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San Rafael development appealed on traffic and public safety concerns

On April 18, 2023, San Rafael resident, Vikram Seshadri, filed an appeal of the San Rafael Planning Commission's approval of the proposed mid-rise, mixed-use housing project at 1515 4th Street. The appeal does not seek to stop the project. Rather, it is based on concerns about pedestrian and traffic safety and the inadequacy of the assessment of public safety hazards by the project's traffic consultants, AMG.

The appellant has now submitted the following supplemental letter and an independent traffic peer review by PHA Traffic Consultants (copy attached, below), which corroborates the concerns raised in the original appeal filing.


May 1, 2023

Re: Appeal to The City of San Rafael Planning Department’s Approval of 1515 4th Street Mixed Use Project: Project No.(s): PLAN22-039 and ED22-016

Dear San Rafael City Council,

As stated in my appeal letter of April 18th, I am appealing the Planning Commission’s approval of the 1515 4th Street project on the basis that the city’s traffic consultant, AMG, and the Planning Commission failed to properly assess the public health and safety and traffic safety impacts at the intersections of 3rd Street and Shaver Street, 2nd Street and Shaver Street, and Shaver Street and Latham Street.

These intersections will be significantly impacted by the 1515 4th Street project and those impacts must be assessed. In addition, and as I and many others commented at the Planning Commission hearing, AMG also failed to adequately address the public safety issues that the project will create at its egress and ingress driveways or the parking and traffic impacts from the new commercial customers.

I believe that a proper assessment of these traffic impacts will necessitate design changes. The comments made in my appeal letter are incorporated herein by reference.

I am also submitting an independent, peer-reviewed traffic analysis by PHA Traffic Consultants, (attached) which fully corroborates my claims of the inadequacy of the AMG study and highlights the potential public health and traffic safety hazards.

Please note that I have been advised by counsel that the appeal will be a “de novo” hearing.

“A city council's hearing on an "appeal" of a planning commission's decision "is a proceeding de novo" at which "all issues are before the reviewing body, in this case the city council," unless a local ordinance provides to the contrary.” BreakZone Billiards v. City of Torrance, 81 Cal. App. 4th 1205, 1221 & n.10 (2000)

In addition, I am appealing an “environmental and design review permit” decision by the Planning Commission. As such, neither Section 14.28.030 nor Section 14.28.040.A of the San Rafael Zoning Code bar the presentation of supporting evidence.

Accordingly, the courts have ruled,

"We know of no reason why the council should be restricted solely to a review of the record before the commission where specific procedures have not been established by ordinance," and absent such an ordinance, "[t]here is no limitation upon the right of the council to hear new or additional testimony. If the council were bound by the findings of the commission, there would be no point in requiring the council to hold a public hearing. The council is not bound by the findings of the commission or by the testimony before the commission," and "it appears to be the general practice of city councils in conducting hearings on appeal to hear any relevant testimony offered unless specifically restricted by ordinance." Lagrutta v. City Council, 9 Cal. App. 3d 890, 895 (1970). [Emphasis added]

I have also been advised that state law holds and the language under Section 14.28.040.A suggests that the City Council may consider not only the record that was before the planning commission, but also any additional supporting testimony, citations, and evidence presented at my appeal, and that the testimony, citations, and evidence presented become part of the administrative record upon which the City Council bases its decision.

Note that Govt. Code § 65009(b)(1) suggests that the city council may consider any issue raised in the public hearing on the appeal, in addition to written correspondence beforehand, regardless of whether it was raised before the planning commission.

Finally, this letter is to advise the City Council that under the provisions of Senate Bill 330 and the Housing Accountability Act, the City Council has the authority to require the applicant to undertake additional traffic safety analysis or design changes or new traffic mitigation measures to address the issues raised in this appeal.

SEC. 3. Section 65589.5. (d) of SB 330 states,

A local agency shall not disapprove [or place conditions on] a housing developmentproject… unless it makes written findings, based upon a preponderance of the evidence in the record, as to one of the following: [Emphasis added]

(2) The housing development project … would have a specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety, and there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid the specific adverse impact without rendering the development unaffordable to low- and moderate-income households or rendering the development of the emergency shelter financially infeasible. [Emphasis added]

The PHA Transportation Consultants’ findings

In sum, the PHA analysis of the traffic study by AMG finds it to be grossly inadequate to assess or mitigate the significant traffic safety issues and impacts that the project will produce. Among other comments, some of the key supporting assessments and facts presented in the PHA report’s findings are:

Project Descriptions

The project description lacks details on the type of apartments, site traffic access, driveways locations, garage access, and the land uses in the vicinity of the project site. These details are needed for people to visualize the magnitude of the project and how well the project fits in the area.” [Emphasis added]

Project Trip/Traffic Generation Analysis

“The report shows the daily apartment trip generation rate as 2.93 per dwelling unit (ITE land use code 221, “Trip Generation Manual 11th Edition”). This appears low. The trip rate from the previous “Trip Generation Manual 10th Edition” for the same mid-rise apartment is 5.44 trips per day per dwelling unit. This discrepancy means the traffic report may have significantly underestimated the traffic impact of the project.” [Emphasis added]

Study Intersection Traffic LOS Analysis

“The traffic report evaluates traffic operations (LOS) on only two intersections along 4th Street near the project site. This is inadequate and will be unable to fully capture the project trips and the traffic impact of the project on the other surrounding intersections.” [Emphasis added]

Traffic Conditions Study Scenarios

The traffic report studies only two traffic scenarios, existing and existing plus the project scenario. This is inadequate and will likely miss the cumulative traffic from other proposed but not yet built or occupied development projects in the area.” [Emphasis added]

Project Site Access (Driveway Access)

“The site access driveways are links between the project site and the adjacent street network. The report did not identify and discuss the number of entering and exiting lanes for the proposed driveways and traffic controls, signs, and security gates needed;”


“Shaver Street is a narrow two-way street with parking on both sides and narrow pedestrian sidewalks. The two proposed project access driveways will likely impact traffic operation, pedestrians, and residential access to and from Shaver Street and Latham Street.” [Which was not analyzed or considered]

[the PHA review also suggests the city, "Consider reversing the site access plan by locating the vehicle driveways on E Street and the pedestrian access at Shaver Street. E Street is wider and the land use is mostly commercial. Reversing the driveways will minimize vehicle impacts and conflicts on residential access to and from Shaver Street and Latham Street, and conflict with the pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk."]

Parking (On-Street and On-Site)

“The two proposed access driveways on Shaver Street will result in a loss of on-street parking spaces.” [Impacts which are not assessed]

Signals Warrant Study for Stop Control Intersections

“The intersection of 4th Street and Shaver Street is controlled by a stop sign at the Shaver Street approach. The report needs to discuss whether or not the intersection needs to be signalized with the addition of the project traffic and also traffic from other approved but not yet built projects in the area.”

Study Area Traffic Safety

“The proposed project site is bordered by 4th Street, 3rd Street, and 2nd Street further south. All of these streets are crosstown arterial streets that provide access to and from the Freeway US 101. These streets have on-street and must also share the road with bicyclists. Traffic safety is a major concern.”

Thank you for your time and earnest consideration.


Vikram Seshadri

Resident of San Rafael

Comments can be sent to the San Rafael City Council at: