LOGO - Dublin Unified School District DUSD

DUBLIN — Continued frustration by the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) over the city council’s seeming inability, or willingness, to push for further environmental reviews on the 573-unit East Ranch housing project, has spurred the DUSD to consider additional legal alternatives.

“The district is exploring its options,” said Harold M. Freiman of Lozano Smith, the law firm representing the school district. “The district’s preference is, and always has been, to work cooperatively with the city and homebuilders to address the impacts of new development on the district. In this instance, that type of cooperation has not occurred in any meaningful way.”

Freiman argued that as part of the environmental review, the new development’s traffic impacts on the school district need to be studied.

“With inadequate capacity available, particularly at the closest schools, students and their families may have to travel significantly longer distances to get to school,” he added.

The additional traffic, Freiman continued, would create noise and air emission issues at school sites, and raise doubts about emergency response effectiveness at those schools.

In early December, the (DUSD) expressed its concerns over the project and its impact on the school district, in a letter to the city council. DUSD repeated its concerns in a second letter to Dublin City Council, dated Dec. 17, 2021.

Both letters criticized the project’s attempt to exempt itself from further environmental review, while the second letter refuted the council’s argument that it was legally unable to consider school impacts in its approval decision.

The Dec. 17 letter stated, “The district maintains that further environmental review is required before the city can approve this project due to the project’s reliance on the outdated, incomplete and inadequate analysis of the potential impacts related to schools.”

Councilmember Shawn Kumagai told The Independent that the city’s legal counsel considered the school district’s points, but felt that, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), they were allowed to proceed under the existing environmental impact reports (EIRs).

“To be frank, these are the EIRs that we used to develop all of East Dublin,” said Kumagai.

However, the school district’s letter, continued, “(The) city and district have both changed in such a way that the circumstances under which the project is to be undertaken have changed substantially, new information and mitigation measures not previously known are now available, and there are a multitude of impacts that the EDSP EIRs fail to address, thus requiring further environmental review.”

Despite vocal opposition from both the district and the public, the city council approved the project’s Stage 2 Development Plan and CEQA exemption at its Dec. 7 meeting, and adopted the ordinance approving the plan and CEQA findings at its Dec. 21, 2021 meeting.

The council also made an argument during its Dec. 7 meeting that it was legally unable to consider school impacts in its approval decision.

Kumagai later reiterated the council’s position that school impacts cannot be used as a reason to deny a project, referring to Senate Bill 50, which declared that “school impact fees were the exclusive means of considering mitigating impacts on school facilities.”

“We’re limited on what we can do there,” he added.

Led by Trumark Homes, the East Ranch project plans to build 573 housing units on the 165- acres straddling Croak Road, east of the Jordan Ranch neighborhood in Dublin and adjacent to the Doolan Canyon Regional Preserve. The proposal includes 18 moderate-income single-family units, 11.5 acres of park space and a small, neighborhood pocket park. The development will also reserve 2 acres of land for the future development of 77 affordable-housing units.

Under CEQA, residential projects, like East Ranch, may claim an exemption from further environmental review if they are consistent with a prior specific plan that underwent review. To this end, the East Ranch proposal cited environmental impact reports (EIRs) from the East Dublin Specific Plan (EDSP) released between 1993 and 2005.

Kumagai pointed to the Bay Area’s housing crisis as his reason for personally supporting the project.

“In order for us to get out of that crisis, we have to build more housing of all types across the spectrum,” he said. “You know, market rate, smaller units, affordable-by-design, as well as subsidized affordable housing. And this project brought all of that.”

“To be frank, these are the EIRs that we used to develop all of East Dublin,” said Kumagai.

However, the school district’s letter continued, “(The) city and district have both changed in such a way that the circumstances under which the project is to be undertaken have changed substantially; new information and mitigation measures not previously known are now available, and there are a multitude of impacts that the EDSP EIRs fail to address, thus requiring further environmental review.”

The council also made an argument during its Dec. 7 meeting that it was legally unable to consider school impacts in its approval decision.

Kumagai later reiterated the council’s position that school impacts cannot be used as a reason to deny a project, referring to Senate Bill 50, which declared that “school impact fees were the exclusive means of considering mitigating impacts on school facilities.”

“We’re limited on what we can do there,” he added.

In response to this position, the school district’s Dec. 17 letter stated, “The city is not only legally allowed to consider school related impacts, but is also required to do so.” The letter cited a similar case in Madera County in which the court decided that developer fees only mitigate impacts to “on school facilities.”

Freiman added, “The court concluded that the county was in fact required to consider and analyze increased traffic to and from schools, air quality impacts, (and) impacts related to construction of school facilities that would be needed to accommodate enrollment growth, which could include noise, pollution and traffic impacts.”

Kumagai pointed to the Bay Area’s housing crisis as his reason for personally supporting the project.

“In order for us to get out of that crisis, we have to build more housing of all types across the spectrum,” he said. “You know, market rate, smaller units, affordable-by-design, as well as subsidized affordable housing. And this project brought all of that.”