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Planning Commission Rejects Deer Creek Final Impact Report

Says uncertain funding for Rainier undercrossing means the full impact of traffic in the area are not known; city council expected to consider project next month

The end of redevelopment agencies is having far-reaching impact, including on Deer Creek Village, a proposed shopping center on North McDowell and Rainier Avenue that would bring a home improvement store, at least six new restaurants and other retail to Petaluma’s eastside.

On Tuesday, Petaluma planning commissioners rejected the final environmental impact report for the project in a 5-1 vote, saying the Rainier undercrossing and interchange the project relies on may never get built following the .

Last year, the city set aside $7 million for Rainier through entitlements, but it may never be able to access the funds, since any road improvement project formerly funded by redevelopment monies would now have to be approved by an oversight committee along with the California Department of Finance.

“We have no sense when Rainier is coming or the southern crossing (at Caulfield),” said Commissioner Alicia Kae Herries. “There are so many unknowns impacts and variables, and while we do have retail leakage on home improvement, but we do have numerous vacancies in this city and I think we can fill that gap in any one of those vacant buildings.”

But Gabe Kearney, the city council liaison on the commission, said he was recommending the EIR because the General Plan assumes the construction of Rainier.

“You can’t make a decision based on whether or not it’s going to be funded,” Kearney said. “We’ve been discussing it for 30 plus years and making voting decisions with the idea that it will built. And for us to now say ‘Yes, it’s in the General Plan, but it might not happen, so we aren’t going to allow it for be factored into the EIR, is not acceptable and I think sets a bad precedent.”

The commission’s recommendations will be reviewed by the city council, which will ultimately vote on the project.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the developer, Merlone Geier Partners, of San Francisco, presented the 350,000 square foot project as a destination center for Petaluma’s eastside, that will include a running trail with exercise equipment, a dog park, a summer-time farmer’s market and outdoor dining area and more than 1,000 trees.

It would also create 300 construction and 500 permanent retail jobs and generate $9 million in impact fees, according to Merlone Geier.

“This will be a vibrant and exciting new community center that will provide a sense of place to the eastside,” said Mike Schrock, a landscape architect with San Diego-based Urban Arena.

But Commissioner Bill Wolpert said the project, which would have a parking lot for more than 1,200 cars and not be linked to the Lynch Creek trail, was too car-centric.

“I don’t think of this project as being any different than any other big box stores in town,” Wolpert said. “Yes, there are more trees, but we need better access for pedestrians. If you want to call it a pedestrian-friendly development, then make it a promenade, make walking there the norm instead of relying on a farmers’ market or some car show for foot traffic.”

Other residents said they were concerned about flooding of the site, which is adjacent to Lynch Creek. But Traffic Engineer Curt Bates said that the city has been working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers on flood control projects and that the site is no longer at risk of flooding.

The site didn’t flood in 2005 and 1998, although there are areas of low-lying pockets of land where water collects, Bates said.

At more than 36 acres, the Deer Creek site is one of the city’s last sizeable lots and commissioners said they wanted more out of the development than a collection of stores and office spaces.

“If we’re going to put a project on this land that will have unavoidable impacts, there is a lot more than can be done that enhances it and brings it to a more aesthetic level,” said Commissioner Dennis Elias. “We’re going to live with this project another 100 years, so we have to do it right.” 

CORRECTION: The original story incorrectly stated that the project would generate $9 million a year in impact fees. Impact fees are only paid once. Patch regrets the error.

