Public comment period extended for West Berkeley Project’s draft Environmental Impact Report

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The city of Berkeley extended the public comment period for the draft Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, of the West Berkeley Project, from Feb. 9 to March 13, following a request made by the Confederated Villages of Lisjan — a tribal group that belongs to the Ohlone people.

EIR evaluates environmental issues associated with the West Berkeley Project — which aims to modify certain zoning standards, regulations and the current process for obtaining land use permits. The public review and comment period had already been extended twice before due to a November report that confirmed that human remains of Ohlone Indians had been found on a construction site near the West Berkeley Shellmound — a city-designated historic landmark — in March and April 2015.

In a Jan. 30 letter, the Confederated Villages of Lisjan asked the city to extend the deadline for an additional 120 days because of “unique and unusual circumstances.”

“The Tribe has compiled information, much of which qualifies as confidential information concerning the site, and believes it is critical that additional time be provided to consult with the City prior to the close of the public comment period,” the letter said.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that the city believes an additional 32 days is enough time for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan to address the issues outlined in their letter.

The Confederation Villages of Lisjan also emphasized that the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, requires the city to consult with all tribal groups of the Ohlone people.

The public comment period initially started Nov. 16 and was scheduled to end Jan 5. After getting rescheduled for the first time, a second extension was made following a Dec. 22 letter from the Ohlone Indian Tribe, which requested more time for the Chochenyo Ohlone community to attain internal clarity on the issue.

According to Chakko, CEQA requires a 30- to 60-day public review period for a EIR draft, “except in unusual circumstances.” He added that the comment period is now scheduled for a total of 118 days — almost double the usual requirement.

The public will also have the opportunity to comment on the final EIR at a hearing for certification before the Zoning Adjustments Board, Chakko said in the email.

Charlotte Kosche covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.