BAAQMD Denies It Said Deer Hill Is Safe

Article from: Scott Sommer, Environmental Lawyer, Former Member Lafayette School Board

The Yes campaign has been using an email from an Environmental Planner at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Alison Kirk, sent Tuesday May 29 at 4 pm, as a purported vindication of air quality for the public areas at Deer Hill that would be purchased under Measure L by the City at a cost of $3M plus 50% of cost overruns and a cancellation of developer fees. There is even a Nextdoor post from a supporter of Yes claiming “According to BAAQM [sic], Deer Hill Site is Safe for Children”, citing an EBT article referring to that email and the email itself, neither of which said the site is “safe”.

So Susan Candell and I followed up with that planner, and her supervisor, David Vintze, Manager, Planning and Climate Protection at BAAQMD. Here’s what we found out:

ALTERED PROJECT DESCRIPTION. BAAQMD’s May 2016 Planning Healthy Places manual has a map with purple zones along freeways and major traffic corridors that are marked as areas of elevated air pollution and for application of “Best Practices to Reduce Exposure to Local Air Pollution”. This includes: “plan sensitive land uses farther from localized air pollution sources…one of the most effective health protective strategies that can be implemented to protect children and other vulnerable populations from the harmful effects of air pollution.”

It has been pointed out that part of the public areas on the site plans in the Homes EIR and for Ordinance 641 are in that purple zone along Pleasant Hill Road (PHR). The developer consultant’s report dated April 2018 included that EIR plan, and drew a dashed line starting at the trail about 50 feet in from PHR encompassing most of that public area, referring to it the “Project Description” on p.3 and Fig. 1. That description overlaps with the BAAQMD’s purple zone.

However, later in May, after that April 2018 report was criticized, the developer’s consultant sent a DIFFERENT diagram to BAAQMD, editing out all public areas in the purple zone and presenting two boxes purportedly 225 feet from PHR as the “Project” (we also believe the distances are exaggerated). The public areas between PHR and the boxes were NOT shown or referenced. Ms. Kirk did not notice the deletion, and was therefore induced to state in her email that “the Project is ADJACENT to areas recommended for ‘Best Practices’ and ‘Further Study’” (emphasis in original).

Anyone looking at the public areas on the actual site plan in the EIR can compare and see the deletion. Now that Ms. Kirk and Mr. Vintze are aware of the deletion, BAAQMD has changed its position to “Yes” the “public areas depicted on the EIR project description…include areas recommended for ‘Best Practices’ in BAAQMD’s Planning Healthy Places and is in the purple zone on the PHP online maps”. That corrects the second half of the 5/29 email the developer obtained by not showing the public areas within the purple zone to Ms. Kirk.

ONSITE MONITORING IS “MOST APPROPRIATE” TO CHARACTERIZE THE AIR QUALITY. Mr. Vintze was very clear that the calculation using the 2015 manual that was done by the developer’s consultant is a screening tool based on estimated values. It appears the consultant followed that methodology, although some values and distances are now under review. However, as has been repeatedly stated by multiple commentators including by James Leach, recipient of the 2018 Lafayette Award of Environmental Excellence from the city, and epidemiologist Devra Davis MPH Phd, actual onsite monitoring is the most accurate method.

BAAQMD agrees that onsite monitoring “is one of the most appropriate ways to characterize current air quality on any particular site.” The Deer Hill developer completely failed to do any onsite monitoring of the proposed public areas or homes at Deer Hill even though it had years to do so.

ULTRAFINE PARTICULATE MATTER. The developer has been criticized for ignoring Ultrafine Particulate Matter, the most numerous of the various sizes of PM. BAAQMD’s Planning Healthy Places at p.4 discusses health effects of “smaller particles known as ultrafine particles (UFP), which are particles less than 1.0 microns in diameter. Findings to date demonstrate that UFP can evade the body’s defense mechanisms and penetrate deeply into the lungs, bloodstream and organs.” South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Near Roadway Exposure and Ultrafine Particles, at p. 9-18 states UFP’s are “absorbed deeply into the lungs, move across cell membranes, and translocate into the bloodstream and other parts of the body (citing medical studies)”. Mr. Leach calculated that when air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, an active person is inhaling approximately four million 0.3 micron PM every minute.

Mr. Vintze of BAAQMD agrees that “Clearly there is a risk from Ultrafine Particulates”. He stated BAAQMD does not currently have methodology on UFPs but agreed it would be appropriate for Lafayette officials and voters to consider UFP risks. But the city and developer ignored UFP health risks.

MORE ROBUST SB 352 SCHOOLSITE METHODOLOGY. As a former Lafayette School Board member, I have been pointing out that a new playground or athletic field by a public school district would be illegal in this location under SB 352, Education Code 17213, because it is within 500 feet of a busy traffic corridor. There is a more robust evaluation method used for air quality evaluation for schools (definition of schoolsites under Ed. Code 17609(f) includes “playgrounds, athletic fields”). The California Air Resources Board’s Air Quality and Land Use Handbook, “Special Processes That Apply to School Siting” describes the process. The SB 352 evaluation process promulgated by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is more rigorous and robust than that used by the developer’s consultant. A higher ventilation rate is used for “High Intensity Activities” for play outdoors, recess and physical education and applies within 100 meters of a busy traffic corridor, such as the field at Deer Hill. Mr. Vintze agreed that the school methodology is more conservative. The developer’s consultant did not use it.

HEALTH PROTECTIVE DISTANCE. As noted, BAAQMD’s Planning Healthy Places, Appendix B, recommends planning sensitive uses farther from air pollution sources. In revising and supplementing the May 29 email, BAAQMD now advises: “We would recommend that a HRA [Health Risk Assessment] be performed to determine appropriate distance, if any” for the public uses proposed at Deer Hill. Mr. Vintze stated this is general guidance and the distance should be “as far as politically feasible”.

BAAQMD DENIES IT SAID THE PUBLIC USE AT DEER HILL IS “SAFE”. When read the statement on Nextdoor purporting to state that “According to BAAQM [sic], the Deer Hill Site is Safe for Children”, Mr. Vintze denied this is true. He said it is incorrect to read the BAAQMD email as a characterization that the site is “safe for children”. Rather, it was saying that the consultant was following methodology for estimates under the 2015 manual. Many other factors apply, and some of the figures the developer consultant used are in question and under further review. I will leave that to Susan Candell to address.

SUMMARY. Here’s what we do know and is not subject to reasonable dispute.

  1. The developer did not do onsite monitoring, nor refer to available BAAQMD PM 2.5 monitoring data from Treat Blvd and Oak Grove in Concord (Air Quality Index of 145, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for January 2018, for example) to see if there might be “similar concentrations” as Deer Hill.
  2. Health risks to children from Ultrafine Particulates were not evaluated. Part of the public use IS within the purple Best Practices zone in BAAQMD’s Planning Healthy Places.
  3. The more robust SB 352 rules and methods were not considered even though more protective of children.
  4. The Yes website does not disclose the distances between the public uses and PHR, Deer Hill Rd, and the freeway onramp, and incorrectly denies that fields would be within the schoolsite definition even though “playgrounds, athletic fields” are part of that definition in the Ed. Code.
  5. BAAQMD denies that it is saying the public use is “safe” for children and recommends an assessment to determine the appropriate Health Protective Distance.

The disagreement is that:

  • The developer argues this is good enough and the city’s voters should be required to spend $3M+ on this site.
  • Many others, myself included, say the air quality analysis should be more robust and the health risk to children conclusively determined, and that without such a showing Measure L should not be approved.