Seven Reasons Sports Basement's Draft EIR Cannot Be Accepted
Today is the last day for comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) submitted for Sports Basement's inappropriate project to convert Berkeley Iceland, a site specifically built and used for more than 67 years to provide recreation skating to the Berkeley community, to one of the largest retail operations in the City of Berkeley. The purpose of the EIR process is to:
...provide analysis and public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts...
SBI and others provided comments on the DEIR submitted for this project, some available here. There are seven reasons I believe the DEIR, as it currently exists, cannot be accepted:
- Project Objectives too narrowly defined - As written, the Project Objectives could only be met by a single outcome - the only feasible project is the one that locates this particular retail development at this site and requires the demolition of the berms and the addition of parking spaces. Required project components, such as on-site parking and removal of graffiti, are incorrectly characterized as project objectives. The true Project Objective - “feasible use of Berkeley Iceland for proposed retail uses” - leads to a variety of alternatives and different conclusions than those contained in the EIR.
- Key CEQA topics disregarded - The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides the policy guidence for conducting EIRs. It defines a number of resource factors which must be considered in a complete EIR, some of which may or may not apply. The draft report inappropriately and without evidence declared several key factors not significant and analysis of impacts to these resources were left out. These include:
Unless the impact on these topics are included, the EIR is not complete and should not be accepted.
- Aesthetics - a major alteration to the building is the removal of the berms on the north and south faces of the building. One active role these berms play is to "soften" the impact of the massive building, making it fit better in its environment. Removing the berms will expose 20+ ft. industrial walls. It is hard to argue that this will not affect the visual environment of the site and a complete analysis needs to be made of this impact with mitigations provided.
- Recreation - Permanently removing a dedicated recreation resource from the Berkeley environment will have an impact on other City facilities. This topic was dismissed without supporting analysis.
- City Services - The proposed project sites significant increases traffic and demand for parking in the neighborhood. A proposal for addressing inadequete on-site parking is to install parking meters on the streets surrounding the building. The requirement for monitoring new parking meters and increased traffic issues will increase demand for City services in the area. In addition, the increased traffic and parking demands will affect the general access to the Berkeley Fire Station at the corner of Derby and Shattuck. None of this was included in the impact analysis.
- Data and documentation for analysis of resources impacted inadequate or non-existant - The DEIR contained analysis on some resources for which impacts could not be ignored - Historic, Green House Gases (GHG), and Traffic. In each of these, the information provided was inadequate for analysis by experts to confirm the EIR's claims. Traffic data was is incomplete and models for analysis questionable. GHG ignored potential impacts to children living in the neighboring residential neighborhood and Child Development Center across the street. Drawings and renditions are insufficient to determine impacts to both the exterior and interior historic resources. All this needs to be addressed before the EIR can be accepted.
- Unsubstatiated Claims - In may places the EIR makes claims which they do not document. From claims that ice rink business is in decline to the level of deterioration of the berms and many other points, claims which support their project are made without backing them up with data or documentation. Unless sufficient backing for these claims is provided and thorough analysis done on them, these claims must be disregarded. Many of these claims are the foundation for justifying the project.
- Impacts on Historic Resources missing - While the EIR addresses impact to resources designated on the exterior of the building, the berms, it completely ignores the impacts on the proposed project to those on the interior. As a building on the California List of Historic Resources and eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, those historic resources inside the building must be included in the EIR as well. What few drawings provided show what appears to be changes to these resources, particularly the breaking up of the entry pavilion's lobby, removal of the bleacher seating and installation of an elevator will have impacts on these historic resources. A full analysis with evaluation of mitigations needs to be included before the EIR can be accepted.
- Analysis of Alternatives to the project incomplete - CEQA requires the EIR contain substantial analysis of alternatives which would meet the project objectives both at the site under consideration and at other sites. There is NO analysis of any other possible site for a large retail operation in the City of Berkeley, with little justification. The contention is that no other site would meet the narrowly defined project objectives. The narrowly defined project objectives, particularly the off-site parking, were also used to negatively impact some of the alternatives that were reviewed. The EIR must contain analysis of other sites adequete to hosting a large retail store and removal of inappropriate goals.
- Inadequete and Non-existant Mitigations - CEQA also requires that identified impacts to resources must contain a discussion of all feasable measures which would mitigate the impact. Unless the measures are infeasible on their face, they must be included in the EIR. To quote the CEQA toolbox:
To be considered adequate, mitigation measures should be specific, feasible actions that will actually improve adverse environmental conditions. Mitigation measures should be measurable to all monitoring their implementation. Mitigation measures consisting only of further studies or consultation with regulatory agencies that are not tied to a specific action plan may not be adequate and should therefore be avoided.
The mitigations contained in this DEIR fall far short of this standard.
The proposed Sports Basement project is not appropriate for Berkeley Iceland and the community it serves. There are many other locations in Berkeley where a large retail operation would fit and thrive. There is no other location where a community recreation center fits. The DEIR begins to detail the inadequacies of this project which should not be approved.