Roy Bean January 12, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Of course they rejected this, did anyone expect anything less from this group of anti-growth, anti-new revenue group?? The runaround they gave Regency and PNLL was a joke. In the meantime Petaluma dollars flow North and South.
Petaluma Seer January 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM
The FEIR was rejected because it had incomplete analysis of the tremendous Traffic Impacts, the projects full ramifications, amongst other significant and unavoidable impacts, some of which were under studied, and some entirely ignored. The EIR did factor in Rainier, Mr. Kearney, however they forgot to factor in a scenario of the Interchange, and or the Undercrossing NOT being built. Everyone has know for at least a year no funding was a possibility. It is now, since Jan. 1, looking even more grim funding wise. The EIR has to factor in this most recent Supreme Court event. An approval, post the Jan. 1 event, without this consideration, leaves the city with a threat of a CEQA Legal challenge. To ignore the CEQA ramifications, and therefore certify the FEIR, would be the mark of poor government leadership. Ignorance of the Law is no excuse in the Nation and those who would certify it, as it stands, will cost the city dearly, financially. If an elected official truley cares about Petalumans at large, the City, it's sustainability, and it's economics, it will protect all against such Legal Challenges, The Planning Commissioners made an intelligent decision unanomously. The City Council Liaison appears to not be up to speed with current events.
Petaluma Seer January 12, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Clearly you have not read Deer Creek's FEIR, DEIR, and it's Appendices. Care to state why, in specific, you think it is complete?
Ptown January 12, 2012 at 05:26 PM
This commission is just a sort of horse and pony comedy show. The usual will happen, the council by law will have to overturn yet another PC decision. Don't even know the purpose of the PC, maybe entertainment?
sadie January 12, 2012 at 06:05 PM
It is hard to understand how a report ordered by and for the city of Petaluma, which is elective and complies with the scope and intent of state law can be rejected by an arm of the same body. What if the city council approves the report? Should they fire the planning commission? This is the party of No. The planning commission cannot make a decision without knowing who will occupy the new spaces. Our former leaders had better vision, as downtown Petaluma has none of its original tenants. The downtown was built before architecture review boards and planning commissions, and most buildings codes, yet somehow these are our most cherished buildings. That is because they understood private investment for the city is a good thing, that keeping services and goods local is a good thing and that superior design is more enduring than the tenants or the controversy surrounding the process. Every old picture of downtown shows all parking filled with cars and traffic in the streets. Fast forward 90 years and traffic is the big issue, what a joke. Thank God our former city leaders understood the future will take care of itself.
Olivia January 12, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Entertainment? Why don't you spend hours preparing to participate on the Commission, then do so until after midnight. As far as I can tell, only one of them is a politician, and it's he who contributed the least and cast the dissenting vote. Did you even watch the Commission meeting or bother to read the EIR? Perhaps you won't think it's so funny when you need to get to the ER in a hurry and you're not traveling via ambulance. Minutes often make a difference in your short- and long-term medical outcome. We normal folk don't have devices to regulate traffic signals, including train crossings and bridge operations. The majority of the Commission has foresight and is making prudent decisions on the behalf of all of us, not the developer, whose local headquarters is San Francisco. They don't live in Petaluma, and therefore won't suffer the consequences of their project.
paul francis January 12, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Gabe Kearny's argument referencing the General Plan and Rainier, displays his lack of knowledge of it, I doubt he's ever read the document, which is our guiding document for build out. The project does not comply with Petaluma's GP. The developer and city staff use the argument that the project doesn't need to comply with the GP for the design & layout; and then Gabe turns around and uses the GP to justify the project's impacts. This is the major sticking point. If the developers are going to use the GP's environmental impact analysis as reason not to fully study the impacts of their bigbox center; then the project must sync with the General Plan. Again, it does not comply. Adding 10,000 more cars per day in that area is going to be a major problem for people living in this community. Who is going to pay infrastructure to support that? btw, the "$9 million a year in impact fees" is not correct. They are one time impact fees, for construction permits, and will be paid incrementally. But, the project will cost the city much more than that in the long run.
