Novato Planning Commission Approves Costco Mega Gas Station
Despite Questionable CEQA Process

2/24/2021

Novato’s Planning Commission held a public hearing on Monday 2/22 to discuss a proposed Costco mega gas station at the Vintage Oaks Shopping Center Location. The majority of commenters voiced opposition to the project. In spite of the overwhelming public opposition to the project the Planning Commision voted for the project 5-2. Commissioners Rachel Farac and Peter Tiernan voted “No” with the backing of the public.

Concerns ranged from the lack of planned renewable infrastructure in the project like solar panels and EV charging stations; an absent geological report about liquefaction zones and sea level rise; the economic impact on family owned small business gas station franchisees; as well as concerns that this project flies in direct opposition to Novato’s recently passed Climate Emergency Declaration.

In line with these opposing comments, many of the commenters were deeply concerned with the CEQA process itself. Senior Planner Brett Walker’s CEQA Initial Report dismisses potentially significant impacts across several environmental factors:

·         Hydrology/Water Quality

·         Greenhouse Gas Emissions

·         Transportation

·         Air Quality

·         Geology and Soils

Hydrology/Water Quality: Despite great progress in tank design and durability, there is a long and disastrous history of major failures over time. Having such a large store of fuel so close to marshlands and the water table is potentially catastrophic. Also, there is consistent, unmitigatable fuel leakage during transfer from trucks to storage tanks, and from pumps to cars. This adds up to significant impact over time, both fouling the soil and creating permanent brownfield status for the site, and a real threat to water supplies and the nearby marshlands.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions: greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at both the county and state level. Considering cumulative impacts, this project will have a significant impact by directly and indirectly increasing emissions, which is a direct conflict with state law and Novato’s Climate Emergency Resolution. The Initial Report anticipates that Vehicle Miles Travelled will be reduced because trips from Novato to other distant Costco gas stations will be replaced with local travel to this Costco gas station. However, this analysis begs credulity: a quick review of local gas prices shows that it is highly unlikely consumers will take a 40+ miles roundtrip to save $2 total for an F150. 

Transportation: this project will increase large truck traffic both during the construction phase and while the gas station is operational. Large trucks have a disproportionate impact on traffic congestion, road wear, and safety.

Air Quality: immediate concerns with dismissing the impacts on Air Quality include increased emissions from leakage during fuel transfer, particularly Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds, which contribute to ozone; and the increased diesel traffic from both construction and later fuel transport will increase fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) emissions. Marin County is currently not meeting mandatory air quality goals for ozone and PM2.5, meaning that additional sources will have a significant cumulative impact. More work needs to be done to evaluate the impact on Air Quality.

Geology and Soils: this project would ultimately result in a substantial loss of topsoil due to future remediation required due to contamination from fuel transfer leakage. There is no consideration of that in the Initial Report.

In addition to deep concerns about the finding of a Mitigated Negative Declaration, we want to emphasize that new gas stations are simply not necessary: Marin County gasoline and diesel sales are effectively flat over the past 9 years, so new stations will reduce revenue for existing ones. California has recognized the urgent need to replace gas and diesel vehicles with electric versions, further reducing demand. Creating a brownfield site, risking environmental damage, and shifting local revenue to a huge out of town box store seems unwise at best, and that’s before considering the climate impact. 

We are currently in the midst of a climate crisis and we know from extensive research that we should not be investing in new poisonous fossil fuel infrastructure. We are concerned that the methods for incorporating public feedback, like the CEQA process, are at risk of being abused by business interests and high dollar consulting agencies, who seem to be immune from concern about the environment. Recent developments from Novato show us the need for strong public education and action campaigns. We hope that the City Council takes the lead from Commissioners Rachel Farac and Peter Tiernan by recognizing this process as inadequate and not in line with the needs of the public.

We strongly urge Mayor Eckland and the Novato City Council to reject this project on the grounds that the CEQA process was rushed and insufficient and is grounds for litigation. We further urge Mayor Eckland and the Novato City Council to consider a comprehensive ban on new gas stations in Novato. This approach aligns well with Novato’s Climate Emergency and continued leadership in combating the climate crisis.

Laura Neish

Executive Director, 350 Bay Area