San Francisco paid $482K for America’s Cup CEQA bill
by Chris Roberts : sfexaminer – excerpt
The City doled out a non-reimbursable $482,295 to attorneys and planners to satisfy California environmental law in preparation for a much bigger America’s Cup regatta than the event that ended up materializing this summer, city documents show.
Under the terms of the 2010 agreement that brought yacht racing to the waterfront, The City was on the hook for any work done to satisfy strict California Environmental Quality Act standards. The bill, given to The City last August by the America’s Cup Event Authority and paid out last October, included $281,860 to global consulting giant AECOM, $172,214 to law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, and $28,221 to law firm Hanson Bridgett LLP, according to documents on file with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
The work was performed in 2011 and early 2012, when estimates — from crowd sizes to costs — for the America’s Cup were much bigger… (more)
Activists developers and parents go to court in golden gate park turf-war
By Barbar Taylor – cbsnews – excerpt
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — The battle over what should be done to the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park was fought in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday.
The courtroom was packed with some San Franciscans who said the city needs better soccer fields, but others who said they like the folksy feel of the existing fields with its real grass, no lights or bleachers. In short, it’s a no frills kinds of atmosphere.
The hearing focused mostly on the artificial turf and whether it contains toxins that warrant more environmental review. The eventual ruling will determine if the current plan can move forward or be sent back for more environmental review.
Katherine Howard, of SF Ocean Edge, is one of the neighborhood activists challenging that EIR… (more)
Battle rages over artificial turf soccer fields at golden gate park
Lawsuit challenging the Beach Chalet turf project goes to trial
Erin Dage : sfbg.com – excerpt
[UPDATE 8/16: Presiding Judge Teri L. Jackson is calling for more input from the plaintiff and defendant attorneys on Wednesday, August 21, so a decision in the case isn’t expected until then at the earliest. on that day at the earliest. Check back on Monday for coverage of went down in the courtroom during today’s trial.]… (more)
“We’re going to argue that it violates the Environmental Quality Act when the city decided to use the most toxic rubber,” plaintiffs attorney Richard Drury said. “We’re asking the judge to do a new environmental impact report and to consider other alternatives, such as using more environmentally friendly material.”
Katherine Howard, spokesperson for SF Ocean Edge, a group of environmentalists and residents who live near the site, has been a leading opponent of the project.
“We feel that the project is totally wrong,” Howard said. “Golden Gate Park is described as an escape from the city, and to cover acres of it’s land with grounded up tires is awful.”
In May, the California Coastal Commission denied an appeal of the project after a hearing was called to determine whether or not the plan violates the Coastal Act and the city’s Local Coastal Plan, which calls for naturalistic conditions at the site.
“We believe that this is a strong case,” Arthur Feinstein of the Sierra Club said. “If we lose we have the opportunity to go to a higher court of appeals.”
Trial for the lawsuit starts at 9:45 a.m. this Friday, August 16 at the San Francisco Superior Court of California in Room 503, and is expected to last two to four hours… (more)
Bay area air district significance thresholds reinstated
By Norman F Carlin and Alina J Fortson : thelawyer – excerpt
A new appellate decision reinstates the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s controversial ‘significance thresholds’ for evaluating air quality impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act. Reversing the trial court, the court of appeal found that adoption of thresholds for CEQA review was not a ‘project’ itself subject to CEQA review, and rejected claims that the thresholds were unsupported and would have adverse environmental side-effects by discouraging high-density development and promoting suburban sprawl.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that agencies analyse the potentially significant environmental impacts of proposed projects prior to approval, and that they identify and implement feasible mitigation measures or alternatives to avoid or reduce such impacts.
A ‘significance threshold’ is the level at which an impact is determined to be significant, triggering mitigation, and also determines the level at which mitigation is effective in reducing the impact beneath the threshold… (more)
Express your views on CEQA
Express your views ON CEQA reform
If you want to tell Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg how you feel about his efforts to reform and fund CEQA. E-mail him at email@example.com.
CEQA suit is asking the court to order The City to immediately stop the Beach Challet project, and vacate the approvals granted by The City until a better EIR is prepared and approved in compliance with all CEQA requirements.
