Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Bookmark and Share
File #: 2019-6629   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: Planning Board
On agenda: 3/11/2019
Title: Public Hearing on the Scope of the Environmental Impact Report for the Veterans Administration Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic and National Cemetery Project
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 Notice of Preparation, 2. Exhibit 2 Site Plan, 3. Item 7-A Public Comment

Title

 

Public Hearing on the Scope of the Environmental Impact Report for the Veterans

Administration Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic and National Cemetery Project 

 

Body

 

To:                                          Honorable President and

                                          Members of the Planning Board

                     

From:                        Andrew Thomas, Acting Planning, Building and Transportation Director

                                                        

Executive summary

 

the City of Alameda is the lead agency and will be preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Veterans Administration Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic and National Cemetery Project at Alameda Point. 

 

On February 21, 2019, the City released a Notice of Preparation (NOP, attached as Exhibit 1) notifying the public and other public agencies that the City has determined that the proposal requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

 

The purpose of the March 11, 2019 public hearing is to provide an opportunity for the public to submit comments on the scope and content of the EIR, including identifying the range of actions, significant environmental effects, and mitigation measures to be analyzed in the EIR. 

 

No formal action or decision is required of the Planning Board.

 

background

 

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  plans to construct and operate  a Veterans Health Administration outpatient facility, Veteran Benefits Administration outreach office, National Cemetery Administration columbaria cemetery, conservation management office, and associated permanent infrastructure on approximately 112 acres located in the Northwest Territories of Alameda Point (VA Development Area) to satisfy the mandates imposed by federal regulatory guidance, fulfill the healthcare needs of the Bay Area veteran population, and support the protection of an existing 9.7-acre California least tern (CLT; Sternula antillarum browni) colony.

The remaining 512 acres, including the least tern colony and the 8-acre proposed wetlands mitigation and enhancement area at the south end of the VA’s parcel, would remain undeveloped and managed for the long-term persistence and sustainability of the seasonal colony and other species, with access restricted during the least tern breeding/nesting season. All permanent construction is required to be located at least 1,800 feet away from the colony.

The VA, as owner of the property and Project proponent, is responsible for obtaining all applicable permits prior to construction. The VA will be responsible for implementing and monitoring all applicable minimization and mitigation measures identified.

Although construction of federal facilities by federal agencies is typically exempt from local land use regulations and review, in this case, the VA plans to construct an access utility/road on approximately 6-acres of City land to the east of the VA Transfer Parcel and two new storm drains across City-owned land to the north of the VA property, which will require approval of easements from the City, which are discretionary actions subject to CEQA. In addition to City approval of the infrastructure easements necessary to support the project, the project will also need approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California State Historic Preservation Officer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).

Regional agencies, such as the San Francisco Bay RWQCB, will be required to consider the environmental impacts of their actions. For these reasons, the City will serve as the “lead agency” under CEQA, and prepare the necessary environmental review (the EIR) for the project, which will serve as the project EIR under CEQA for all of California agencies that may be required to issue permits for the project. 

DISCUSSION

Project Description.  The project to be considered in the EIR includes the following facilities and services:

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Outpatient Clinic

The VHA Outpatient Clinic (OPC) would consist of the 158,000-square-foot OPC, comprising an Ambulatory Care Clinic, a VA/Department of Defense Ambulatory Surgery Center, a Mental Health Department, and a Women’s Health Clinic. The OPC would also include behavioral health services, a pharmacy, a radiology department, laboratories, outpatient surgery, urgent care, specialty clinics, and support functions. The OPC two-story building would be located within a 20-acre portion of the VA Development Area. It would also include an adjacent surface parking area (632 spaces) and a shuttle drop-off/pick-up area for veterans and VA staff members, as well as public transportation services by the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District.

 

Patient appointments would typically be scheduled between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. In addition, some outpatient services, including behavioral health services, would also be offered on Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Some VA staff may remain at the OPC after operating hours. There would be no emergency care and no overnight stays at the OPC.

Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Outreach Office

A 5,000-gross-square-foot VBA Outreach Office would be located within the VHA OPC and would be co-located with VHA and National Cemetery Administration administrative services. The VBA Outreach Office would provide on-site benefits services to veterans and their dependents within a 5,000-gross-square-foot departmental space. The VA anticipates that up to four VBA staff members would work at this office on a daily basis. Proposed hours of service and estimated staffing levels are included in the figures for the OPC above.

National Cemetery Administration (NCA) Cemetery

An 80-acre NCA columbaria-only, aboveground cemetery would be constructed within the VA Development Area over a period of about 120 years. The final NCA cemetery would also include up to three committal service shelters, an assembly area, a public information center, a cortege assembly area, courtyards, a service/area, and a storage area.

