Rendering of eight-story apartment building, with three floors of parking.
A rending of the proposed eight-story apartment building, with three floors of parking, at 1150-1170 Kifer Road in Sunnyvale. Renderings courtesy of Prometheus Real Estate Group.

Sunnyvale officials are allowing a housing development to move forward after denying an appeal over potential exposure to cancerous chemicals.

The Sunnyvale City Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to deny an appeal over a 5.82-acre housing development at 1150-1170 Kifer Road and approve its building permits. Vice Mayor Omar Din was absent, and Councilmember Alysa Cisneros recused herself from the vote because of a potential conflict of interest.

“The grounds of this appeal would apply to virtually every construction project in the city,” Councilmember Richard Mehlinger said. “I find it difficult to believe that would fall under the intention of (the California Environmental Quality Act).”

Laborers International Union of North America, Local 270 appealed the Sunnyvale Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval, citing the project’s potentially high indoor formaldehyde emissions from composite woods such as plywood.

Formaldehyde is commonly found in adhesive products and is a gas at room temperatures. Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can lead to cancer, according to California’s Prop. 65.

The union wanted the city to conduct another environmental review of the indoor air quality concerns. But city officials recommended councilmembers deny the appeal for various reasons, saying the appeal’s independent review uses out-of-date citations, is based on speculation and that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not regulate a housing project’s impact on itself.

The project involves demolishing a parking lot behind two office buildings to construct an eight-story building with 225 apartments, developed by the Prometheus Real Estate Group. The development is located near the Lawrence Caltrain station, where the city has been approving a series of new apartments and aims to build more than 3,000 new homes in the area. Sunnyvale has to build 11,966 homes by 2031, with 6,709 below-market rate, to meet state housing requirements.

In its appeal, the union cited an independent review done by Indoor Environmental Engineering President Francis J. Offermann, who found that the proposed apartment building would have a cancer risk of 120 parts per million, while CEQA’s permissible levels for airborne cancer risk is 10 parts per million.

Victoria Yundt, a lawyer representing the union, explained that Offerman’s findings constitute a “significant and unavoidable” environmental impact. She said the city needs an environmental impact report for this specific project.

The city did not conduct a specific environmental impact report for this development project, according to city documents, and instead cites previous environmental reviews done for the entire Lawrence Station Area Plan conducted in 2016 and 2021.

“Courts have held that this is meant to ensure that the city goes on the record and explains specifically why they are approving the later project despite its significant, unavoidable impacts,” Yundt said at the meeting.

Despite that, city officials say conflicting expert opinion isn’t enough to require a new environmental report.

City officials contracted consultant Ascent Environmental to provide an overview of the concerns outlined in the appeal. In its response, Ascent Environmental representatives said the union’s initial concerns were speculative and assumed what types of materials would be used in the construction, among other rebuttals.

City spokesperson Jennifer Garnett told San José Spotlight appeals like this are not uncommon. She cited a similar appeal filed by the same union in 2020 regarding a proposed hotel development at 1296 Lawrence Station Road. At the time, the union claimed there would be indoor air quality risks from formaldehyde. The city council unanimously denied that appeal as well.

“If the appellant thinks these laws should be raised higher, I definitely encourage them to talk to our state legislators about what are meaningful thresholds for off gassing of formaldehyde,” Mayor Larry Klein said.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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