PROPOSED SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER
The State of California has released a draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) on the proposed State of California Emergency Operations Center (“EOC”) at Fairview Developmental Center (“FDC”). You may read the report by going here.
Emergency Operations Center to Serve Nearly 23 Million People in 11 Counties.
This project would develop another EOC in Southern California that would mirror the operations of the 118,000 sq ft facility in Mather, California at a smaller scale, and provide state emergency support to local governments within the Southern Region. This is NOT an EOC just for Costa Mesa or Orange County. It would cover 11 counties within two mutual aid regions (Mutual Aid Region 1: Los Angeles, Orange, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ana, and Ventura Counties; Mutual Aid Region 2: Imperial, Inyo, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties) and includes 226 incorporated cities. It would be responsible for serving nearly 23 million people. The California Office of Emergency Services is responsible for overseeing and coordinating emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and homeland security activities within the state.
The proposed EOC would be built on about 15 acres of FDC and would have an approximately 32,000 sq ft single-story office building, approximately 20,000 sq ft of warehouse space, a 120 ft communications tower (that’s 10 stories!) and a helipad to accommodate Blackhawk helicopters, along with parking covered with solar panels, battery storage, and generators. Construction would take about 37 months and would entail the use of excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, loaders, backhoes, cranes, forklifts, and tractors. Approximately 50 full-time employees would be at the site, however, it will be used for 2-4 training sessions per month and, in an emergency, the staffing would be ramped up considerably. If there was an emergency in one or more of the 11 counties served, the EOC could be operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The following are our initial concerns:
Major Impact on Urban Planning in Costa Mesa.
The project was first discussed as an 8-acre project, then it went to 9 acres. It was increased again to 15 acres in order to add more warehouse space. How will that impact the planning in Costa Mesa for our RHNA of 11,700+ new residential units? Governor Newsom issued two executive orders stating excess state-owned land is to be sold for housing. The City intended to zone FDC so that at least 2,300 units could be built there. With 15 fewer acres at FDC on which to build housing, that task is much harder and will likely require higher densities (taller buildings) than originally projected. Note that for its EOC project the State selected prime acreage that is adjacent to the golf course and away from Harbor Boulevard.
In June 2022, the California Legislature adopted a budget that, among other things, gave the City of Costa Mesa funding for the management of the planning of affordable housing on FDC. See SB 188, which added Section 14670.31 to the Government Code.
Government Code Section 14670.31(a)(7) states “It is the intent of the Legislature that the Fairview Developmental Center property be utilized for a mixed-use development, including mixed-income housing. The development would include and prioritize affordable housing, including at least 200 units of permanent supportive housing, and open space.”
Government Code Section 14670.31(c)(4) provides “The agreement shall require that housing be a priority in the planning process and that any housing proposal determined to be appropriate for the property shall include affordable housing. The agreement and the development plan shall provide for housing and affordable housing at a level consistent with the January 2020 council-adopted strategy of 1,500 units and the housing assessment in the Department of General Services’ 2021 Infrastructure Assessment of up to 2,500 units for the site.”
The plan for building an EOC on FDC conflicts with the stated priority in the legislation, as well as the Governor’s two executive orders.
Why was Costa Mesa and FDC selected?
The State reviewed other sites, and also looked at expanding the current location in Los Alamitos, which it determined was not feasible. It considered a vacant lot owned by a community college district in Tustin that is next to the U.S. Army Reserve Center, which met the initial screening criteria. The EIR doesn’t list other sites that were considered. During the scoping meeting in March 2023, the Orange County Fairgrounds was suggested by the public as an alternate location, but the State admits that it did not consider that location. In addition, despite the proximity to the Tustin location that was considered, the State did not consider other land surrounding the Marine Corps’ airbase in Tustin that would appear to satisfy the criteria listed in the EIR and would not require demolition of existing structures.
Significant Impacts on the Environment.
The State contends that the impacts are “less than significant,” and that mitigation measures would be required in certain areas. Some of those impacts are significant, such as:
Aesthetics Would be Impacted by Orange and White 120 ft Tower That Would Include Red Lights. The 120 ft communications tower will consist of 100 ft of tubular steel connected to concrete foundations 4 ft in diameter and 15 ft deep. On top of the tower would be two 20 ft antennas with microwave equipment and four or more steady-burning red lights. The tower would be painted with seven alternating bands of aviation orange and white paint. Depictions of the tower in the draft EIR eliminate the paint, lights, and additional equipment, and often cut off the top of the tower, so these simulations aren’t accurate. The draft EIR tries to equate the tower with a tree, and while it will not completely obstruct views, it will be ugly from all angles. In addition, the vantage points selected in the draft EIR for viewing the project are not selected well. For example, no viewpoint from nearby apartments on Joann Street (only 771 ft away) or Harbor Boulevard was selected, and the viewpoint from Fairview Park was not from the hill on the northwest quadrant, but rather the lower lawn area. The view that could be construed to be from the golf course shows a romanticized field of flowers and part of an unpainted tower, as it crops out the top of the tower.
