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Thoughts on the Honda Port of Entry Project

Copied below is the West County Times’ article from today’s paper about the Honda Port of Entry project approved by the Richmond City Council on November 18.

The City Council deliberated about six hours before voting on the final pieces.

There has been a lot of confusion and frustration about this project, primarily due to yet another poorly prepared EIR and financial information that has continued to evolve over the past few months.

My main concerns were with the project’s effects on the quality of life of Richmond residents and with the business deal. In the end, my concerns were resolved, and I voted in favor. Getting there, however, was not easy. In additional to a pitiful EIR, staff was so focused on the business aspects that they neglected the quality of life aspects. It took weeks of meetings and negotiations, continuing into the public hearing, to get conditions of approval added that protect community interests. An appeal and threat of a CEQA lawsuit by Fred Arm of the previous Design Review Board certification of the FEIR and approval of the project helped motivate staff to consider modifications to the final conditions of approval.

Following are the changes that were added:

·         Train Horns. The project will result in no new train horn sounding, and it will require completion of the Quiet Zone that includes BNSF grade crossing at Garrard (Richmond Parkway), Ohio, Second Street and West Cutting Boulevard. This will be a significant benefit for residents of the Iron Triangle (including Atchison Village), Santa Fe, parts of Coronado, Point Richmond and Brickyard Cove. In addition, BNSF will implement best practices to eliminate the “wheel squeal” that occurs when trains are using tracks with the tight radius curves in Point Richmond.

·         The project will result in diminished grade crossing blockages at Garrard, West Cutting and Canal Boulevard. Train traffic will occur primarily between 7:00 PM and 4:00 AM. Automatic equipment will be installed to record times of grade crossing blockages, and monthly reports will made public. The City has committed, as a condition of approval, to prosecute excessive blockages.

·         Following implementation of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) rule on “Fuel Sulfur and Other Operational Requirements for Ocean-Going Vessels” beginning in 2009 and completing in early 2012, air quality in Richmond will actually improve over the current conditions and health risk will drop (see http://www.arb.ca.gov/ports/marinevess/documents/advisory1008.pdf). The EIR was confusing in that it calculated emissions from the project as including nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM10) from ships as far out as 24 miles from the Golden Gate. The EIR did not include the reductions beginning next year from the new CARB rule on fuel used by ocean going ships. The result was alarmingly high emissions calculations, most of which would never reach Richmond and which will drop dramatically over the next three years. The revised conditions of approval require recalculation of emissions that will actually affect Richmond, and they must be lower than current conditions. Mitigation Measure 6-2 also requires a “targeted goal” of further reducing air quality impacts by 50% to 85% through a Clean Air Action Plan that may include cleaner engine technologies, truck idling restrictions, cleaner trucks, vessel speed reduction and Advanced Maritime Emissions Control Systems.

·         Solar: Solar electrical generation will be required to provide 100% of the needs of Point Potrero Marine Terminal, resulting in further improvement of regional air quality and reduction of greenhouse gases.

·         Parking; Sufficient parking will be reserved for adaptive reuses of historic buildings in the historic Shipyard 3 (Point Potrero Marine Terminal), which is part of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park and the

One of the most confusing aspects of the project has been the business plan. Various projections have been thrown around by the City for months, many of which were way overstated. Finally, a reliable projection was passed out at the meeting. Simply put, the guaranteed minimum gross revenue is about $88 million over 15 years, and the net revenue after debt service and expenses, is about $30 million over 15 years. That averages to about $2 million per year. Since the City is borrowing, through a bond issue, the entire $37 million cost, the net return on investment is infinite. The only thing that can go wrong would be that Honda goes belly up and defaults on its guarantee, in which case the City of Richmond would be stuck with debt service of about $3.7 million a year.

Credit for most of the complicating aspects of approving this project can go to the environmental impact report, prepared by Douglas Herring & Associates. Like many such EIRs prepared for Richmond projects, this one, frankly, sucked. I want to share with you remarks I made at the hearing about environmental impact reports in general, and this one in particular:

The California Environmental Quality Act is good law and a noble endeavor, but it is only as good as the people who do the work.


Unfortunately, CEQA has spawned an industry of environmental prostitutes who will go any length to spin the truth to serve the people who pay for their services. These people are the bottom feeders of the consulting world, lower than pond scum and slime mold on the consultant food chain. And they all seem to be doing EIRs for the City of Richmond.


They make my life miserable. My job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Richmond. Their job, it seems, is to try to minimalize and obfuscate anything and everything about a project that might adversely affect the people of Richmond or the environment.


Do you know how much time I’ve spent researching and correcting errors in this EIR? How much time I’ve spent haranguing city staff to get those corrections into the approval documents? Do you think I enjoy this? Do you think I have nothing better to do?


The city of Richmond wasted nearly $500,000 on a sloppy and inaccurate  EIR that isn’t worth the paper it was written on.


Not only do these EIR consultants spin reality, they show complete disdain and contempt for the people they should be serving. Consider the following examples from the Honda Port of Entry EIR:

·         All of the residents living closest to the project, and therefore those most affected by the project, purchased their homes after the current Glovis operations at the PPMT had commenced, so they were well aware that they were moving to a residence in close proximity to an operating Port facility (FEIR, 2-237, V-22)

·         Dr. Louis Hagler’s article is a one-sided discussion of the negative aspects of noise pollution. Dr. Hagler’s article does not address any coping mechanisms to noise pollution such as the ability of humans to adapt or habituate to environmental noise (FEIR, 2-332 and 2-333, V-5)

The first passage is addressed to the residents of Seacliff and Brickyard to whom the consultant is saying, “What right do you have to complain? You should have moved somewhere else.”


