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EIR Consultant Demands Retraction

When I blasted the quality of the EIR for the Honda Port of Entry Project, the person responsible for preparing it, Doug Herring, demanded a retraction. Click here for the letter from Doug Herring.


Despite my criticism, I thought there might be one redeeming piece of information in the EIR, a description of four grade crossing blockages at Canal Boulevard of 15 minutes each, which exceeds the PUC Rule 135 ten-minute limit of blockages while switching. I asked the city attorney to look into prosecuting BNSF because of such good and well-documented evidence. Everything in an EIR is accurate , right? The City of Richmond certified the EIR as accurate and complete, right?


Well, it turns out that Herring couldn’t even verify the 15-minute blockage sufficiently to stand up in court. In other words, his data on grade crossing on which the EIR was based, is worthless.


I thought this might be a good time to share my response for a retraction, which is copied below. By the way, Herring never responded to my request for a public debate.


Douglas Herring

Douglas Herring & Associates

1331 Linda Vista Drive

El Cerrito, CA 94530


Subject: Honda Port of Entry EIR


Dear Mr. Herring:


This is in response to your letter of December 22, 2008 to Bill Lindsay. It is unclear to me why you approached Bill Lindsay with your complaints, but your letter was forwarded to me.


The passages you refer to were delivered by me initially orally in my public role as a City Council member and subsequently repeated in my E-FORUM, a newsletter and opinion periodical distributed by email as part of my City Council constituency communication..


With the addition of some explanatory notes that follow, I stand by what I have previously said and written.


In my opinion, the California Environmental Quality Act is good law and a noble endeavor, but it is only as good as the people who do the work.


In my opinion, CEQA has spawned an industry of environmental prostitutes who will go any length to spin the truth to serve the people who pay for their services. These people are the bottom feeders of the consulting world, lower than pond scum and slime mold on the consultant food chain.


The terms “environmental prostitute,” “bottom feeder,”  “lower than pond scum” and “slime mold” are, of course, figures of speech that were not intended to be taken literally but instead to provide emphasis to a perception I wished to convey. A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetoric, or locution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. Figures of speech are often used and crafted for emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity.


For example, the term prostitute has among its various definitions “one who sells one's abilities, talent, or name for an unworthy purpose.” It is my perception that EIR consultants in general are more dedicated to securing project approvals and pleasing their clients than ferreting out the details of impacts that may make such approvals more difficult or result in expensive, complex or time consuming mitigations. In this case, your client was the same party paying you, which should have prompted an even higher level of objectivity, thoroughness and rigorous analysis. Instead, we got, in my opinion, less. From following the EIR process in this project, it is my opinion that your efforts are consistent with this perception, although I would also be prepared to believe, if you prefer, that the defects I perceive in your work methodology and work product are simply the result of incompetence rather than abuse of the process.


One of the definitions of “bottom feeder” is “an opportunist who profits from the misfortunes of others.” Evaluating the impacts of a project so that the public can provide informed public testimony and so that the impacts can be mitigated to a level of insignificance is the intent of CEQA. When those impacts are ignored, minimized or misstated for the purpose of benefiting the project applicant to the detriment of the public, this is, in my opinion, an example of bottom feeding. It is my general perception that EIR consultants engage in this practice, and it is my opinion that this project is consistent with that practice.


The terms “pond scum” and “slime mold” literally connote a primitive life form. These terms are often used as figures of speech to describe a person without principles. In my opinion, EIR consultants in general demonstrate a lack of principles and professional ethics that should constitute the core values for which they are employed. While I can’t really know what your principles are, it is my opinion that your methodology and work product are consistent with a lack of essential principles and professional ethics.


It is truly my perception that environmental impact report consultants and what many of my constituents and I perceive as defective EIR work products make my life miserable. My job, as I see it, is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Richmond. It is my perception that EIR consultants routinely try to minimize and obfuscate anything and everything about a project that might adversely affect the people of Richmond or the environment.


I spent many hours researching and correcting what I perceived as errors in your EIR. I spent a lot of time haranguing city staff to get corrections into the approval documents. I do not enjoy this, and I have plenty of other things to do.


In my opinion, the city of Richmond wasted nearly $500,000 on a sloppy and inaccurate EIR that isn’t worth the paper it was written on. The term “not worth the paper it’s written on” is another figure of speech that connotes low value.


In my opinion, not only do EIR consultants typically spin reality, they show typically complete disdain and contempt for the people they should be serving.


The following examples from the Honda Port of Entry EIR support my criticism of the EIR and the person responsible for preparing it, which I assume is you. There are many more.


·         “All of the residents living closest to the project, and therefore those most affected by the project, purchased their homes after the current Glovis operations at the PPMT had commenced, so they were well aware that they were moving to a residence in close proximity to an operating Port facility” (FEIR, 2-237, V-22). In my opinion, the first passage is addressed to the residents of Seacliff and Brickyard to whom the consultant is saying, “What right do you have to complain? You should have moved somewhere else.”

·         “Dr. Louis Hagler’s article is a one-sided discussion of the negative aspects of noise pollution. Dr. Hagler’s article does not address any coping mechanisms to noise pollution such as the ability of humans to adapt or habituate to environmental noise” (FEIR, 2-332 and 2-333, V-5). In my opinion, the second derides a respected medical doctor and a former Richmond resident who published a peer reviewed article in a respected medical journal. The EIR consultant not only disparages Dr. Hagler; he essentially tells the people of Richmond to suck it up and get used to the noise.

In my opinion, the work product of the person responsible for preparing the EIR is grossly erroneous and incomplete. The term “hack” is another figure of speech that can mean “one who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward” In my opinion, the term “hack” would accurately describe most of the EIR consultants with which I am familiar. Based on the quality I perceived of your EIR and the amount of money you were paid to produce it, my opinion is that your work was consistent with my generally low regard for EIR consultants.

It remains my opinion that for this EIR, you failed to independently verify critical information about such things as public access to the shoreline, noise and grade crossing blockages. Instead, you used third party information from what I perceive as biased sources, 30-year old irrelevant studies and pseudo-science to reach the conclusions you were directed to reach. In my opinion, you totally ignored current, relevant and important facts that were or could have been supplied by people living and working proximate to the project.


None of my comments were intended to be personal in that they only describe perceptions related to EIRs and their preparation.


In any event, I believe that my comments are protected speech. I was commenting as a citizen and government official on an official governmental document submitted for public review and comment.  An EIR consultant voluntarily puts himself in a position of having comments - both favorable and unfavorable -- made on the EIR that he has prepared. If the consultant takes such comments personally, and requires public apologies, he should probably be in a different line of work. The structure of CEQA provides for public comments, including from public officials.  CEQA also anticipates that some of those comments will be critical.  An EIR consultant must anticipate that negative comments will be made and respond to such comments professionally.


You wrote that you were unable to be present during the public hearing and therefore unable to defend yourself, which sounds like a self-imposed problem, unless your client specifically directed you not to show up. If that is the case, I would like it confirmed.


Finally, if you would like to publicly debate anything related to your EIR or my comments about it or your services in connection with it, I will be happy to oblige you.





Tom Butt