Monday, November 2, 2009

Seeno Project: How they voted and why it matters

by Norma Fox

In Sunday’s Benicia Herald a writer accused me of using “scare tactics” regarding ozone and the Seeno project in an effort to “mislead the public” into voting for Dan Smith for City Council instead of the incumbents, Schwartzman and Hughes.

Is it “scare tactics” to simply state the facts?

1. Data collected from an Air District monitoring station, located in Benicia during 2008, revealed that Benicia was 4th worst in the Bay Area for ozone levels. (Ozone is a carbon-based gas that is caustic to the lungs and aggravates allergies and serious respiratory disorders.)

2. The environmental impact report for the huge and poorly designed Seeno business park confirmed that the project would have exceeded government-established ozone thresholds and greatly increased our already high level of ozone.

3. Regardless of that, both incumbents were quite willing to approve the Statement of Overriding Considerations in order to get the project approved. This "statement" is a required document that governing bodies must sign in order to approve a project that exceeds recommended thresholds for ozone. Their stated "overriding consideration" that they felt justified exposing the entire town to even greater ozone was the expected city revenue the project would generate.

Both incumbents have stated that they don’t believe any large business park development could ever be designed in such a way as to stay within the Air District’s ozone thresholds.

To me, this opinion does not reflect 21st century business thinking. In today’s world of global warming and environmental crisis we need city leaders who understand that the old business development models – sprawling business projects spewing high levels of ozone producing carbon emissions onto the community - are simply no longer acceptable, nor are they necessary. There are many innovative solutions emerging for large scale business developments that are carbon-neutral, healthy and sustainable. We need city leaders who understand these new models and the new constraints of the 21st century and who will set a higher standard for developers.

4. The letter writer then went on to claim that Mr. Schwartzman “did vote to deny the project until Seeno would agree to a specific plan and a development agreement.” Well, I can only assume that this person was not closely watching the Council votes as this project wound its way through the review process in 2008. The fact is that throughout this process, both incumbents consistently voted to accept the project and move it forward, and they never demanded a "specific plan" or a "development agreement," they stated they were quite content with non-binding "conditions of approval."

5. The pivotal vote that finally stopped this dangerous project from final approval occurred on Oct. 7, 2008. In a 3-2 split, Patterson, Campbell, and Ioakimedes voted “no” on the resolution to approve the final EIR Addendum and the Statement of Overriding Considerations, while Schwartzman and Hughes voted to approve it. The results of this split vote (no thanks to the incumbents) essentially meant that this flawed project was dead, because a project cannot be approved without an approved EIR.

Based on the record of the incumbents, and based on Dan Smith’s public recommendations at those Council meetings, I can confidently say that Dan Smith is the only one among the current candidates whom I know you can trust to always stand firm with Seeno and insist that the next business park proposal he presents to us in 2010 must be a 1st class 21st century project that provides high-end jobs for Benicians and does not sacrifice our community health and quality of life.

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