The Way Irvine Measures Traffic is About to Change to Benefit Developers

Raccoon Painting

If you thought the Veteran’s Cemetery issue was the only thing Democrats on the Irvine City Council and various City Commissions sided with FivePoint and its consultants on in 2017, you’d be wrong.

It is no secret that there are untoward influences from the major development community on our local government specifically Mayor Don Wagner, and Council members Christina Shea (who often sends developer contacts emails about pending city business within minutes of receiving city staff reports) and Melissa Fox. This influence now extends beyond council to the Planning Commission and Community Services Commission.

Transportation infrastructure was a central theme of Fox’s 2016 city council campaign. There’s a change in state law in how traffic is measured and Fox has added this element for discussion by the city council.  Traffic in Irvine continues to get worse, not better, but the standard by which traffic is measured has changed and it will look like traffic conditions have improved, not worsened.  This will make it easier for developers to get their projects approved.

The key terms here are LOS and VMT. LOS is Level of Service and VMT is Vehicle Miles Traveled.  The real impact is how traffic around a new development project might impact California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a statute that requires state and local agencies/governments to identify significant environmental impacts of planned developments.

The State of California has recommended that cities replace LOS, the most popular measure of auto congestion, with VMT per capita, which measures the average length of the car trips a given development might generate. Replacing LOS with VMT makes it cheaper for big developers like the Irvine Company and FivePoint to complete development projects that add to our traffic headache while they profit.

From the memo, it appears Irvine will drop LOS which is a measure of traffic impact in favor of the ill-defined VMT.  The change from LOS to VMT applies to state-required CEQA analysis of projects. Cities may and can (and should) still choose to require that projects analyze LOS, in addition to the state-required VMT analysis as a part of project approval requirement. The change to VMT is intended to more accurately reflect impacts to the environment instead of impacts to roadways and congestion which is what LOS measures.  Removing this doesn’t benefit the city but does benefit large developers.

From her December 13 memo, Fox writes:

nce the CEQA guidelines have been updated, traffic analysis for new development will be calculated by Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) created by the new development, rather than level of service (LOS) impacts on nearby intersections. Due to these changes, the City of lrvine will need to change the City’s Environmental lmpact Report (ElR) process along with lrvine’s General Plan. 

Please place an update from staff regarding the necessary changes to lrvine’s Development Review process in order to comply with the new CEQA rules on the January 9,2018, City Council meeting agenda. Additionally, I am asking that the City Council has the opportunity to provide direction to staff concerning these changes.

Should the council move to only evaluate new development based on VMT, they are guilty of ignoring the problem of traffic and impact to roadways are committing governmental malpractice. Do we know the costs to the city of re-evaluating projects with this measure? How are we going to evaluate the existing projects? Many of Irvine’s intersections are at an LOS grade of “C” or below and we are simply removing the LOS measure from the EIR is only going to make matters worse.

The other issues included a no-bid contract for FivePoint to install scoreboards at atheletic fields – something that clearly should have gone to bid – and a permanent advertisement for FivePoint at the Great Park main soccer field. The city will leave money on the table over the years by not having this contract renewed annually.

And lastly, two Strader-backed projects near John Wayne Airport got Fox’s vote to overrule the Airport Land Use Commission which felt the project posed a safety threat and a potential air travel hazard.  The project was deemed safe by a consultant who was paid by the applicant (did anyone expect the consultant to say the new project wasn’t safe?).

The Voice of OC has more here.