Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Analysis of revised Benicia Business Park project

We have read the new Benicia Business Park proposal submitted to the city of Benicia by the Seeno Corporation on March 20. The following summarizes Benicia First reactions to that proposal.We appreciate that this plan is an improvement from the initial proposal.

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

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