CEQA and Parking: ‘Power to the People’ or New Reason for Reform?

Since 2002, a judgment by a state appellate court in the Bay Area has edited out some questions from environmental review – questions about parking spaces. Sarah E. Owsowitz and Stephanie R. Straka, writing at PublicCEO.com, explained why:

In San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco, a state appellate court considered a challenge to an environmental impact report’s discussion of the parking impacts of a massive redevelopment project in downtown San Francisco. … There was no question that the project would greatly increase the demand for parking in the area, but the project did not include any new parking. The project’s opponents challenged the city’s decision not to identify the project’s parking deficit as an environmental impact. The (court) sided with the city, finding that its environmental analysis was adequate as the “social inconvenience of having to hunt for scarce parking spaces is not an environmental impact; the secondary effect of scarce parking on traffic and air quality is.” Thus, the court held that the lack of parking does not, on its own, need to be treated as a significant impact to the environment.

That interpretation of CEQA has been recently unsettled, putting “smart growth” and “transit oriented” development projects in southern California, which typically have reduced parking requirements, in possible trouble… (more)

RELATED:
Fourth District Court of Appeal Requires EIR for Upgrade of High School’s Athletic Facilities Because the Project May Cause Significant Impacts on Parking and Traffic
On April 25, 2013, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ordered publication of its decision in Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego Unified School District (2013) __ Cal.App.4th __ (Case No. D060999)…
The court further agreed with Taxpayers that the district could not rely on San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 656 (SFUDP), for the argument that a parking shortage cannot constitute a significant physical impact on the environment because it is merely a “social inconvenience.” The court found the SFUDP court’s discussion of parking was likely dicta, and disagreed with any holding that parking shortages can never constitute a physical impact on the environment. The court reasoned that vehicles are “physical objects that occupy space when driven and when parked” so they “naturally must have some impact on the physical environment.” In contrast to its discussion of aesthetic and lighting impacts, the court found that personal observations by local residents about parking could constitute substantial evidence that the project may have a significant impact on parking. Similarly, the court found that comment letters from residents about the traffic impacts were sufficient to support a fair argument the project may have a significant effect on traffic. Because the project may cause significant parking and traffic effects, the court held that the district must prepare an Environmental Impact Report….
http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D060999.PDF

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