Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 3rd Council vote anticlimactic

Shortly after 2 a.m. on June 4, the City Council voted to approve a time extension for consideration of the Seeno project to Oct. 7 in order to allow a traffic study to be conducted to determine the traffic impacts on lower intersections of E. 2nd Street. This option to vote for a time extension (rather than a vote for approval or denial of the project) was made possible because, at 1:10 a.m., Sal Evola (manager of the project and cousin to the owner Albert Seeno, III), sensing that he did not have the three votes necessary for approval of the project, suddenly jumped up and made the offer of a time extension to accommodate Council's concerns expressed about the lack of sufficient data on traffic impacts relating to the current version of the project. The traffic study will be delayed until August 25, allowing school to resume before it is conducted.

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 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

Q & A on the Seeno project

A Statement from BeniciaFirst!

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.