Continue reading “Beach Chalet soccer fields face pitched battle”
Beach Chalet soccer fields face pitched battle
If lawyers had the equivalent of a penalty shootout, it might look like what played out in a San Francisco courtroom Friday when two teams of attorneys argued over putting artificial turf on the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park. This civil…
Steinberg Has Blunt Words for CEQA Overhaul Backers – back off on more this year.
By Ben Adler : capradio.org – excerpt
The measure at the center of the debate over modifying the California Environmental Quality Act has passed a key legislative committee. But the bill’s author is warning business groups calling for a broad overhaul to tone down their list of demands…
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg says he’s weighed the concerns of all sides in the CEQA debate – and decided he wants his bill to encourage urban infill development and discourage suburban sprawl.
But the business coalition supporting a more sweeping overhaul says Steinberg’s proposal wouldn’t do enough to spur the economy and reduce abusive lawsuits. “Infill is one piece of that, if we agree on that approach. But it’s a much bigger issue for California’s economy. We’re talking about the state as a whole, and it goes far beyond infill,” says Rob Lapsley with the California Business Roundtable.
Still, Steinberg had some blunt words for the business groups: “If there is any expectation – and I know there is a big expectation – that my bill will include the lengthy and ever-changing list that the CEQA coalition seems to want, you’re gonna have to find another author, another year, another time, another way to do this,” he told the Assembly Local Government Committee Wednesday, which passed his bill by a 7-0 vote.
Labor and environmental groups are heavily lobbying against major changes to the law. All sides say they want to continue working with Steinberg over the final month of this year’s legislative session… (move)
Steinberg still trying to get California environmental law deal
Bullet train: Calif. enviro law does not apply
By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press : greenwichtime.com – excerpt
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s high-speed rail project is no longer subject to the state’s rigorous environmental laws after a federal transportation board ruled that it has oversight of the project, the state attorney general’s office argues in a brief filed Friday.
The June decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board — which was sought by opponents of the bullet train — pre-empts the authority of the California Environmental Quality Act, the state argued in the filing made on behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
“The STB’s decision concluding it has jurisdiction over the entire high-speed train system fundamentally affects the regulatory environment for the project going forward,” the state said in the brief submitted to the Third District Court of Appeals, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Opponents of the project could lose one of their most significant legal tools if a federal judge agrees with the state’s argument. Critics of the rail line have repeatedly sued the state alleging violations of Environmental Quality Act.
The state asked the court to dismiss a five-year-old lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto seeking to block the bullet train through the Pacheco Pass south of San Francisco. They argued that the route would harm the environment.
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge dismissed their suit in February but they appealed to the federal court, which last month ordered both sides to answer the question “Does federal law pre-empt state environmental law with respect to California’s high-speed rail system?”.
The $68 billion project will have to comply with stringent environmental laws regardless of the court’s decision in the Atherton lawsuit. But if the court sides with the state, it would mean complying only with the National Environmental Policy Act, and any lawsuits would have to be filed in federal court… (more)
Libertarian Foundation Uses CEQA to Litigate ‘Plan Bay Area’
by Irvin Dawid : planetizen – excerpt
The group, Bay Area Citizens, worried about loss of property values and quality of life, will be represented by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, which will use CEQA as the basis of the lawsuit against regional agencies MTC and ABAG.
In what might be perceived as an ironic application of the landmark 1970 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), written in part to reign-in the Golden State’s sprawling growth in that era, a libertarian foundation is using the law as the basis for a lawsuit challenging the July 18 approval of the regional growth plan known as Plan Bay Area by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (PDF).
The plan steers growth toward “Priority Development Areas“, determined by local jurisdictions, that are accessible to transit and services as opposed to promoting more exurban development, and away from “Priority Conservation Areas“.