Karina Ioffee January 12, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Regarding the impact fees: They are only paid once, but the developer estimates them to be $9.2 million total. We have run a correction. Apologies.
paul francis January 12, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Thanks! Karina.
Roy Bean January 13, 2012 at 06:36 AM
tremendous Traffic Impacts?? This is double speak ,over the last 20 or so years the crowd running this city have nixed every major project that has come down the pipe that has had any thing to do with improving traffic congestion. They have actually went in the opposite direction and have over the past few years started to shrink roadways in town. Every now and then we get a pothole filled. Hell the lights in town aren't even synced.They believe in slow growth or no growth and have a narrow vision for the future.
Roy Bean January 13, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Bloated bureaucracy.
Goofpod January 13, 2012 at 08:22 AM
Would love to have the local Friedman's in town, but right now that big empty space is actually looking pretty good. How about a pedestrian promenade on Kentucky Street instead, and a big open space with trees and park on McDowell? Now, THAT is 100-year thinking, P-folk.
Petaluma Seer January 13, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I challenge you and Roy Bean to actually read the FEIR, DEIR, and its appendices. Then you can speak intelligently to it. Whose pocket are you dudes in ? The Council members who use this developers plot of land, every election they are running in, to put up their large campaign signs? They should reque themselves. Harris, Healy, and Albertson ran on traffic relief. To pass this project and FEIR, would be contrary to their election campaigns, and they will be turning their backs on their constituents, who voted them in to give them traffic relief, and prevent gidlock. This project affects the freeway to level F at various places. So Caltrans asked them to identify the infrastructure funding, which they cannot do, unless they choose to ignore the Supreme Court, and attempt to talk/rationalize their way around it. If they pass this project and its FEIR as it stands, they will face a political oversight investigation. All Council members and most public members oppossed to the tremendous amount of traffic coming from this project, asked for the undercrossing, but alas, no funds. I challenge you to come up with a better project for these developers, that removes the gridlock, rather than just spinning the truth into BS you want to hang your hat on. Aren't you the same people that supported the Regency? They got their approval, and yet no build, no jobs, no dollars in. It's often just about the entitlement for these developers, then they sit on vacant land until a higher $ sale.
Go Occupy! January 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM
The correct phrase is "dog and pony show". A horse and pony show would be the county fair. Mr. Bean is concerned with the nixing of ideas. Simple solution, come up with better ideas.
Devin Castles January 13, 2012 at 09:31 PM
I was relieved to hear that there is no flooding risk on this site, only "low-lying pockets of land where water collects." City staff also assures me that instead of the heavy traffic many expect this project to create, we will merely have to put up with "stretches of road where cars collect." I think there is a misconception that the planning commission and some councilmembers are asking for the moon when they require properly conducted EIRs and GP acceptable plans before green-lighting projects that will affect Petaluma for decades to come. In reality, it is developers like Merlone Geier who have been remarkably resistant to cooperate with the city, and instead prefer to use political pressure and their friends at the PD/Argus to push through poorly designed projects. I only wish that Councilmember Kearney, a talented, savvy public servant, had the same reservations about this project that Candidate Kearney did.
Karina Ioffee January 13, 2012 at 11:18 PM
From EPA: Floodplain means the lowland and relatively flat areas adjoining inland and coastal waters and other floodprone areas such as offshore islands, including at a minimum, that area subject to a one percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year. The base floodplain shall be used to designate the 100-year floodplain (one percent chance floodplain). The critical action floodplain is defined as the 500-year floodplain (0.2 percent chance floodplain). According to city engineer Curt Bates the Deer Creek area did not flood in 2005, but the shopping centers at Plaza North and South did, along with the outlets.
David Keller January 14, 2012 at 06:12 AM
