Richmond Planning Commission Extends Final EIR Review; Thumbs Nose at Council Threats

blogimage.jpgThe Richmond Planning Commission decided unanimously last night to extend its mandatory review period for the final Chevron modernization project EIR from ten days to 30 days. 

The maneuver by the Planning Commission came after Commissioner Marilyn Langlois announced that she felt uncomfortable reviewing such an extensive document over only a ten-day span.  The move, however, also highlighted increasing tensions between the members of Richmond’s generally business-like and stayed Planning Commission and its frequently volatile and emotional City Council.

After discussion of her unease with the shorter time period of ten days with her fellow commissioners, Ms. Langlois mentioned that she had been told by Councilmember Tom Butt that, should the Planning Commission fail to move quickly through the FEIR approval stage, he would move for the Richmond City Council to strip the Planning Commission of its role in the approval process.  He would propose, she said, to make the Council the sole arbiter of the approval.

Under the original review schedule, the final EIR (FEIR) is to be released to the public on June 6 and brought before the Planning Commission for approval no less than ten days thereafter.  Under the newly adjusted schedule, the members of the Planning Commission will be given no less than 30 days after publication on June 6 to review and digest the FEIR.  This means that the Planning Commission will not approve the FEIR – if it should deem it appropriate to do so – until July 7, the date of its earliest meeting after the 30-day period expires.  However, the measure does contain a proviso that allows the Planning Commission to move faster should the Council succeed in passing a motion to take approval power away from the Commission.

As members of the Council have pointed out at their past meetings, such a delay would mean that the Council’s time period for review and approval would likely be extended into, and encroach upon, the councilmembers’ August recess by a full week or more.  This prospect seems to be unsettling to the Council, and Mr. Butt (Tom Butt) has evidently made it clear to Ms. Langlois that the Council will not stand for any such delay.

Public speakers at last night’s Commission meeting spoke on both sides of the conflict.  Some argued vociferously that ten days is simply not enough time for the Commission to review a document as large as the FEIR, while others pointed franticly to the need for jobs in Richmond.  Union representatives and Chevron employees implored the Commission to proceed with all possible haste so that they can have a crack at the thousands of new jobs offered by the modernization project.

Ultimately, the comments from the Commissioners leading up to the vote centered around the need for more time to read through the 4,500-page FEIR and the need, or want, to protect its own power from overreach by the Council.  The measure passed quickly through the voting process.

It seems that the tensions between the two bodies at the heart of the EIR approval process may cause growing procedural complications in the days ahead.

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