Bay Area Citizens sees the plan as promoting dense growth that “restricts people’s ability to make their own choices”, according to its co-founder, Peter Singleton… (more)
CEQA Roundup: Reform bill amendments reveal what’s been taken off the table. What is in and what is out.
by Justin Ewers : caeconomy – excerpt
- Broad intent language targeting infill: Throughout his push for CEQA reform, Steinberg has said his aim is to speed up the CEQA review process for the vital infill projects California needs to achieve its climate goals–an idea he reiterated in a press conference Wednesday. This visionary language has been amended out of the bill, as has a specific call to bring “greater certainty” to infill development. The bill also backs away from efforts to expand the state’s definition of infill development itself.
- Prohibition of ‘late hits:’ Also amended out are clear statutory rules to prohibit so-called “late hits” and “document dumps” that critics say are designed to delay projects late in the environmental review process.
- Reducing redundant CEQA challenges: Steinberg’s original bill included some limits to the types of lawsuits that can be filed in the late stages of a residential development project. The current legislation, however, no longer contains the provision that would disallow litigation based solely on “argument, speculation, [or] unsubstantiated opinion” against projects that already comply with a local plan and environmental impact report.
- A new role for the Attorney General: Steinberg’s original bill tasked the Attorney General with collecting information on the frequency of CEQA lawsuits and who is behind them–a major source of disagreement among environmentalists and business groups. While sources privy to the details of Steinberg’s negotiations say the governor’s office has expressed interest in adding more teeth to this provision by allowing the AG to go so far as to reopen these settlement agreements, the new amendments go in the other direction. He is now handing responsibility for developing reports on CEQA lawsuits to the California Research Bureau (“subject to the availability of funds”), which will be responsible for providing a report to the Legislature that includes the names of CEQA petitioners and the types of action filed.
- Exempting “aesthetics” and (now) “parking:” The amended bill continues to propose removing “aesthetics” from the CEQA equation for residential and transit-oriented developments–and now adds parking to the mix, as well, in an effort to settle a series of muddled court decisions on the subject. These proposals would not prohibit a community from developing their own local rules on these issues, but it would mean infill project opponents could no longer use CEQA to tie a project up in court simply because they don’t like the way it looks or how it deals with parking. These new provisions come with two big caveats: Aesthetic impacts on historical or cultural resources must still be considered under CEQA, and the bill’s new parking provision is aimed only at the issue of parking spaces, not the impact of “traffic congestion on air quality.” How much this clarifies the law remains unclear.
- Setting new “thresholds” for noise impacts: In a previous version, Steinberg sought to set new “thresholds” for traffic, noise, and parking–common urban environmental impacts that have become major obstacles to infill projects. But the new bill only calls for thresholds for noise impacts, as well as what the bill calls “transportation impacts for transit-oriented infill projects.” (Amended out is a directive to lawmakers to review similar land-use impacts to see if other thresholds could be set in the future.) In its current form, the bill continues to avoid setting these thresholds. Instead, it directs the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research to create guidelines for the new thresholds–which would likely be challenged in court, making the timing of their enactment uncertain.
- A concession to renewable energy: Steinberg’s updated bill continues to create a new position for an Advisor on Renewable Energy Facilities to be a champion for renewable energy projects in the governor’s office, a position that would expire at the end of 2016. The bill also includes a provision that would allow renewable energy project applicants to make a case to public agencies through the CEQA process touting the environmental virtues of their projects, from cutting emissions to reducing traffic.
- Increasing transparency in the administrative process: The new amendments have left untouched most of the bill’s array of procedural fixes–from allowing lead agencies to respond to CEQA complaints via the Internet to allowing courts to issue partial “remands” of only the sections of an environmental document that don’t comply with the law (though that provision is still intent language only).
Who will be happiest about these changes?
Labor leaders will be pleased by what seems to be a concerted effort to dial back Steinberg’s attempts to reduce CEQA litigation over infill projects. Most of the procedural changes sought by environmentalists remain in the bill, but environmental leaders may remain concerned over how new thresholds will be set–and how the bill’s exemption of aesthetics and parking will be resolved. The new coalition of public works agencies will be disappointed to see language prohibiting “late hits,” in particular, has been removed from the bill.
As for the business leaders who have been pushing for what they call “meaningful” reform: The new amendments to Steinberg’s legislation appear to be another–potentially decisive–step away from the comprehensive, long-lasting changes to CEQA they have been seeking… (more)