Noise and air pollution would occur. While only two annual flights of medium-sized military-style helicopters (Blackhawks) are currently anticipated during normal operation (emergencies would require more), residents, especially those who live under and near those paths, will hear the noise of landing and takeoff. The flight path will be over the municipal golf course, along with residences on the Westside and those near the Mesa Verde Shopping Center. The helipad at the Costa Mesa Police Station isn’t military-grade, making it unsuitable to use. In addition to noise and air pollution from the construction of the project, there will also be pollution from the emergency generator. Mitigation steps will be taken, but winds will likely increase the distribution of particulate pollution and odors to residential neighborhoods. Also, the cueing area at the entrance to the EOC allows diesel-powered trucks to idle. Costa Mesa is susceptible to air inversions, trapping layers of air pollution nearer to the ground, so additional air pollution from the project will impact those nearby residents with respiratory diseases, such as asthma.
The most damaging of the environmental impacts would occur during actual emergency operations. There would be considerable air pollution, presumably from the diesel trucks that would be going in and out of the facility and idling while delivering/picking up supplies from the warehouse. In Section 3.5.5 of the DEIR, the last sentence is very informative: “Helicopter activity during emergency operations is speculative and cannot be quantified.” In other words, there could be a hundred flights in and out each day during emergency operations.
Site is Surrounded by Residential Areas. There already exists a neighborhood of affordable housing on nearby Joann Street (Census Tract 6059063808), whose residents are 80% people of color. CalEnviroScreen 4.0 ranks this census tract at a pollution burden of 46%, which is remarkably high for a neighborhood so close to a municipal golf course and receiving the benefit of ocean breezes. This census tract is near other census tracts with higher burdens, including Census Tract 6059063605, which has a pollution burden of 86%. The residences are older buildings, many of which do not have central heating and air conditioning or air filtration systems, so the residents who rely on open windows for ventilation will be subject to air pollution from the project.
Roadway and utility improvements would likely be required. The project would require potential roadway and utility upgrades, primarily on Shelley Circle within FDC, but also Merrimac Way and Fair Drive. There would also be a new roadway constructed to directly connect Shelley Circle to Pearl Way. The new roadway and utility improvements are assumed to disturb 1.9 miles of roadway length and up to 13.82 acres, with a total of 27,600 cubic yds of soil imported/exported for the improvements and generation of construction-related emissions. These improvements would impact the future design and planning of the community of mixed-used units on the remainder of FDC, as the extension of Shelly Circle would bisect one large plot of land. Since the extension of the roadway includes a queueing area at the gate to the facility, large diesel-fueled trucks would be spewing fumes there, making the surrounding land undesirable for development of housing.
Biological resources may be impacted. Prior to the start of grading and vegetation clearing on habitat on the site in areas suitable for burrowing owls, white-tailed kite, and California horned lark, a focused survey would be conducted. Burrowing owls are listed in California as a species of concern, the white-tailed kite is a California Department of Fish & Wildlife (“CDFW”) Protected Species, and the California horned lark is on the CDFW watch list. They have been sighted in nearby Fairview Park (both on the east side and west side), Talbert Park, and on the former Banning Ranch property. Given the shyness of burrowing owls, and the lack of activity on FDC, it is possible the owls will be present during the survey. If the presence of burrowing owls, white-tailed kite or California horned lark are detected, then measures would have to be taken to ensure that project activities don’t cause the loss of a nest or death of a member of the species. No discussion about the impacts of the solar panels on migrating birds was contained in the draft EIR, only the statement that viewers in public locations nearby would not experience substantial glare. In addition, the draft EIR maintains that the nearby golf course does not act as a wildlife movement corridor, but we need more information on this, as coyotes, geese and other species have been seen there.
What will be stored in the warehouse? Riot gear and munitions? Where will fuel for trucks and helicopters be stored? What will the fencing around the EOC look like? Razor wire? This project seems to keep growing and growing. How long will it be before it is the same size as the Mather facility?
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW!
Please write to the City Council firstname.lastname@example.org and ask that the City request the State reconsider its choice of this property for its project. In addition, please submit comments to the draft EIR no later than Friday, October 20, 2023, at 6 p.m. The mailing address for comments is:
Ms. Terry Ash, Senior Environmental Planner
California Department of General Services, Real Estate Division
2635 North First Street, Ste. 149
San Jose, California 95134
Or the email address is: email@example.com (enter “Southern Region Emergency Operations Center Project Draft EIR Comments” in the subject line).
Please email or copy the City Council on your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley at email@example.com, State Senator Dave Min at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris at email@example.com.