The action was a quick resolution to what had been a process filled with lengthy discussions and concerns raised by numerous community members at previous Planning Commission and council meetings on the project.
The unanimous council vote on the consent agenda marked the final approval for the East Ranch Project, set to consist of 573 housing units on 165 acres in eastern Dublin.
Although consent agenda items are typically routine in nature, the East Ranch Project's ambitious plan meant that it had met its fare share of controversy leading up the council's final approval. On Dec. 17, ahead of the Dec. 21 meeting and following a council meeting filled with public comments on the proposal on Dec. 7, Harold Freiman, legal counsel for the Dublin Unified School District sent a letter to the council that emphasized the district's concerns with the project.
Freiman alleged that "substantial changes in circumstances under which the project is to be undertaken have occurred, requiring further environmental review," and is meant to challenge the council's previous decision at the Dec. 7 meeting, in which they approved an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act for the project. It cites a point raised by the council at that meeting, that the exemption in question is only valid if there are not such substantial changes.
Freiman proceeded to argue that a previous letter sent to the council on Dec. 7 supported the claim that there have been substantial changes in circumstances since the East Dublin Specific Plan (EDSP) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was put into effect, and called for additional environmental reviews and updates.
"For this project, the City is relying on data from 28 years ago to justify exempting the project from further environmental review," Freiman wrote. "As demonstrated by the Dec. 7 letter, 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."
Freiman cited a disparity between the city's prediction for enrollment in the district in its most recent General Plan, which totaled 9,755 students, and the district's School Facilities Needs Analysis, which sees 12,770 students in district schools, and pointed to an existing 1,243 seat deficit.
"These numbers alone demonstrate that the district's enrollment has substantially outpaced the previously relied upon student projections by some 3,015 students," Freiman wrote. "Based on the city's website, the East Dublin Specific Plan Area is still expected to produce another 1,720 residential units, and the General Plan estimates a remaining 4,348 residential units to be built."
Dublin councilmember Shawn Kumagai said that he and others on the council had read and considered the Dec. 17 letter, but continued to disagree with the assessment of the situation.
"The central premise of their letter is that we need to reinitiate an EIR," Kumagai said. "All I will say is that one, we do not have to do another EIR, and two, doing another EIR is not going to change, fundamentally, the fee structure for mitigation to school impacts. That is set at the state level and no EIR is going to change that. So what I don't want is for people to conflate the EIR process with the school impact fee process, and what was made very clear in the meeting is that we cannot deny a project based off of impacts to schools."
Kumagai said that while he personally liked the project and was optimistic about what it would bring to the area, the council's decision had been based on fulfilling their duties rather than personal preferences.
"We really had very little discretion about whether we approved it," Kumagai said.
He added that while the large number of units featured in the project are hard to ignore, this was the number of units that the city had considered and decided upon in plans and studies for the area.
"It is largely a compliant project and something that has been in our plans for decades," Kumagai said. "So, it's an important piece of our overall buildout strategy."
Kumagai added that beyond the number of units, and its compliance with the city's existing plans for the area, the project has other desirable qualities that he hoped would benefit the surrounding area.
"A lot of folks came out and spoke against it from the neighboring communities, but what I would say is that they will have additional infrastructure, parks and roads, and that is going to really help their communities," Kumagai said.
As proposed, the East Ranch Project is set to consist of six neighborhoods, with two parks, and 72 affordable units throughout the development. In the proposal approved by the council, the developer, Trumark Homes, is also set to allocate two acres for additional affordable housing. Trumark is additionally set to pay in-lieu fees for 25 affordable housing units.
Trumark first unveiled its plans for the area in a study session in the fall of 2019, proceeding to file a formal development application in 2020.
The next step for the proposed project is for Trumark to return to the Planning Commission for the permit application process required for each of the six projected neighborhoods. Developers are hoping for units to be on the market by the end of 2024.