As the Planning Commission kicked off Tuesday’s public hearing on the long-anticipated General Plan, Chair Lester Hardy asked the obvious question: Why was the room almost empty?
Only four people were in the audience: a consultant who’d worked on the plan’s environmental impact report (EIR), a planning department intern, a reporter from the Star, and one St. Helena resident, Vickie Bradshaw.
Are St. Helenans so fond of the EIR that they can’t think of any ways to improve it, Hardy wondered aloud. After an arduous 11-year process, are people just tired of it? Or, most troubling to Hardy, do people feel like their comments don’t matter?
“All of your comments make a difference, whether we agree with you or not,” Hardy said. “All of you have the potential to change our minds.”
The only public comment came from Bradshaw, who said state law requires the EIR to include a flood inundation map and an analysis of potential damage and legal liability if the levee near Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park fails. The city needs to add the map and recirculate the EIR for another round of public comments, Bradshaw said.
Planning Director Noah Housh said the city’s staff, attorneys and consultants are aware of Bradshaw’s concern and will offer a written response during the next phase of the process. The plan and its EIR will comply with state law, he assured commissioners.
Most of the commission’s own comments on the EIR involved its circulation element, which analyzes local traffic patterns over the next 20 years.
Commissioner John Ponte questioned some of the EIR’s calculations about traffic delays that would result from potential traffic lights along Highway 29 at Pratt and Sulphur Springs. He also said the EIR needs to be more realistic about whether installing a light at Silverado/Pope would require replacing the Pope Street bridge.
Ponte also questioned a finding that implementing the General Plan “would not result in inadequate emergency access.” He said that seems inconsistent with projections showing that traffic congestion on Highway 29 will get even worse through 2040.
“I have trouble seeing how this doesn’t affect emergency access,” Ponte said.
Hardy agreed the finding “doesn’t pass the smell test,” and should be classified as a “significant and unavoidable impact.”
The plan and its EIR are available on the city’s website. Written comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Noah Housh, Planning Director, City of St. Helena, 1480 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574.
Public comments and the city’s responses will be incorporated into a final EIR. The Planning Commission and City Council will hold public hearings on the General Plan and final EIR early next year.