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City of St. Helena

St. Helena could adopt its long-awaited General Plan update this year, with the City Council hiring a consultant who’s offering to review the plan’s environmental effects on an ambitious timeline.

At its first meeting of 2018 the council approved a $336,880 contract with Dyett and Bhatia, leading a team of consultants who plan to write an environmental impact report (EIR) in time for the city to hold hearings on a draft EIR in May or June and final council hearings in September.

Planning Director Noah Housh called it a “very aggressive schedule” that could be delayed by a few weeks, but hopefully no longer.

Councilmembers said they want to get the project done as soon as possible, without making too many changes that could cause further delays. The last effort to update the General Plan got sidetracked by a controversial proposal to create a new residential zoning designation, which generated a lot of debate during public hearings and was eventually abandoned.

“We have to get this plan done, and we cannot keep adding new pieces to it that are not necessary,” said Councilmember Mary Koberstein. “We can do that (later) through the amendment process. What we really need to do is reward this community with an adopted plan that we can all live with.”

The first subcommittee charged with updating the 1993 General Plan was appointed in 2005, and a new plan was on the cusp of approval in 2010 only to be tabled due to concerns about water.

Staff turnover, extensive wordsmithing during public hearings, and lingering disagreements over issues like flooding and street extensions prevented the plan from reaching the finish line. Current city staff pledged to finish the job, but Housh announced last August that the old EIR’s technical studies were no longer adequate due to the amount of time that had passed. He recommended starting a new EIR from scratch.

Three consultants responded to the city’s call for proposals, and officials judged Dyett and Bhatia’s offer to be the cheapest, quickest and best. Another firm was asking for $100,000 more and an extra year to get the work done.

Dyett and Bhatia’s initial bid was for $284,880, but the council agreed to add $52,000 worth of optional work involving updated traffic models for various locations and new analysis of areas just outside the city limits.

Consistent with recently adopted state regulations, the new traffic studies will measure not only traffic congestion at various intersections, but also overall Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). The new studies of areas just outside St. Helena, where the city offers some services such as water, will help the city in negotiations with the Napa County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which is studying St. Helena’s sphere of influence.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.