The Zoning Adjustments Board put off a decision Monday to approve an environmental study on the proposed Beth El project.
In voting for the delay 7-0-1, board members said they needed the additional time to better understand the document, a Final Environmental Impact Report on the 1301 Oxford St. project, and the implications of its certification or denial. They will vote on the FEIR on Thursday, Dec. 14.
At that time, the board will vote to either certify the report, deny it or ask Pacific Mutual Consultants, which prepared the document, to conduct additional studies or clarify existing data. ZAB Chair Carolyn Weinberger abstained from the vote and Councilmember Ted Gartner was not present.
Weinberger cautioned that the board cannot begin to consider the project until the FEIR is approved, and she urged board members to make a decision.
“We have to certify this information in order to act on the project itself,” Weinberger said.
Board members said they proceeded carefully regarding the Oxford Street FEIR because of its controversial nature – neighbors have vocally opposed it for over a year – and because they have limited experience in certifying EIRS. They say they are unfamiliar with the subtleties of the document and its impact on the development process.
The Oxford Street FEIR is a 650-page document that presents a variety of studies on potential impacts caused by the development of a synagogue and school. The proposed, 35,000-square-foot project has drawn fire from neighbors and environmentalist because of possible parking and traffic problems and potential damage to Codornices Creek that runs across the property, partially through a culvert.
“Can the board certify the FEIR if there are still dangling questions from the community?” said board member James Peterson. “Can the opponents of the board’s decision file a law suit that could affect the Zoning Adjustments Board?”
Board member Gene Poshman also had a several questions about the order in which the board will consider aspects of the project. “This raises the issue of why we don’t consider the EIR at the same time we consider the project itself,” he said.
Board member David Blake wondered what methods consultants who prepared the report used in determining that certain alternative proposals are unfeasible. He specifically asked about the possible alternative of an underground parking garage, which was determined by the consultant to be unworkable.
There was a motion by Board member David Freeman to vote on the report certification and it was seconded by Peterson. But Poshman put forward a substitute motion to reschedule the vote and Peterson who had apparently reconsidered also seconded Poshman’s motion and the certification was delayed.
“I think it’s great they delayed the vote,” said Juliet Lamont a member of Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association which opposes the development. “This EIR is a bad EIR.”
Lamont said the document falls short of California Environmental Quality Act requirements, which dictate the contents of EIRs. She said among other things the consultants did not look thoroughly at alternate sites and did not consider a smaller development.
Harry Pollack, former president of the Congregation of Beth El said he was not surprised the board delayed the vote. “I think the questions board members asked were the standard you would get from a board that wants to make the right decision.”
Pollack added that the amount of information in the report is extraordinary and goes way beyond CEQA’s requirements.