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New: Why The Environmental Impact Report for 2211 Harold Way Should not be Certifed (News Analysis)

Tim Hansen
Tuesday April 21, 2015 - 03:17:00 PM

[Editor's Note: This has been submitted as a letter to the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board as a comment on the Environmental Impact Report for the "Residences at Berkeley Plaza" which Berkeley Planning Department staff proposes for certification at Thursday's ZAB meeting.

If the final EIR is certified despite objections such as these, the public can appeal the decision to the Berkeley City Council. See, CA Gov. Code Title 14 chapter 3 article 7 section 15090 b. :Appeal of certification is allowed if certification is by a non elected body.]


Many of the numbers used in the EIR are suspect or just don’t make sense. Their source is not properly documented and information is lacking that would allow a proper review. Many assumptions are made which are counter-intuitive and important impacts are omitted from review. Some of the issues are listed below, however a complete assessment cannot be made because of the lack of information. The Environmental Impact Report should not be certified as it is, and some sections should be redone reflecting that the impacts may no longer be insignificant and adequately disclosing the data behind the conclusions. 


The Cinemas: the existing site, according to the EIR, has 855 seats. The EIR calls out for the new Cinemas to have 665 for a net decrease in seats of 190. This means that the new Cinemas will generate less traffic and less greenhouse gas, offsetting other uses in the calculations. How the number of seats in the new Cinemas is calculated is not disclosed. Title 24 uses one seat per seven square feet in calculating the occupancy load. Using this method for calculating the number of seats there would be 1405 seats in the new Cinemas. This is an increase of 650 seats, instead of a decrease of 190 seats. This means that, among other things, the traffic calculations and the greenhouse gas calculations are inadequate or just wrong. 

Habitot: The square footage of Habitot is reported as 7,065 in the EIR. This is very hard to verify, as no adequate as-is drawings are included for fact checking. I believe that the museum space is 4,500 square feet, there is a classroom of about 800 square feet, and then there are some offices. The offices should be treated as offices. Museums are fairly intense trip generators. Since Habitot will have to move, the number of trips they generate, and the associated greenhouse gas, will be subtracted from the new project’s impacts. Overstating the size of Habitot would mislead the public into thinking the new project’s impacts are less than they are. 

Parking: The new project proposes 171 new parking spaces. The existing building did not provide parking. The parking is unbundled from the 302 new apartment/condominium units. This means the parking spaces could be rented hourly with none of them being used for the apartments. While parking is not generally thought of as producing trips, it does make it more likely that trips to the area will increase. This is not addressed in the report and should be. It is likely that apartment residents will lease parking in the neighboring area since insufficient parking, or no parking, is provided to them. This should also be addressed, including the parking and traffic impact on adjacent neighborhoods, including whether the residents are offered parking permits in those areas. It is claimed that 6 spaces will be provided with electricity for charging electric vehicles. This is about 3.5% of the spaces and is too low. It should be at least 50%. Electric vehicles should be charged in off peak-load hours. Many people charge their cars at night. The parking needs to be better explained so it can be evaluated, but as it is, the information is inadequate and therefore the EIR should not be certified. 

Solar: The height of the apartment building will shadow many of the roofs of neighboring buildings, making solar uneconomical for these buildings. It is highly likely that but for the project; neighboring buildings would have had solar on them in the near future. The energy of solar lost for the neighboring buildings should be added to the energy used by the new building, increasing its greenhouse gas amounts. 

Water and Energy: Water and energy used is the existing building is subtracted from that used in the new building in determining impacts. The calculations are not shown, but the delta of energy and water claimed to be used is not believable. It should be assumed that energy and water conservation improvements would have continued to be made had the existing building not been destroyed. The assumptions and calculations need to be shown in the EIR. 

The greenhouse gas associated with the embedded energy in the existing building should be added to the greenhouse gas associated with the new project in the EIR. The energy associated with the manufacturing of the building materials should also be added to the EIR. The embedded calculations should be shown so they can be verified. The calculation of the energy used by the apartments should be shown so that it can be verified that the common area and elevators are included in the units energy calculations and that the calculations are believable. A smaller wood framed apartment building should be considered as an alternative, with the calculations of embedded energy per unit compared to the embedded energy of the proposed concrete, steel and glass apartment. The carbon sink of wood should also be considered and it assumed that the end-of-life of the wood apartment building is not that it burns, but that it is composted. 

The Environmental Impact Report is simply inadequate for purposes of certification and deliberation on the project.