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Tuesday, Aug 13 2013 06:00 AM

Deadline for written comments on Walmart EIR close, debate continues

Planning Commission hearing set for Sept. 23

Comments on the Walmart project Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report were accepted by the City of Tehachapi through Aug. 12. But though the 45-day review period has closed, the discussion is not over.

In a special meeting at the Tehachapi High School gym on Monday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m., the Planning Commission will debate the approval of the revised EIR and re-debate whether to approve the Walmart project as a whole.

Tied to a Kern County Superior Court judge's June 2012 ruling that the city needed to revisit portions of the original EIR was the cancellation of the commission's original approval of the project.

The judge's ruling followed a suit against the city by Tehachapi First, an organization formed by residents who oppose the Walmart project.

Shannon Turner, a representative of Tehachapi First, said evaluation of the revised draft is "all down to the experts," adding that if the current EIR has any deficiencies, it is up to the group's attorneys to catch them. She said she has no knowledge of whether the group plans to challenge any aspects of the revision in court.

Judge Kenneth Twisselman ordered the city to delve deeper into three issues in the original report: traffic, noise and water impacts. By naming those areas, the judge excluded the other portions of the document from further scrutiny, despite claims by Tehachapi First of other deficiencies.

A press release issued by Turner in June 2011 states, "The [original draft] Environmental Impact Report the City Council prepared for Walmart's megastore completely whitewashed over the serious traffic, air pollution, urban decay and noise problems it will inflict on our community."

Community Development Director David James said the city ordered additional research done on water availability and noise, but that the traffic study previously used just needed to be clarified and cleaned up.

The Revised Draft EIR called impacts on local water supplies "less than significant," but still recommended mitigation measures. The suggestions include requiring Walmart to provide non-potable water for irrigating the landscaping, optimizing the efficiency of the irrigation system and installing low-flush water toilets.

Traffic noise was examined more closely but the project's impacts were still deemed insignificant.

"Three residential roadway segments -- Red Apple west of Tucker Road, Valley Boulevard west of Mountain View Avenue and Valley Boulevard west of Curry Street -- already exceed the applicable standard of 65 dBA," the report said. "The incremental increase in noise caused by the project is less than 1 dBA at each location, which is an allowable increase under the substantial/excessive criteria for each of the roadways. Thus, the project's impact on these roadways would be less than significant."

The greatest increase in traffic noise at 1.1 dBA, according to the report's evaluation, would be in the commercial area of Tucker Road north of Valley Boulevard. In the examined residential areas, the section of Valley Boulevard west of Curry Street would see an increase of 0.9 dBA, raising the traffic volume to 71.8 dBA, which is 6.8 dBA above what the report states is "standard."

As a reference, the EIR includes a table listing common activities' noise levels. With zero being the lowest threshold of human hearing, a broadcast/recording studio is rated at 15 dBA, a quiet urban area in the daytime at 50 dBA and a commercial area at 65 dBA, which is rated the same as normal speech at three feet.

James said the commission will have to adopt "overriding considerations" in the case of seven intersections since the junctions are run either by CalTrans or Kern County. The report states that neither agency has any plans to improve the areas.

"Therefore, cumulative impacts at these intersections would remain significant and unavoidable," the report said.

The intersections are: Santa Lucia Street/Valley Boulevard; Westwood Boulevard/Red Apple; Sierra Vista Drive/Valley Boulevard; Tucker Road/Red Apple; Tucker Road/Conway; Tucker Road/Valley Boulevard; Tucker Road/Orchard Drive.

At its September meeting, James said the Planning Commission will vote on whether to re-approve the Walmart project.

"Right now we don't have an approved plan for Walmart," James said. "But the Planning Commission will have another bite of it."

Two of the commissioners, Daryl Christensen and Mariana Teel, were not on the committee when the project was originally approved.

Even though the issue is not officially approved, Turner said that does not matter in the end.

"Their minds are made up," she said.

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