DECEMBER 2018 – Article Reprint from the Crockett Signal Newspaper
Carquinez School EIR: A long and strange journey
Written by Nancy Rieser
Published by Dan Robertson
At the very end of the school district’s December 2018 board meeting agenda, there was a vote to certify the final draft of the Carquinez School EIR. That came as a big surprise to folks In the community. Apparently, there are no CEQA statutes that required public notification of a hearing let alone a public review of the school district’s EIR document which:
- Dismissed Contra Costa County Flood Control’s concerns about the silted-up dam and its flood threat to both new construction and existing structures downstream
- Sidestepped the seriousness of the need to re-reroute the water main that serves half the town of Crockett, an infrastructure change that Crockett did not need, ask for or knew about at the time of the 2016 election.
- Minimized the significance of the Historic Resource Evaluation (the historic resource evaluation is an important step required by CEQA)
- Concluded that the impacts of a huge construction project (fumes from trucks, specialty gas-powered tools and/or machinery; the repetitive pounding sounds made by jackhammers and pneumatic tools) would be “less than significant” on both the health and attention levels of children and teachers who will be working in classrooms a mere 20 feet away.
- Shrugged off the viability of the Holmes Culley retrofit that would cost half of what a new school would cost
So, our group, the Carquinez School H.E.A.R.T. Alliance, was not notified of the hearing. That may explain why the consultant’s CEQA team looked rather alarmed that a couple of us were there to sign up to speak. When it was our turn, we stated:
- For an EIR to be legally defensible in court, CEQA requires a serious consideration of an alternative proposal that would meet the goals of a bond project (in this case, an earthquake-safe school yet not destroy a historical resource, negatively impact the environment and human health; and/or require the re-routing of a major utility.)
In fact, there was such an alternative: A voluntary retrofit designed by Holmes Culley, a nationally renowned engineering firm that specializes in historical restoration of large public projects.
The actual design was paid for back in 2013. To implement that retrofit would cost half the cost of a demo and new build, and could be done during the course of a summer when school children were not in school.
As the agenda item progressed, it became quickly apparent that information was NOT what the school board was interested in hearing.
- The board was silent on the impacts on children’s health, the ability to concentrate and academically perform while construction would take place 20 feet away from the existing classrooms filled with students and teachers.
- The consultant (the former executive director CASH, a huge and powerful state-wide school construction lobby) said that the demolition of the historic school could be mitigated by simply taking pictures of the school before demolition and then giving the snapshots to the local museum.
- The consultant also waived off the alternative retrofit choice as he believed it was going to be more expensive than the new school, and did so without offering an economic cost break down to back up his statement. The school board accepted his sweeping, unsubstantiated generality without question.
- The board did not register any concern that night when we brought up that the new school would be almost 10,000 square feet smaller and have 9 fewer classrooms than the existing, historic school.
So to be sure, it has been a long, strange journey. But fear not, readers. Remember: EIRs have to be legally defensible.