The final decision on a contentious east Petaluma Safeway gas station project has been beset by several city council delays, the latest on Oct. 15 when city staff requested additional time to review another trove of documents sent just days before the meeting.
What’s transpired since the project returned to the public eye in May has been a grueling slugfest primarily between two entities hoping to convince the Petaluma City Council that their facts are irrefutable, and the other side has provided falsehoods and conducted analyses with flawed methodology.
On one side is Safeway, the supermarket chain hoping to bring discount gasoline to Petaluma where it claims customers have been demanding a cheaper alternative to the city’s high costs for fuel. The project, which features eight pumps with 16 dispensers, navigated years of bureaucracy before successfully passing with a 4-3 vote from the planning commission on June 26.
First proposed in 2013, the project is located at the intersection of McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, and features a 697-square foot convenience store, one electric vehicle charging station, frontage enhancements, and improvements to the nearby bus transit center.
“Safeway is committed to full openness and transparency in our effort to bring more affordable gas to Petaluma,” Safeway representative Teena Massingill wrote in an email. “Over the past six years and through 15 technical studies, we have worked diligently to provide the city and public with thousands of pages of detailed documentation regarding all facets of the project. We believe it is in the best interests of the city and the project for all parties involved to uphold equally high standards of public disclosure.”
And then there’s No Gas Here, a local opposition group that has assembled a swath of support from throughout the region. Two weeks after the project was approved, 18 of its members signed onto the city’s first appeal of a decision since 2015, forcing the council to “affirm, affirm in part, or reverse” the decision, according to the Implementing Zoning Ordinance.
The agenda of the No Gas Here group is to block the gas station at this east Petaluma location, which is across the street from primary schools and a daycare center.
“We have all the best intentions,” said JoAnn McEachin, No Gas Here’s co-founder and spokesperson. “We are a community-supported group. We have no ulterior motives other than to protect those kids.”
Initially, the council was set to hear the issue on Sept. 17, but three days before, environmental law firm Soluri Meserve submitted a comprehensive retort on behalf of the appellant.
In order to adequately review the lengthy submission, the council opted to pull the discussion from the agenda, delaying the debate for Oct. 15 despite a packed house at City Hall.
The Sacramento-based firm wrote the city saying it has the full authority to deny the project in order to protect the public, Safeway’s traffic studies were “fatally defective,” and the gas station would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, Soluri called on the council to require an environmental impact report, or EIR, to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, which would strike a major blow to Safeway, requiring a costly and time-consuming report that could take years to complete.
And there is some merit to that claim. Soluri commissioned a health risk analysis using the AERMOD atmospheric dispersion model that concluded the cancer risks of the project were significant.
This story originally appeared on Petaluma360.com.