The second derides a respected medical doctor and a former Richmond resident who published a peer reviewed article in a respected medical journal. The EIR consultant not only disparages Dr. Hagler; he essentially tells the people of Richmond to suck it up and get used to the noise.


It’s bad enough having these hacks evaluating our projects and pretending to implement CEQA. What’s worse is that our City staff encourages and enables them.  They seem to be similarly confused about who they work for and who pays their salaries. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a staff planner stand up for the people once in a while?


In this case, the EIR consultant failed to independently verify critical information about such things as public access to the shoreline, noise and grade crossing blockages. Instead, he used third party information from biased sources, 30-year old irrelevant studies and pseudo-science to reach the conclusions he was directed to reach. He totally ignored current, relevant and important facts that were or could have been supplied by people living and working proximate to the project.


Another thing, this project is not some private developer exercising his right to develop his property under the regulatory authority of CEQA and the City’s General plan and Zoning Ordinance.  Regardless what authority the City has under CEQA, this is actually a City project, and the City is free to incorporate into it design features that go far beyond the City’s authority under CEQA and even Design Review.  Regardless of CEQA and legal issues of nexus that are typically argued regarding private projects , the city is fully empowered to control the design and operation  and can insert into the various contracts for future lessees and operators whatever provisions it desires to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. The project is the City’s own project, proposed to be paid for with nearly $40 million in municipal bonds that are ultimately backed by the City’s General Fund. No one else besides the City is putting any money into this project. Not Honda. Not Auto Warehousing. Not Transdevelopment. Not Glovis.


New tenant for Richmond port: Honda

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 11/19/2008 08:40:44 PM PST


Tens of thousands of Honda cars are bound for Richmond's port.

City leaders have signed off on a series of contracts, paving the way for American Honda Motor Co. to bring at least 145,000 cars a year through the port en route to the sales floor and more than doubling the number of cars the port handles now.

The $87.5 million deal spans 15 years, with the possibility of two five-year extensions.

"As they say when you plant a seed, it takes years for it to mature and grow and begin to bear fruit," said Councilman Nat Bates, who said he visited the Port of Tacoma in Washington state four years ago to observe car operations. "It's going to benefit the city tremendously not only financially, but also providing some jobs that are desperately needed."

The city will make $37.9 million in improvements, including building a rail yard so cars can be loaded from ships directly into railcars instead of being trucked to a rail yard a mile away for loading. Officials also limited how long trains can block intersections and ordered them not to sound their horns except for an emergency.

Financing for the work through bonds likely will be completed in late January or early February.

The City Council's nearly unanimous approval Tuesday came the same night officials denied pleas for more environmental review. Resident Fred Arm filed an appeal to the Design Review Board's Oct. 8 decision to certify the project's environmental impact report, arguing that the document is flawed and that eagerness for new revenue must not outweigh consideration of the plan's environmental effects.

"The port has acknowledged they can't really do anything about all this pollution so they have this little magic clause in the (California Environmental Quality Act) statutes that says we have overriding consideration, which essentially means we don't have to pay a darn bit of attention with what's going on with respect to pollution as long as we have enough excuses to override it," Arm said.

Some residents also worry about increased pollution, trains blocking intersections, cumulative environmental impacts and a shortage of tough mitigation measures.

Project supporters, including union members who will work at the port, asked officials to finalize the deal because it will bring about 200 construction and 200 long-term jobs.

"We need jobs. This projects looks like it would bring jobs, and we need this economical build-up," said Michael Davenport, a landowner in the Seacliff area near the port.

The council voted 7-1 to deny Arm's appeal and approve the contracts. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who sought more environmental review, dissented. Vice Mayor John Marquez was absent.

The Port of Richmond currently handles 96,000 Hyundai and Kia cars a year. Port officials began negotiations in 2006 for Honda to make Richmond its third point of entry on the West Coast, with dollar figures for capital improvements and revenue fluctuating over the past year. In addition, 80,000 domestically produced Honda cars will reach the port by rail, meaning a combined 230,000 Honda cars will come through the port either by rail or by ship.

Operations are expected to generate a net 1,491 pounds of nitrogen oxides a day, which exceeds the state daily standard of 80 pounds, according to the environmental report. Nitrogen oxides contribute to smog, which can irritate lungs and trigger asthma.

Nitrogen oxide emissions are a "significant and unavoidable" impact, the EIR concluded. As part of its approval, the council signed off on a "Statement of Overriding Considerations" that essentially says economic and social benefits outweigh environmental impacts.

Project heads argued that nitrogen oxide levels at the port would be far less than what the EIR outlines. New models require nitrogen oxide emissions be measured from 24 miles away, said Bill Robbins with Auto Warehousing Co., which will lead the project. Between 75 percent and 83 percent of emissions would be outside Richmond, he said; emissions would improve in 2009 when ships switch to lower-sulfur fuel under state law.

Noise would not be significant, the EIR states, although some residents dispute that.

Trains will operate from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., generally blocking intersections for 1-1/2 to 6 minutes, Robbins said. Blockages will not be more than 10 minutes when trains are stopping or engaged in switching operations, he said.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.