, high-tech, research and development" uses.
In the absence of such a coherent, inherently stimulative focus, the shaping of Benicia's future is clearly left to chance. The Seeno project as constituted simply sets out a pattern of providing space for light industry and warehousing, a pattern in which initial entries could foreclose such a focus.
It is our view that before this project moves forward, this central issue must be addressed and resolved. Achieving that goal would provide high wage employment, matching Benicia's demographics, a steady dependable growth in related research and development and a need for related office space. That kind of high quality development demands and insures the preservation of aesthetic, environmental and architectural integrity. Most importantly by its productivity it would provide a highly sustainable future for Benicia and with that a profitable return for Seeno.
Jerome Page, April 4, 2008
Chair, Benicia First www.beniciafirst.com
BAD NEWS: The EIR for the proposed Benicia Business Park contains multiple instances of inadequate imact assessments, based on inaccurate data and assumptions. It also proposes alarming "mitigation" measures that would not bring the project into compliance with our city's General Plan and would have serious negative effects on our air quality, traffic, safety, noise, and ecology. Unfortunately, in spite of these facts, the City Council, on Feb. 19, 2008, went ahead and certified the EIR as "adequate" ! (BUT with important caveats, requiring "the applicant" to come back with a revised project containing suggested environmental improvements.)
View Environmental Impact Report, Comments, Presentation
GOOD NEWS: This step does not mean the Proposed Project itself has been approved, but only the EIR. There will be many more stages in this process and more opportunities to affect the final design and function of this project, but it will take constant citizen vigilance and engagement.
To stay informed as new developments evolve on this issue, please sign up for our mailing list by writing to: email@example.com
Benicia First is a network of Benicians committed to ensuring that development projects in Benicia must adhere to our General Plan's vision of creating a vibrant local economy, preserving of our environment, and enhancing of our cultural and historic resources.
In order to meet these goals, we believe that projects must employ the newly emerging development and economic models that are designed to meet the environmental and economic challenges of the 21st Century, and not rely on assumptions and models that worked in the past but are no longer economically and environmentally viable.
What is the Seeno Project?
The proposed Benicia Business Park is commonly referred to as the Seeno Project because it is owned by Discovery Builders, an Albert Seeno company. The Business Park is a huge commercial/light industrial development proposed for the rolling hills in the north-east section of Benicia. Starting at Lake Herman Road and E. 2nd Street, it extends in a 527-acre wedge along both roads.
Although commercial and light industrial use is permitted for this property, the project, as currently conceived and designed, would radically change the character and livability of Benicia forever. It fails to conform to many important goals in our General Plan relating to environmental and economic quality and sustainability, and the type of commercial businesses proposed for the development would weaken our Downtown as the City's central commercial zone, contributing to urban decay.
For more information, see our website, http://www.beniciafirst.com/ , where you can read more details about the project, and veiw our slide show presentations.
A POSITIVE ALTERNATIVE VISION:
We have great concern about the proposed Seeno project, its size, conceptual design and obvious impacts, including many not subject to adequate mitigation. What is entailed in this project as designed will irrevocably alter the character and quality of life of Benicia without the promise of a viable, prosperous long term future.
We do not believe that Benicia should settle for a backward oriented, conventional project framed as something of an extension of our present industrial park. The long term economic viability of that static twentieth century model would be in great doubt.
We believe that the site, the landscape, the quality of Benicia and its population make it an ideal setting for the types of creative, research oriented companies and enterprises that will be shaping the future of our country. We believe that a development that uses the beauty of our landscape as an asset is preferable to one that destroys it.
The country is beginning to awaken to concepts of sustainability, of green enterprises, of a future not dependent upon a petroleum economy and it is hungry for ideas. Numerous cities and towns are beginning to respond with projects and ideas for that future. We believe that Benicia has a unique opportunity to be among them.
There has already been talk of searching for a research and development center, that itself becomes a magnet for other creative and future oriented new enterprises. We would like to work with other groups and individuals in developing plans for such a search and in developing the criteria for the type of development in which all Benicians can have confidence and pride.
We believe that Benicians working together can frame such a future for Benicia and we pledge to do everything in our power to assist in achieving that end.