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To comply with CEQA, a public agency first considers whether a proposed activity qualifies as a “project” subject to environmental review. If a proposed activity is not a “project,” no further action is required under CEQA.
If a proposed activity qualifies as a “project,” the public agency next considers whether any CEQA exemption applies to the project. The CEQA exemptions can be found in the Public Resources Code and the CEQA Guidelines. If a “project” qualifies for an exemption, the exemption may be documented in the public agency’s files for the project and a Notice of Exemption may be filed and posted with the County Clerk. Nothing further is required by CEQA.
If a public agency finds that a “project” does not qualify for an exemption, the public agency will then determine whether the “project” requires a negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration or EIR. Generally, if the “project” will result in significant impacts that cannot be mitigated, an EIR will be prepared. Otherwise, a negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration will be prepared.
Here, the City determined that the proposed gas station was a “project” subject to CEQA. The City next considered whether any CEQA exemptions applied to the project. One of CEQA’s exemptions, known as the Class 32 exemption, applies to in-fill development projects. In order to qualify for the Class 32 exemption, the following conditions must be met:
The City evaluated whether the proposed gas station met the criteria for the Class 32 exemption. Technical studies were prepared in the areas of traffic, noise, air quality, and water quality, among others. Those studies concluded that the project qualified for the Class 32 exemption. Pursuant to CEQA, no further environmental review is required.
The use of the Class 32 Exemption was not a loophole nor does it mean that no environmental review was done by the City for the project. A project could only qualify under the Class 32 Exemption after the City has reviewed all aspects of the project including technical studies that are required to evaluate the potential impacts (i.e. studies for traffic, water quality, air quality & noise). The reports compiled by the applicant and reviewed by the City would be the same reports used in the preparation of an EIR.
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On October 15, 2019, the City Council adopted a Resolution which upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of the application for a new Costco gasoline station to be located within the southeastern corner of the existing Costco Warehouse parking lot area adjacent to El Camino Real and Auto Center Drive. Following City Council approval, a lawsuit was filed with the Orange County Superior Court challenging the City’s approval of the project. Generally, the petition challenges the City’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the project.
Copies of the October 15, 2019, staff report can be found at October 15 2019 Costco Agenda Report
The City Council did not meet privately with any representatives of Costco nor with individual members of the public before the appeal hearing. The City Council does this to ensure a fair and transparent hearing on appeals of land use decisions, and to ensure that everyone - residents and the applicant - have the opportunity to hear and respond to everything the City Council hears.
Prior to City Council meeting on October 15, 2019, the City received 655 emails. Of which 610 supported the project, 37 opposed the project, 6 did not identify, and 2 were a maybe.
The new Costco gasoline project will have 16 gasoline fuel pumps. Each pump will allow for two (2) vehicles to obtain fuel at the same time for a total of 32 vehicles.
Costco will operate the new gasoline station from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday, and 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The following studies were reviewed and evaluated by City staff as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the project. Each study concluded that there would be less than significant impacts relative to traffic, circulation, vehicle queueing, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. A brief description of each study is listed below:
These studies included:
An air quality analysis was prepared to assess air quality and a greenhouse gas study to evaluate emissions was also completed for the station. Emissions of criteria air pollutants (CAP) and greenhouse gases (GHG) associated with construction and operation of the project (including vehicle idling) were evaluated to determine if the project would cause significant air quality impacts. The Air Quality analysis concluded that the proposed project would not cause significant air quality or GHG impacts.
The Health Risk Assessment (HRA) assessed emission sources from the idling of vehicles queueing at the pumps and vehicle travel within the vicinity of the proposed project. The HRA shows that the project’s potential health risks are below the applicable regulatory thresholds.
Copies of the Air Quality analysis, Greenhouse Gas study and Health Risk Assessment can be found at Air Quality and Greenhouse Studies Health Risk Assessment
Anticipated traffic for the project was evaluated through the submittal of two (2) traffic studies; an initial traffic study and a secondary (supplemental) traffic report. A separate report analyzing the long-term buildout traffic conditions for the project and vicinity was also prepared. All studies were prepared by a licensed traffic engineer.
The initial traffic study analyzed anticipated trip generation and related impacts, Level of Service (LOS) and queueing analysis at different intersections, fuel area layout, fuel delivery site circulation and on-site vehicle stacking and parking. This analysis also accounted for the fact that the existing on-site use, the Goodyear Tire Center, would be replaced with additional parking area. The supplemental traffic study confirmed the initial study findings and provided a comparative analysis between the Tustin Ranch location and the existing Tustin Costco gasoline station located at The District (in Tustin). Both traffic studies concluded that traffic impacts would be less than significant.
Copies of the Traffic Studies and Build Out can be found at Traffic Studies and Build Out Study
If there is an inclination of traffic gridlock, two (2) detailed alternative queueing management plans were developed to accommodate peak demand scenarios. Both alternative queueing plans were reviewed and evaluated by City staff and were determined to adequately address the demand at the new station. In addition to both alternative plans, the City has also required that during peak demand, three (3) on-site traffic attendants will be present to guide and direct traffic which will further increase efficiency at the new station.
Copies of traffic studies and long-term build out analysis can be found at Traffic Studies and Build Out Study
There is no evidence to suggest that property values will change as a result of living near a gasoline station. There are homes located throughout the City of Tustin that are within close proximity to gas stations. In some instances, the gas stations are immediately adjacent to homes. More specifically, in Tustin Ranch, two (2) existing service stations are approximately 170-200 feet from homes. The proposed Costco gas station is 700 feet from any home. There is no evidence that the existing Tustin Ranch service stations or those closest to the service stations in the remaining areas of the City have an impact on property values.
The City is concerned about the well-being of all businesses within the community. Not all of Tustin’s residents are Costco members and therefore not everyone will be buying gas at the same location. Opportunities for residents to purchase fuel at various gasoline locations throughout the City remains.
Below is a summary of the differences and similarities between the two (2) gasoline stations:
Major lessons learned from the Costco gasoline operation at The District include the adequacy of on-site circulation (for entry, for fueling and for exiting) and the capability of vehicles to queue on-site so as to minimize off-site impacts. The City evaluated the proposed project at the Tustin Ranch Costco with these lessons in mind. Further, additional improvements at the District Costco gas station have been and are being implemented.
The City’s Planning Commission approved Costco’s application after a public hearing on July 9, 2019. Under the Tustin City Code, Planning Commission decisions can be appealed to the City Council, and a timely appeal was filed by opponents of the project on July 19. The public hearing on the appeal was scheduled on October 15th. Prior to the meeting, the public sent the Council hundreds of messages in support and in opposition to the project, and a number of public speakers spoke to the City Council during the public hearing. At the conclusion of the City Council’s public hearing on the appeal, the City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the application. Under the Tustin City Code, that City Council decision on the appeal was the City’s final decision on the application. Since that time, a court challenge has been filed, and that court case is ongoing.