Meter Madness

By George Wooding

San Francisco’s Transportation Authority wants to stop utilizing car congestion and delays as a traffic measurement.
Buried deeply inside San Francisco’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transportation regulations is a traffic measurement called “Level of Service” (LOS).  LOS was developed in 1970 as the fundamental building block of San Francisco’s transportation. The Transportation Authority is advocating for a change to CEQA regulations.
The chief function of LOS is to measure the delay each car experiences at a particular intersection.
LOS is a simple measuring system of how new real estate developments and transportation plans impact car usage in San Francisco.  Car congestion and delay measurements are rated on a scale of “A,” being good traffic flow — to a low of “F,” which means unacceptable congestion.
Under current CEQA interpretations, LOS is a quality measure describing operational conditions within a traffic stream, generally in terms of…

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Spring CEQA Roundup

the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government have all been busy trying to “clean up” CEQA and related areas of the law in one way or another. Recent items of interest include: Federal State integration, Judicial Developments, Proposed Reform Legislation to Create Dedicated CEQA/Land Use Courts.

By Arthur F. Coon : Miller Starr Regalia : – excerpt

Spring is here, and it seems the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government have all been busy trying to “clean up” CEQA and related areas of the law in one way or another. Recent items of interest include: Federal State integration, Judicial Developments, Proposed Reform Legislation to Create Dedicated CEQA/Land Use Courts.

  • Federal NEPA/CEQA Integration Handbook Draft Released for Public Comment.
    The Council for Environmental Quality and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released on March 5, 2013, for public review and comment, a draft handbook entitled “NEPA and CEQA: Integrating State and Federal Environmental Reviews.” The non-binding handbook is intended to provide a framework for federal and California agencies to efficiently coordinate joint NEPA/CEQA review for California projects requiring federal approval. The public comment period will end on April 19, 2013…  (more)

Continue reading “Spring CEQA Roundup”

Supervisor Showdown: Wiener Versus Kim, CEQA, And Waste

Supervisor Showdown: Wiener Versus Kim, CEQA, And Waste – excerpt

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a State statue established in 1970 which requires local public agencies to provide analysis and disclosure of possible environmental impacts prior to the approval of building permits.

Exemptions from analysis can be granted for minor projects, saving much time and money, but those exemptions can be appealed as can any findings of no environmental impact (a “negative declaration”), an appeal process which is ill-defined and costly, a favorite tool of both concerned citizens and NIMBYs alike.

Having spent months writing and re-writing proposed legislation to establish a set 20 day windows for filing appeals and clarifying the process, Supervisor Wiener’s proposed legislation was approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission and seemed ready for a Board of Supervisors vote. And then Supervisor Kim introduced a competing bill.

Directly from Supervisor Wiener’s office:

“On March 12, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced separate, alternative CEQA legislation. The legislation was not drafted by the City Attorney nor approved as to form by the City Attorney. The Planning Department did not participate in the legislation, did not provide feedback on it, and was not aware of the legislation before it was introduced.

While Supervisor Wiener welcomes any of his colleagues to participate in this important process, unfortunately, Supervisor Kim’s legislation is exactly the opposite of Supervisor Wiener’s legislation. Instead of creating a clearer and more predictable process, it will make the CEQA process even worse than it is today: longer, more expensive, more cumbersome, more bureaucratic, and less predictable.”

A few examples from Wiener’s Office with respect to the “negative changes” that would result if Supervisor Kim’s legislation is adopted

Every project on every building 50 years or older – nearly 3/4 of San Francisco’s building stock – would no longer be eligible for a CEQA Categorical Exemption stamp (often issued over the counter in a matter of hours) for a minor change, such as changing a window, replacing a rotted out handrail, or replacing a failing roof. Instead, any and all such projects will be required to get a “Categorical Exemption Certificate,” which is a detailed report that can take 3-6 months to issue and currently costs $5,000, as opposed to several hundred dollars for a Categorical Exemption stamp.

This change would effectively mean that over the counter permits would no longer be an option for buildings 50 years or older, more than 3/4 of buildings in San Francisco.

Similarly, all projects in parks and “open space,” which is a very broad term, would require the same 3-6 month and $5,000 certificate instead of the current Categorical Exemption stamp. This would dramatically increase the time and cost associated with even small park and open space projects, like rehabilitating playground structures, adding benches, and planting trees on road medians.

