Part two in the series of “who filled in Mussel Slough” was projected to be the City of Hanford’s response to the running controversy. When the Valley Voice reached out to Darlene Mata, Community Development Director, she politely said, “the city has no comment.”
Several hypotheses surround the question of who ordered the back hoe to fill the remnant of Mussel Slough close to West Lacey Boulevard by Lowes. The overriding feeling in town has been that it is a continuation of the conspiracy to fill in the historic Mussel Slough without obtaining the proper permits and environmental reviews.
Other feedback from longtime Hanford residents to the June 18 Valley Voice include, “Based on the facts, it is reasonable to infer that the serial filling of Mussel Slough and other sloughs within the city could not have occurred without the knowledge of city staff and consultants for the applicant. Those with possible knowledge of the projects in question include the city manager, community development director, public works director, city attorney, city consultants and other city staff.
As such, developers may fail to file proper notices and applications with the State agencies that have jurisdiction and issue permits for projects that effect sloughs and other riparian habitats. While the city’s motivation for failing to provide proper oversight and permit referral may not be known; it is clear that this behavior is often repeated.”
HEAT appeals Site Plan Review
The City of Hanford approved the Bajun American Properties Site Plan Review and the Negative Declaration on June 1. The city publically filed the approved site plan, and notified Hanford Environmental Awareness Team’s lawyer, on June 2. There is a 10-day window in which one can file an appeal. Because the apartment complex does not comply with many of the conditions on the site plan review HEAT filed an appeal.
HEAT handed in their appeal along with the $1000 appeal fee the morning of June 12. Mata checked with the city’s attorney and informed HEAT that they were one day late. The clock for filing an appeal starts the day the city makes the decision, not the day they file the paperwork or inform parties that have objected to the project. The next step for the apartment complex is pulling a building permit then the issue goes to the planning commission.
City approves apartment complex without doing an EIR
Just as mysterious as the filling of Mussel Slough is the approval of the site plan for the Bajun American Properties apartment complex. The apartment complex is scheduled to be built along Centennial Dr. and Millennium Way. Despite community opposition, the city approved the site plan without doing a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR.) Approving an apartment complex that sits on the banks of a natural waterway surrounded by agriculture land on three sides defies common sense and is an inaccurate interpretation of the requirements of an EIR. Whether the city’s oversight was intentional or was justified is yet to be determined.
In the city’s environmental assessment they claim that “the proposed project will not have a significant effect on the environment since the project is to be located in an already urbanized area.”
That is debatably true and false. The apartment complex is within a half mile of Lowes and is zoned as residential. But it is also surrounded by vacant land and sits on the banks of Mussel Slough.
The apartment complex was put through a fairly detailed application process before the city approved a negative declaration. A negative declaration is approved when the city decides that a full EIR is not necessary. After a precursory environmental assessment, the city found that the apartment complex does not meet any of the conditions needed to complete an EIR. Hanford Environmental Action Team (HEAT,) on the other hand, feels that the development meets many of the conditions to qualify it for a full EIR.
On the Environmental Assessment there are 26 conditions with which the development must comply in order to avoid doing an EIR.
The first condition states that the project will not “conflict with adopted environmental plans and goals of the community where it is located.” Yet, the project does conflict with the goals and plans of HEAT, an active Hanford organization that is a watchdog over Hanford’s open spaces and waterways. HEAT and the City of Hanford signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2007 that had the intent to protect slough remnants. While protecting the slough, HEAT is not against development. Their goal is to implore developers to incorporate the waterway into possible pedestrian walkways or bike paths, possibly connecting them to Lowes, Target and Walmart.
As a result of the 2007 MOU, Lowes developer, David Paynter had to preserve and rehabilitate the section of Mussel Slough that was not filled in by his development. But the remnant ended up being fenced off from the public and has very little left of its original flora and fauna – not exactly what HEAT had in mind. A full EIR was not completed in the case of the Lowes development. But if it had been, the slough could have been an asset to the community instead of surrounded by an unsightly chain link fence.
Conditions F – I of the application states that the project will not “degrade water quality, contaminate a public water supply, degrade or deplete ground water resources, or interfere with ground water recharge.” The projected apartment complex sits on the banks of Mussel Slough which is a designated natural waterway and is used as a sinking basin. During times of heavy rain, water drains into the slough, away from developments and percolates into Hanford’s ground water. When one considers the asphalt, paint and other chemicals involved in the creation of a 300-space or more parking lot, it would seem prudent to at least consider the environmental impact. The runoff from the parking lot will be flowing right into the slough during a storm. In addition there will be runoff from the rooftops of the 30 or so apartment buildings with their system of drains and gutters.
The slough remnants not only serve as sinking basins but do have a unique set of flora and fauna. Condition C, D, and T refer to fish, wildlife, and habitat which will obviously be affected by the 450 or so people living in the 216 apartments.
Additional complications of approving a negative declaration
The California Public Resources Code Section 21158.5 states that a “multiple-family residential development of not more than 100 units” is exempt from doing a focused EIR. But any complex larger than 100 units needs a full EIR. The Bajun American Properties Complex has 216 units.
Another oversight by the city involves Hanford’s 2002 General Plan (GP). A development cannot be approved using a general plan EIR that is more than five years old. If the city had an updated EIR tiering off the existing 2002 General Plan, that would be acceptable. But a full EIR has not been done since 2003 when the Super Wal-Mart Shopping Center was built on 12th Ave. In addition, the projected apartment complex is not part of a contiguous development and is surrounded by vacant land on three sides.
The City of Hanford received a letter from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in 2012 that told them that their General Plan is outdated. Most cities updated their General Plan after the 2010 census. Hanford is in the very beginning stages of updating their GP, but it could take years.
A final consideration should be that The State Water Control Board has mandated Hanford to cut their water use by 28 percent. According to the Hanford Sentinel, Hanford only cut back their water use by 14 percent in May. Hanford faces a huge challenge to cut their water use by an additional 14 percent. How much more water is going to be used by 450 people, and where it is going to come from? If Hanford does not meet its goal of water conservation the city could face fines of $10,000 a day.