The cemetery would be for cremated remains (columbaria) only and would include several wall-like structures (columbarium walls) with niches to exclusively house urns containing cremated remains. The maximum height of the columbarium walls would be 8 feet 4 inches. Cemetery Phase 1 construction activities (beginning in 2020) would include constructing facilities on 20 acres and would take 30 months to complete. Subsequent phases of the cemetery would take about 24 months each, with facilities construction occurring on the remaining 60 acres of the Development Area. Future cemetery facilities construction would occur about every 10 years for an estimated 11 additional phases, with final build-out of the cemetery in the year 2130.

 

Committal service shelters for interment or memorial services would also be provided and constructed during Phase 1 construction activities for the cemetery. These pavilion-like structures are typically about 25 feet by 36 feet in size and about 20 feet high. Committal service shelters provide seating for about 10 to 20 people and standing room for others attending the service. Up to three shelters would be provided at the cemetery, two of which would be constructed during Phase 1 of the cemetery construction, with the third shelter constructed in the area of Phase 5 columbaria, approximately in the year 2075.

 

A public information center for guests visiting the cemetery would be located in the OPC building and would consist of a reception area, restrooms, and offices. A staging area for funeral procession vehicles (cortege assembly area) is proposed adjacent to the west side of the OPC building. This area would consist of three lanes for vehicles (up to 30 per service) to line up before proceeding to the committal service shelter. Additional parking would be provided adjacent to each committal service shelter to accommodate the funeral cortege. Other features of the NCA Cemetery would include fences along the perimeter of the cemetery areas, signs, landscaping, an irrigation system, benches, trash receptacles, and flower containers for floral offerings.

The cemetery would be open daily from sunrise to sunset, with possible expanded hours in the evening (until 8 p.m.) on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. On average, the VA estimates that up to ten memorial or interment services would take place each day, with attendance at these services typically ranging from 5 to 30 people. As part of military tradition, a military honors salute might be performed during interment ceremonies and special memorial services. The military honors salute is a ceremonial act performed at military funerals as part of the drill and ceremony of the Honor Guard, in which a rifle party fires blank cartridges in three volleys. No nighttime activities are proposed within the cemetery area; therefore, exterior lighting would be limited to the area adjacent to the VA building and parking area, and to illuminate the U.S. Flag near the assembly area. Only minimal lighting for monitoring the security of the site is proposed. It is estimated that up to seven NCA staff would be working at the facility on a daily basis.

Access and Parking

A new two-lane main access road would be constructed along the northernmost boundary of the VA Development Area to provide public access through the site. The new access road would connect to a proposed extension of the existing West Red Line Avenue in Alameda. Construction of both the new access road and the extension of the existing road are proposed as part of this project. The new access road is shown on the site plan (Exhibit 2).

Parking would be available within surface lots adjacent to the OPC and within the national cemetery area. In addition, a new pathway would allow pedestrians to circulate separately from the road directly adjacent to and on each side of the main access road. The pathway would be constructed using existing paving to the extent possible and would be filled in with decomposed granite or asphalt to provide a continuous circulation route for pedestrians.

The public access road and pathway would extend from the proposed OPC at the east end of the facility toward the shoreline to the west, stopping before a 100-foot easement band under San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) jurisdiction.

 

An off-site access and utility road corridor would be constructed east of the VA Development Area and would be located outside the VA Transfer Parcel on City property located within Alameda Point. The off-site road would provide vehicle and bicycle access to the VA Development Area from Alameda and is proposed to link the new on-site access road to the existing West Red Line Avenue and connect to Main Street. No other vehicle roads would be developed outside the VA Development Area. On-site roads would be developed in accordance with VA design standards and specifications.

 

Conservation Management Office (CMO)

The VA Transfer Parcel supports a colony of California least tern (CLT), a species listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

To protect the CLT, and as part of the proposed project, the VA would construct a 2,500-square-foot CMO on approximately 2.4 acres within the 20-acre VA Development Area. The CMO would be used by various resource agencies, such as USFWS and the East Bay Regional Park District, to manage and monitor the existing CLT colony. The CMO could include other uses, such as an interpretive center that supports volunteer and public education programs for schoolchildren and the broader public. The CMO would be constructed during the same construction period as the OPC, the VBA Outreach Office, and the first phase of the NCA Cemetery.

The CMO would operate daily from sunrise to sunset, with possible expanded hours during CLT breeding and nesting season if circumstances require monitoring or management activities beyond the normal hours of operation. This building would be located east of the OPC building and would accommodate USFWS, the East Bay Regional Park District, and VA staff members and contracted staff and volunteers involved in managing the CLT colony and potentially the proposed wetland mitigation site. The building would be a one-story structure with a maximum height of 25 feet and would provide for about 2,500 ground square feet of usable space. A small parking area, consisting of 8 to 10 parking spaces, would be located adjacent to this office.