In addition, under Kim’s bill every negative declaration for a park, open space, or building greater than 50 years old would be required to be considered by both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission. Currently, negative declarations are only considered by the Planning Commission and only if an appeal is filed… (more)

A Little Teamwork and Common Ground on CEQA

A Little Teamwork and Common Ground on CEQA

Last Tuesday, a coalition made up Environmental Organizations, Labor and Tribes known as Common Ground California held a press conference and Capitol lobby day committing to protect the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
You know what it’s like to be on a great team: counting on each other, inspiring each other, strengthening each other – there’s nothing else like it. Being there in Sacramento on Tuesday, I could feel that team spirit and determination from members of Common Ground California. (coalition website; facebook).

“First, do no harm.”
That’s how environmental defender Senator Noreen Evans began her remarks, sending a clear and simple message to kick off the event. Sen. Evans has been a strong supporter of air and water quality, and she was the event’s host. She continued, “The California Environmental Quality Act was designed to protect California communities, and it has for over forty years. I stand committed to protect California from corporate polluters and any degradation of our environmental laws.”
Then came the big news: a new study was revealed showing that CEQA has not hampered economic progress, despite assertions by some industry groups.
The Labor Management Cooperation Trust released a landmark report which found that since CEQA became law in 1970, California’s per capita GDP, housing relative to population, manufacturing output, and construction activity grew as fast or faster compared to other 49 states.  Read the full report here. »

S.F. supervisors butt heads over CEQA

S.F. supervisors butt heads over CEQA

By C.W. Nevius : – excerpt

Here in San Francisco we’re having a CEQA smackdown.

CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act. It requires that proposed building projects be analyzed, with their potential impact on the environment fully disclosed and mitigated.
It is a reasonable and worthwhile concept in theory, but in practice it can lead to long delays, expensive legal costs and bitter neighborhood battles. One angry, kooky or determined resident can hold up a housing remodel or park improvement for months.
Supervisor Scott Wiener has been working since last fall on legislation to streamline CEQA in San Francisco, one of the few cities where appeals of smaller projects don’t face a set deadline.
He’s amended his bill 34 times. He’s convened roundtable discussions and held public hearings at the Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission. He’s lined up the support of groups ranging from the Bicycle Coalition to the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.
Last week the Planning Commission approved Wiener’s bill and sent it forward.
That’s when Wiener and everyone else discovered that Supervisor Jane Kim had her own CEQA bill. It arrived under the radar, was neither drafted nor approved by the city attorney – as Weiner’s proposal was – and was a surprise to the Planning Commission.

Continue reading “S.F. supervisors butt heads over CEQA”

8 Washington may hurt sewers, papers say

8 Washington may hurt sewers, papers say

By John Coté : – excerpt

A politically freighted luxury condominium project near San Francisco’s Ferry Building could threaten the city’s sewer system – both during construction and in the event of a major earthquake – if built as currently planned, city documents show.
The 8 Washington project – which would replace a Port of San Francisco-owned parking lot and a private health club with a 12-story condominium building, rebuilt health club, underground parking garage and other features – would come within 6 feet of a pressurized sewer pipeline and other sewer infrastructure that serve North Beach, the Marina, the Financial District and Chinatown, according to city documents.
Other parts of the sewer system, including two underground vaults and an overflow structure, would also be at risk, according to a Feb. 22 draft report by an outside engineer hired by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
“These utilities are susceptible to damage … that can be caused by the (8 Washington) construction,” wrote William Bergeson, an engineer with AECOM…

Chiu seeks hearing

The legislation would also clean up and improve several easement issues, Jue said.
“As usual, opponents of the project are trying to conflate issues,” Johnston said.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who voted against the 8 Washington project, which is in his district, said he will call for a hearing at the board.
“These revelations are deeply troubling,” Chiu said, “and we need to understand why these matters weren’t disclosed earlier.”… (more)

PROTECT ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS: Planning Commission, Thursday., March 14, 12 PM

IMPORTANT HEARINGS! Forward this to friends and colleagues.
Proposed CEQA legislation weakens public’s right to know and to participate.

By Howard Wong

Hello Everyone:
IMPORTANT HEARINGS!  Forward this to friends and colleagues.
Proposed CEQA legislation weakens public’s right to know and to participate.

The 1970 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) gives environmentalists, neighborhoods, disadvantaged communities, ethnic minorities, cultural groups, Labor and the average citizen a chance to fight bad projects and powerful special interests.  History demonstrates that rigid state power and greased projects have bad consequences; by example, rampant freeway construction, filling in the Bay, destruction of ethnic neighborhoods, demolitions of the Western Addition/ Lower Fillmore/ Nihonmachi, disregard of environmental justice, erosion of open space, snubbing nature conservancy, demolition of historic resources, weakening health protections and ramrodding misguided development projects.
Please testify to oppose the proposed CEQA legislation.