The 2005 flood event was not a 1% (or so-called '100 year storm) event, so the flooding or non-flooding of the Deer Creek project site in 2005 is not conclusive of future 1% storm event flooding risks. The Feb 1998 storm that flooded the Outlet Mall was judged by the Corps of Engineers and SCWA to be somewhere in the 2-3% storm event level ('35-50 year storm event'). The presentation of an aerial photo of flooding in midday of the 2005 flood is irrelevant. CEQA requires 'substantial evidence', independently analyzed with expert opinion. That has not been provided in the record of the Deer Creek EIR, so the EIR is critically failing to meet this required information disclosure and impact analysis. The calculations for the Outlet Mall expansion EIR showed that the flood elevations used to build the mall (based on the 1988 FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps, just like for Deer Creek mall) are critically wrong: field evidence from the 1998 floods showed that the correct flood elevations for the 1% storm, just downstream of the Deer Creek site, are approximately 3 feet higher than the FEMA maps! Unbelievably, the Deer Creek project consultants and staff claim not to know anything of that information. Flooding in Petaluma? yes, a real problem. Shoving it under the rug as if it doesn't merit more serious inquiry and disclosure in this EIR is shameful and dangerous.
Appointment Watcher January 15, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Re: Devin Castle's comment – "I only wish that Councilmember Kearney...had the same reservations about this project that Candidate Kearney did." It's not candidate Kearney who made this decision, it's "Appointee" Kearney who is simply making good on promises not made to the voters, but to the three Council members (at least two of whom took campaign contributions from the developer) he was able to cajole into supporting him for the appointment after his fifth place showing in the Council race – he was selected, not elected. It is growing increasingly clear that Gabe is about Gabe and whatever takes him up the ladder of career politics, rather than what's best for Petaluma and what he told voters when he ran. Funny that he has so far voted for larger big box stores at Regency and now this flawed EIR – though he was fond of parroting "Keep Petaluma Egg-centric" in talking points and railed against more development without proper traffic mitigation. Things change when power becomes more important than principle – voters should keep this in mind in November.
Sharon Sebring November 20, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Come on - everyone needs to get on the same page. The citizens of Petaluma voted and stated they want change by selecting who they have to represent us as council members. As a long time Petaluma person I see this as the majority of citizens have finally gotten tried enough to stand up for want they want. Let's move forward and stop this mud slinging and pointing of fingers. To the Planning Commission, they need to re-educate themselves on their responsibility. Yes, we will have traffic problems, Petaluma has always had this problem but does that mean we stop projects that will help us both financially and convenience? Rainier will happen sometime, probably not in my lifetime but sometime. The minority that has been against, I believe will now have to take the back seat as the majority has spoken. Let's move forward as a whole.
Max November 20, 2012 at 06:04 AM
We can move forward as a whole, when people in Petaluma start making decisions based upon research and facts; not anecdotal information. When the local press and the development interests stop disseminating misinformation to the community as a whole. When we have responsible councilmembers, who are not beholden to those from the outside who have contributed to their campaigns. Otherwise, people in Petaluma should continue to scrutinize and question the decisions being made and the hugh costs put upon the community related to future development.
David Keller November 20, 2012 at 07:32 AM
to Sharon: As our mothers always taught, "clean up your own mess!" As a parent, I endorse that value. I also endorse that as a citizen and taxpayer. That means if your development project contributes to more traffic congestion than the roads (and our residents) can handle, then either do things to avoid the damages, or figure out how to clean it up - and pay for that out of your pocket. So, Rainier being built "some day" ain't enough -we get the traffic and we or our descendents pay for the clean up. Nah uh! Same idea with a project that adds to flooding someone else's property (or even the tenants of your project). City staff and consultants withheld information about existing flooding in the McDowell areas, including shopping centers, during the approvals of the Deer Creek EIR. Just because their enablers got elected, then the rest of us should keep quiet and wait for someone else to clean up that mess? Sorry, that ain't fair play. What would your mother say?
mikeg55 November 20, 2012 at 02:52 PM
The people have spoken! Anti-growth lost! I'll enjoy shopping at Target and Friedman's and keeping those tax dollars in town and I could care less about traffic. Go hang out on the west side and enjoy your road diet.
David Keller November 20, 2012 at 05:08 PM
So, whoever you are, Mikeg55, since you "could care less about traffic", that means you don't give a damn about building Rainier? If so, that would save many millions of tax dollars that could then go into streets, parks, library, etc?

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