 

On-site Wetland Mitigation

The proposed project, including all future phases of cemetery construction, would be constructed in the 112-acre Development Area, which is a portion of the total 624-acre VA Transfer Parcel. Construction of the proposed project, including all future phases of cemetery construction, would cause unavoidable discharges of fill to a total of 10.85 acres of waters of the United States.

Construction of the OPC, CMO, and Phase 1 of the national cemetery (and shaded pink on the site plan), would cause the loss of 3.6 acres of potentially jurisdictional wetlands. These impacts would be compensated for through the purchase of wetland mitigation credits at the USACE and San Francisco Bay RWQCB approved San Francisco Wetland Mitigation Bank. Future decadal phases of cemetery construction would be compensated for by creating at least 7.2 acres of tidal marsh wetlands on site (see site plan for proposed location).

Construction of the on-site wetlands would occur at the same time as construction of the OPC, CMO, and Phase 1 of the national cemetery, even though the second phase of cemetery construction for which the mitigation is being completed would not occur until about 10 years after Phase 1. In addition, existing on-site wetlands that are adjacent to the proposed wetland-creation area would be enhanced by removing invasive plant species and replacing them with native plantings, according to specifications.

Construction Scheduling

The VA proposes to phase construction for the proposed project over the course of the next 100-plus years, with the initial phase beginning in 2020. The initial phase of the proposed project would include constructing the OPC, access road, the CMO, and Phase 1 of the national cemetery. The national cemetery, containing columbarium-only interment sites, would be expanded each decade as needed to accommodate the aging population of the Bay Area’s veterans, as described in the NCA Cemetery section.

 

Construction activities for the main facilities, wetland mitigation site, and Phase 1 of the cemetery would take about 30 months. This includes an initial 6 to 8 months of earthwork, including mass grading, construction of mitigation wetlands at the south seawall, and installing utilities infrastructure and roads. A period of 6 months to 1 year will follow to allow compaction of applied surcharge soils at the proposed construction area. The final 12 months would comprise constructing buildings, columbaria, and installing landscaping. Each subsequent cemetery phase (about every 10 years) would involve about 24 months of development, including earthwork and installing columbarium structures and landscaping.

The initial phase of construction would include the following activities:

                     Developing the OPC and associated parking on about 20 acres

                     Constructing the north access road and on-site utility infrastructure on 11 acres

                     Constructing two new storm drains reaching north from the project area on easements that would be acquired from the City

                     Developing the CMO on 2.4 acres

                     Constructing the 7.2-acre tidal wetlands mitigation site

                     Constructing the first phase of the cemetery, estimated at 23 acres of the total 80-acre cemetery area.

The remainder of the cemetery area (57 acres) slated for build-out in future phases would remain undeveloped until there is a need for additional columbarium niches, which is estimated to take place in up to 12 additional phases, roughly occurring every 10 years for the next 100-plus years. The VA estimates that each additional phase of development would consist of about 25,000 columbarium niches on about 6 acres each, as necessary to meet the burial needs of Bay Area veterans.

 

Scope of Environmental Review.

 

On February 21, 2019, the City of Alameda released a Notice of Preparation (Exhibit 1) notifying the public and other public agencies that the City of Alameda has determined that the proposal requires preparation of an EIR pursuant to CEQA.

 

The City issued the NOP to Responsible Agencies, Trustee Agencies, federal agencies, transportation planning agencies and agencies with transportation facilities that may be affected and other interested parties. Responsible Agencies are those public agencies, other than the City, that have a role in approving or carrying out the Project.

 

Once staff receives public comments on the scope of the EIR and makes any necessary adjustments to the work plan, the project consultants and staff will publish a Draft EIR for public review. After the Draft EIR is completed, staff will circulate the document for public review. During the subsequent 45-day review period, the Planning Board will hold another public hearing to provide an opportunity for the community to comment on the adequacy of the analysis included in the Draft EIR. 

 

Staff and consultants will then prepare a Final EIR for public circulation. (This work typically takes about 30 days after the close of the 45-day review period.) The Final EIR will include any and all revisions needed to provide a complete analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.  

 

As described in the NOP prepared for this project, the EIR will address all environmental topic areas required by CEQA, including transportation and traffic, and the EIR will identify mitigation measures to reduce any potentially significant impacts to a less than significant level, as necessary. 

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

Hold a public hearing to accept public comments on the scope of the EIR.

 

No action on the proposed project is being requested of the Planning Board at this time.

 

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED BY:                     

 

 

ANDREW THOMAS

Acting Planning, Building, and Transportation Director

 

Exhibits:

1.                     Notice of Preparation

2.                     Site Plan