Report: UCSF’s EIR Scoping Meeting, Jan 2011

Last evening, UCSF held its scoping meeting for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). They plan to finish the Draft EIR in spring, in time to start felling trees on the South Ridge (above Forest Knolls neighborhood) by September 2011. This was essentially a presentation of the “Initial Study” (links to a PDF file) that we discussed here and here.

WHAT THIS MEETING WASN’T

Assistant Vice Chancellor Lori Yamauchi opened the presentation by saying what the meeting wasn’t: A discussion of the proposed projects. Instead, it was to present the EIR process and take input on the topics for the EIR to analyze. The comment period ends January 18th. (Comments can be sent in writing to PHEIR@planning.ucsf.edu or to Diane Wong, UCSF Campus Planning, Box 0286, San Francisco, CA 94143-0288)

The proposed projects include 4 demonstration areas and 3 new trails for a start, followed by extending tree thinning and understory removal to almost all of the forest. The Initial Study for which comments are requested is linked here.

CEQA, The California Environmental Quality Act

She then talked about CEQA, including the fact that CEQA is informational. It provides decision-makers and the public with information about potential impacts, and identify ways of avoiding or mitigating the impacts. It doesn’t block a project in itself.

Judy  deReus presented the demonstration projects. (They are described in the Initial Study, but essentially consist of four “demonstration areas” totalling 7.5 acres on which trees will be felled, the understory gutted, and vines chopped off at ten feet.)

Diane Wong of Campus Planning spoke about “continued implementation” — i.e. continuing to fell trees and thin undergrowth through the rest of the reserve, potentially with the use of herbicides.

She did qualify it; it would be subject to more community review, environmental review, and “adaptive management.” We have to say none of this gives us confidence. The “community review” process thus far has been strenuous and courteous, but has only accepted substantive community input that agrees with the Mount Sutro Stewards.   UCSF sought to avoid environmental review where possible, and when it wasn’t, it decided to be its own lead agency. And “adaptive management” is a process of going slowly and seeing how the forest reacts — but instead, the demonstration areas have been tripled in acreage from even the 2001 Plan’s 2.5 acre plot.

THE EIR AND NEXT STEPS

The Initial Study, which has already been published, is open for comments until January 18, 2011.

In spring 2011,  the Draft EIR would be prepared, focusing on topics that the Initial Study identified as significant. After it’s published, the public have 45 days to comment, and there’s a public hearing. The Draft is revised as needed, and written responses are prepared to all the comments. Then the decision-maker must certify the EIR and approve the project. (The decision-maker is the Chancellor of UCSF.)

So how is UCSF determining “significant” ?

It isn’t clear. The slide said CEQA Guidelines, the UC CEQA handbook, regulations, and “standard practice.”

This gives rise to some strange anomalies. One commenter pointed out that one of the objectives for the forest is to “improve its aesthetics.” Yet, “Views from private residences and non‐public access are not considered to be scenic views because they are not available to the general public.” This is an odd determination given that the forest is surrounded by private residences and residential areas, whose value is in part determined by the aesthetics of this century-old forest.

COMMENTERS

A few people commented afterward. The first spoke about the aesthetics of the forest, particularly the impact of Demonstration plot #4 from Cole Valley. Another spoke of using landscape software packages to simulate the effect of thinning these trees.

Dr Morley Singer (who separately wrote a letter about the project) spoke about finances. In 2008, UCSF had sought some $350 thousand in FEMA money, and planned to put in some $150 thousand, so the project would have cost about half a million dollars. Extending the project to the rest of the forest would cost millions of dollars. Why was the University doing this? As an institution devoted to healing and research, why did it plan to spend millions of dollars in destroying a forest and substituting native plants?

Furthermore, he pointed out, if he was living in Edgewood, he would be most concerned because the trees and understory provided a barrier against noise from the power station, glare, and wind. If the barrier was removed or thinned and then the neighbors hated the result, what would be the remedy? The trees could not be reinstated. (“Native plants!” exclaimed someone who supported the project. But no native plants grow tall that quickly. It would take most people’s life-times to restore the screen of trees.)

Dave Parrish and Dan Schneider of the Mount Sutro Stewards spoke to support the project.

Alicia Snow addressed the problem of herbicide use; the forested mountain is the high point on the landscape, and herbicides used will inevitably flow into the neighborhoods. These chemicals are a cause for concern, with effects on wildlife and bees as well as people; San Francisco has had cases of Colony Collapse Disorder.One speaker pointed out that UCSF had applied for Federal funds to mitigate fire hazard, brought in fire-fighters to speak about fire-risk — but done nothing. (This doesn’t surprise us, since we think the fire hazard was substantially exaggerated in order to win FEMA funds — and that the proposed project, thinning and drying the forest, will actually raise the risk.) Another from the Edgewood area mentioned piles of brush and cut wood behind her home. Lori Yamauchi said she would tell her colleagues about the concern, but she could make no commitments or promises.  Separately, she said they weren’t here to respond to comments.

Please note that comments can be submitted in writing before January 18, 2011, about what should be covered by the Environmental Impact Report.

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