While it may have been frustrating to a packed house of Del Webb at Woodbridge residents that they couldn’t voice their main grievances against what was essentially an ill-conceived fast tracking of a 486 truck parking yard by a developer very well versed in the mind numbing nuances of California environmental law, rules are the rules and the law is definitely the law.
Mayor Ben Cantu perhaps more so than anyone else in the room at Tuesday’s City Council meeting save City Attorney John Brinton and senior municipal staff that are acutely aware of the legal quicksand that lurks within the greater framework of processes spawned from the California Environmental Quality Act, understood that the deliberations could not go where rightfully indignant residents wanted them to go.
After the mayor firmly and politely kept interrupting residents at the podium to admonish them to stay focused on addressing their remarks to the constraints created by the appeal of a specific condition placed on the project by the Manteca Planning Commission to restrict truck yard operations to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., there were more than a few murmurs of “recall the mayor” coming from the audience.
Cantu declined to stray from his stance despite the exasperation of close to 100 people.
And because Cantu calmly stuck to his guns the council was able to make a decision that essentially gave residents what they wanted without setting the stage for a legal challenge that ultimately would likely prevail and provide exactly what no one in the council chambers seemed to want with the exception of the CenterPoint representative.
It is clear in the words of the developer’s representative that the restriction on hours of operation that the council tightened further to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that there wouldn’t be a market for the truck parking yard as conditioned by the city.
While Tuesday’s action didn’t per se kill the proposed private road for “temporary” access to the truck yard by dumping roughly 816 truck trips a day onto Airport Way right on top of the Del Webb at Woodbridge neighborhood along with three signalized traffic intersections in quick succession, it set the stage for that not to happen.
The developer is highly unlikely to invest $300,000 plus in traffic signals at the private road and Airport Way for an unmarketable project or once an interior connection to the spine road running to Roth Road materializes given at that point it would not be needed. What will likely happen is at some future date when they have issues related to the interior spine road settled, the project will be resubmitted for approval minus the mandated private road with traffic signal connection to Airport Way.
When that happens all of the issues that the residents were prevented from addressing at the appeal hearing for the most part will disappear or be greatly diminished.
There was only one way out of what was seemed a no-win situation and Cantu knew it.
He also knew under city standards that are an extension of state standards that several of the issues Del Webb residents were justified being passionate about were not violating the law such as those surrounding noise and even some emissions issues. The much lauded environmental justice law does not supersede legitimately established policies forged under CEQA but simply requires issues impacting the quality of life of those placed in a disadvantaged position due to development be addressed. It doesn’t mean they will be resolved completely from the perspective of those bringing grievances. The council decision walked that tight rope.
That said the impetus for the controlled outage of the 1,192 people that signed a petition against the project in its current form was the result of the CEQA process itself and not an illegal act as some implied.
CenterPoint has been adamant that the truck movements from the proposed parking yard were well within the numbers of approved truck movements under the master environmental impact expert for the entire project. What wasn’t was the offending private road connection to Airport Way with traffic signals to serve as a “temporary” access point for a large volume of trucks.
When CenterPoint proposed the “temporary” access to make the truck yard possible, the city looked at it and determined that the concentration of truck movements at that location would require a signal based on traffic movements and volume.
While those opposed to it are correct the traffic signal changes the character of what CenterPoint was proposing, it would have been a tough road to hoe to stop the project on that basis even if the opponents had filed an appeal of that decision within the legally required time frame. And even if an appeal was filed it would be doubtful that they would have prevailed since the litmus test is in raw numbers such as the number of vehicle movements and not necessarily where those movements take place.
The reason all of this is important is two-fold. First given the law Cantu — despite drawing the anger of more than a few people in the room — was taking the only course the city legally could do based on the appeal. It is also clear he didn’t buy into the truck traffic exceeding legal noise limits under city law but he could rationalize impacts on the quality of life in the evening and when people are trying to sleep as was presented should be mitigated hence his successful push for even more restricted hours of operations that was first voiced by Councilman Gary Singh as to where the debate should go.
The second point is just as important. Righteousness, indignity, and rage are not what you need when you are against the tortured beast CEQA processes have become. If not you just invite another class of those impacted to use the same tactics.
Although it did not materialize in this case it could very well have been truck drivers trying to earn a living or construction workers showing support for a project that would provide them with jobs. Under CEQA they also have a seat at the table.
What is needed is the will to seek out “parasite justice” for want of a better term.
The planning commission majority clearly weighed the concerns of the residents and agreed with them by using the only strategy at their disposal to restrict hours of operation as a nod to quality of life concerns. Del Webb residents ultimately piggybacked on the appeal of that decision to obtain their objective. They certainly were no legal grounds to reject the project by the time Tuesday rolled around.
By shifting their focus to issues with trucks in the late evening and overnight hours as allowed by the appeal, they gave the council the wiggle room needed to essentially take action giving residents what they were pushing for even though the project had a green light to go as long as all conditions were met including the restrictions on hours of operation.
The developer may not see it that way but rest assured over the years more than a few projects you could argue were being unjustly targeted by opponents have made it through the approval process by employing similar tactics.
It may not have seemed so, but Tuesday’s meeting was a high point for the council in terms of being able to address community quality of life concerns and not run afoul of the CEQA process that protects the rights of developers as well as everyone else involved. There were no angry exchanges, disparaging remarks and such although tensions were running high.
And in his dissenting vote cast not because he was against what the rest of the council supported but because he was concerned about how growing truck traffic impacts all of Manteca, Councilman Dave Breitenbucher tossed down the proverbial gauntlet saying the city must address what seems like more and more trucks parking wherever they can get away with it.
Breitenbucher favored the commission’s hours that CenterPoint appealed because he wanted truckers to have an option of places to park their rigs so they don’t have to do it illegally on city streets.
Those irked that growth may negatively be impacting Manteca need to not be blinded by outrage when taking on a project but instead be pragmatic and approach issues as a tactician might.
The battle for Manteca’s future in terms of it offering a high quality of life balanced with jobs requires those impacted to use the same approach many developers do and seek out the crannies and crevices of the glacial CEQA process to secure the best possible outcomes.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.