Reluctantly, the Calimesa City Council passed a resolution establishing vehicle miles traveled thresholds as its measurement for transportation impact analysis for land use projects at its recent meeting.
Planning Manager Kelly Lucia explained that previously, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), level of service was the transportation metric used. However, under SB 743, which passed in 2013 to promote the reduction of greenhouse gases but took years to formulate methodologies, the metric has changed to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), with a July 1, 2020 deadline for implementation.
“The city has prepared by way of our consultant, Fehrs and Peers, a draft type of updated transportation impact analysis that sets out the criteria by which transportation impacts are evaluated in the city,” Lucia said.
After hearing the presentation from Jason Pack, of Fehrs and Peers, and comments from the public, Councilman Larry Smith said he did not like the new transportation metric, and later, voted against approving it.
The other four councilmembers voted to adopt the change at the June 15 meeting, although they too had concerns about the impact on Calimesa. All five councilmembers voted to support a letter from staff requesting a delay for implementation from the governor.
Among Smith’s concerns is the amount of miles most Inland Empire residents travel for work.
“I am really concerned about this particular methodology for measuring the impacts of vehicles,” Smith said. “The average daily trip in Riverside and San Bernardino counties is somewhere between 68 to 75 miles. We are a commuter type of community here. Most people, because we don’t have jobs here, we make major trips.”
In response to Smith, Pack pointed out that different regions of the state could have different VMT thresholds.
“It is important to recognize that Calimesa is not downtown Los Angeles. People drive further. That’s why the legislation does allow you, as the lead agency, to set your methodology and what your threshold of significance is,” he said, noting the resolution before council still included a level of service assessment because Calimesa chose to have that as part of its general plan.
“All projects moving forward, we are going to have to calculate VMT, we are going to compare that to the threshold, document any impacts, identify mitigation measures,” Pack said.
There are some criteria that allow land use projects to be exempt from VMT screening, Pack also said.
In addition, he mentioned Calimesa is not the only city in the state or region concerned about the change from level of service to vehicle miles traveled. Several cities have sent letters to the state legislature and governor requesting a delay of possibly one year for implementation. Specifically, Pack named the city of Fontana as one that adopted VMT guidelines, while also sending a letter requesting a delay.
City Attorney Amy Greyson cautioned the council about not implementing SB 743.
“Right now, the deadline … is July 1 to have something in place. Any project that is not yet complete or comes in after that date has to be evaluated under the VMT approach. It is important to have something in effect,” Greyson said. “That is why I think that approach that was followed, where they supported the letter but still adopted something locally, may be the best way to do that.”
If Calimesa decided not to implement a vehicle miles traveled approach by the deadline, Greyson said projects would be stalled. The June 15 meeting was Calimesa’s last regularly scheduled council meeting before July 1.
“We are going to have to have something if we want anything to proceed,” Mayor Bill Davis said.
Fifth District Riverside County Supervisor and former Calimesa Mayor Jeff Hewitt attended the meeting and spoke about his frustrations with SB 743 as a citizen.
“If you think about it right now, a level of service way to measure intersections actually makes it so you get through there quicker,” he said. “If you do it by vehicle miles traveled, a congested intersection, people don’t do very many miles at all. They end up driving less and less and less. This actually accomplishes exactly the opposite of what you would think it would want to do.
Hewitt also noted questions about privacy issues and how cities will be able to calculate personal vehicle information have been raised on SB 743.
“We are going to approve something that we have no understanding of the total ramifications, and that frustrates me,” Smith said before council voted.
“Yes,” Davis said in agreement.
“I want to be responsive to my city staff that has a job to do and wants to move projects forward. It’s a real catch-22 situation,” Smith said.
Davis, along with Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina and councilmen Jeff Cervantez and Ed Clark, then voted in favor of the resolution implementing vehicle miles traveled guidelines for Calimesa, while Smith voted against it. Council then unanimously requested staff send a letter to the governor requesting a delay to implement SB 743.
For more information on the Calimesa City Council and its June 15 meeting, visit cityofcalimesa.net