City officials chose a consultant Tuesday to prepare the environmental impact report on the Aliso Creek Redevelopment area, despite pleas to delay the decision.
The City Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation to hire PMC to do the report, provided it has had no previous history with Athens Group. The project has stirred the strongest passions since the conversion of Treasure Island Mobile Home Park to the posh Montage Resort and Spa, also developed by Athens Group.
“This is a rush to judgment,” said Arnold Hano.
Hano was a participant in August in a Village Laguna presentation to the council that laid out the group’s vision for the Aliso Creek project, that included a request for public hearings before work starts on the environmental report and the group’s opposition to residential development on the property.
PMC’s bid was the priciest tendered, $435,270.
“It’s an expensive EIR, but it’s not the city’s money so maybe that’s OK,” said Ed Almanza.
However, he said he didn’t see a land use section in the proposal and suggested augmenting the document. Community Development Director John Montgomery said the section was there as well as almost every entitlement possible.
South Laguna Civic Assn. President Bill Rihn found it interesting that only three firms responded to the requests for proposals out of more than 50 disseminated.
“How much experience does the company have dealing with the public?” Rihn asked.
Montgomery said the staff recommended PMC for the job because of its qualifications.
“They can do a good job for the city,” Montgomery said. “They understood it will be a long, drawn-out project.”
And it won’t cost the city any money. Athens Group will pay for the report, as well as the salary for the city-hired consulting planner to will oversee the process, although the developer had no say.
“Choosing a consultant is only the start of the project.” Montgomery said.
An EIR can be prepared by staff or by a consultant.
“Historically, this city uses consultants,” Montgomery said.
As for public input, the project is already scheduled for two scoping sessions, one more than usual.
“Voices will be heard,” Councilman Kelly Boyd said.
Former Mayor Ann Christoph said many residents were hoping for a public meeting to air their concerns directly to the council, not a scoping meeting.
“I hope staff can resolve how the public can be involved,” South Laguna resident Penny Elia said.
Public comment, either vocal or written, is part of the EIR process by law, and Laguna has never lacked folks eager to make known their views.
“The EIR is an informational document, not an action document,” City Attorney Philip Kohn said. “The primary object is to make sure and informed decision is made.”
The contract with PMC also included an electric mitigation monitoring data base, a significant aid to the city staff, Montgomery said.
The firm, however, may not have to conduct a water supply assessment as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, if South Coast Water District, which services the Aliso Creek area, can provide the necessary information.
Significant information required in the environmental document includes such issues as water quality, hydrology, visual resources, noise, air quality, biological resources, analysis of the preferred project and alternatives.
The report must be certified before deliberation on a specific project takes place.