Conclusion:  The Amendments arguably would better reflect state law and streamline the CEQA process for various projects. However, they pose a substantial risk of significantly curtailing public participation and the ability of public officials to make well-informed decisions, contrary to the purpose of CEQA. The current fair argument standard should be preserved, requirements providing notice of CEQA determinations should be strengthened, and appeal procedures should be formalized and simplified.

Continue reading “PROTECT ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS: Planning Commission, Thursday., March 14, 12 PM”

Peninsula Cities Lose Initial CEQA Lawsuit Against High Speed Rail Authority

Peninsula Cities Lose Initial CEQA Lawsuit Against High Speed Rail Authority

by Irvin Dawid : – excerpt

It was the first of many lawsuits to hit the HSRA. Menlo Park and Atherton, joined later by Palo Alto – three adjoining cities on the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County border, among the wealthiest in the nation, sued in 2008 to reroute the train.
The three mid-Peninsula cities wanted the high speed train to enter the Bay Area via the Altamont Pass from the East Bay rather than the Pacheco Pass which would have it use the Caltrain corridor that bisects the three cities. Mike Rosenberg, who has covered their many lawsuits as well as those originating in the Central Valley, writes that the cities sued under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and were successful in getting the Authority to “decertify the massive environmental study” that resulted in making some changes along the route – but not the abandonment of the route, which was their intention… (more)

CEQA Roundup: Debate resets with Jerry Hill appointment

CEQA Debate resets with Jerry Hill appointment

by Justin Ewers : – excerpt

The debate over updating California’s premier environmental law officially moved past last week’s frenzy surrounding Sen. Michael Rubio’s sudden resignation from the Legislature, when lawmakers confirmed the appointment yesterday of Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) to replace Rubio as chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
Much was made last fall of Sen. Darrell Steinberg handing the reform-minded Rubio the reins of the committee tasked with sending CEQA-related legislation to the Senate floor. And then much was made again of Steinberg’s decision a few months later to pack the same committee with green Democrats who were expected to prevent Rubio from proposing anything that would weaken the law.
Now, speculation about where Democratic leaders intend to take CEQA will focus on Sen. Hill, a respected former assemblyman known for his moderate views on environmental issues. Steinberg has said he wants to force all sides to “confront” the need for changes to the state’s premier environmental law—something he believes the Silicon Valley Democrat can do.
“[Hill] is well-positioned to appreciate the complexities of this challenge, and well-versed in the false dichotomy that pitches business against the environment,” Steinberg said this week. “California has led, and will continue to lead the nation in smart, environmentally sustainable economic growth.”…

A reminder of what lawmakers aren’t talking about
Arthur F. Coon, a lawyer for the real estate firm Miller Starr Regalia, takes a closer look this week at several other important reform ideas that haven’t yet made their way into Steinberg’s legislation:
In its current form, SB 731 does not address: (1) codification of “CEQA-in-reverse” case law; (2) uniform standards for mitigation; (3) combatting lawsuits that are economically rather than environmentally motivated; and (4) reforming provisions concerning the timing, content, and manner of preparation of the record so as to expedite CEQA litigation.
Some of these issues are addressed in other bills—most notably Sen. Noreen Evans’s SB 617, which includes proposals that would update the law’s record-keeping requirements and resolve legal questions about CEQA’s scope resulting from the Ballona Wetlands case. (More on that here.)
But Coon is right about one glaring omission in this year’s evolving legislative lineup. In more than two dozen bills, lawmakers haven’t addressed one of the biggest complaints environmentalists and business leaders alike have with CEQA—that the law is being abused by everyone from labor unions to gas station owners for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
Before he introduced his bill, Steinberg explained his reasoning for avoiding that issue, pointing out that determining a petitioners’ motive is a slippery slope.
As the legislative debate begins again, look for reformers to find a way to climb back up it… (more)

Video: CEQA compromise stops San Franciscans from being priced out of homes

Rincon Hill project is but one example of how CEQA protects the rights of residents and homeowners.

by Cheryl Getuiza : – excerpt

What do CEQA and affordable housing and public health all have in common? As it turns out plenty.

“Community groups pointed out to us that CEQA had some provisions that protected public health,” said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, Director of Environmental Health in San Francisco.
The developers of a Rincon Hill project in San Francisco were already promoting the environmental benefits of the development, including proximity to public transit and to jobs. But what the City of San Francisco’s health department also saw was the effects on the people who were going to have to move out because they couldn’t afford to live in the new development.
What happened next shows the value of CEQA as a valuable tool for community input on construction projects.
California Forward’s Cheryl Getuiza explains… (more)

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