Palo Alto considers legal options against Caltrain
City irked by train agency’s decision to seek exemption from state environmental law
By Gennady Sheyner : PaloAltoWeekly – excerpt
City irked by train agency’s decision to seek exemption from state environmental law: Weeks after learning about Caltrain’s plan to seek an exemption from California’s environmental law for its proposed electrification project in the event of a lawsuit, Palo Alto officials are preparing to consider their legal options.
The City Council has set a special closed-session meeting for this evening to consider potential litigation against the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. The session, which was placed on the agenda last week, comes two weeks after the council heard a presentation about Caltrain’s staff about the recently completed Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the long-planned project, which seeks to replace diesel trains with electric ones starting in 2019. In addition to enabling an increase in trains, the electrification project also intends to set the stage for the ultimate construction of high-speed rail…The document also asserted for the first time Caltrain’s intention to claim exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, the very law that makes the EIR mandatory, should the project face a lawsuit. While Caltrain officials said they plan to go along with the mitigations laid out in the report regardless of the law’s applicability, they also said they reserve the right to declare themselves exempt from the law if the document faces a legal challenge… (more)
Reform CEQA to help live with drought
The first CEQA reform bill of the year, SB122, was introduced by state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and co-authored by state Sens. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Richard Roth, D-Riverside. The bill only proposes a change to CEQA’s litigation procedures but, by including substantive yet commonsense changes in requirements and review, SB122 could be made into a real reform bill.
I urge you to contact your elected representatives in the Legislature to share your concerns about the need to build water use considerations into our key environmental law. While CEQA reform will be a significant step forward, building in drought resilience will not solve the state’s water woes. It will, however, go a long way toward ensuring the resources we have are used effectively.
Kristina D. Lawson is a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, where she specializes in land use and environmental law and policy. She is also the former mayor of Walnut Creek. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at www.sfgate.com/submissions/#1… (more)
San Diego: Environmental Regulations Don’t Apply To Marijuana Dispensaries
kpbs – excerpt
A city staff finding that permit applications to operate legal medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego are exempt from provisions of the California Environmental Protection Act will be reviewed by the City Council on Tuesday.
Members of the public have appealed the CEQA exemptions for 11 applicants who hope to operate legal marijuana shops under regulations approved by the council early last year.
City officials are sorting through 40 applications for conditional use permits. No legal medical marijuana outlet has opened yet within city limits, while numerous shops operating illegally have been shut down.
In processing the applications, officials with the city’s Development Services Department found that CEQA regulations don’t apply in the case of the dispensaries, since they’ll only be making minor modifications to existing buildings… (more)
By KENNETH OFGANG : metnews – excerpt
The governor of California is not an “agency” within the meaning of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The court affirmed a Sacramento Superior Court ruling that the governor’s approval of a new Indian casino in Madera County is not subject to CEQA review, eliminating one legal hurdle in the near-decade-long effort by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to gain approval for off-reservation gambling…. (more)
CEQA Isn’t the Reason You’re Sitting in Traffic in Mission Valley
: voiceofsandiego – excerpt
In fact, don’t blame it at all for the bad (or even the good) long-term consequences of development decisions that stem from using the law.
Why not? CEQA doesn’t dictate particular outcomes. CEQA’s primary focus is on disclosing the bad aspects of development decisions. It leaves the ultimate decision-making to public officials.
When a government agency prepares a CEQA document, the goal is to give the public and the decision-makers a reasonably complete forecast of the proposal’s environmental impacts, a reasonably complete list of measures that will reduce otherwise significant impacts to a level of insignificance and a reasonable range of alternative proposals… (more)
City of Los Angeles Outsources Defense of CEQA/Land Use Lawsuits To Private Law Firms – Developers To Foot The Bill
By Jack H. Rubens : natlawreview – excerpt
On December 16, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously authorized the City Attorney to establish a Land Use/CEQA Panel, which will consist of five municipal law firms, to defend the City in CEQA and land use lawsuits that challenge the entitlements for private development projects, and to require that the project applicant reimburse the City for its legal costs and fees.
This is a significant change in City policy. For many years, most entitlement approvals for development projects have included a pro-forma condition that requires the project applicant to defend and indemnify the City respect to litigation challenging the entitlements, either on CEQA or other grounds. However, the City has rarely enforced that condition and the City Attorney has normally defended the City in such litigation.
That will now change. Based on the Council-approved recommendations in the report prepared by the City Attorney, in the event a lawsuit is filed, the developer will be required to execute a reimbursement agreement pursuant to which it agrees to pay all reasonable costs and fees charged by the firm retained by the City. The developer will still have the right to retain its own law firm to defend the litigation, but in that case it will be forced to pay two law firms.
This action by the City Council imposes yet another (potential) burden on development in Los Angeles, particularly for the developers of small or mid-sized projects, who can ill-afford any litigation delay, much less having to pay a second law firm… (more)
Developers seal deal to build housing at UCSF’s Laurel Heights campus
Cory Weinberg : bizjournals – excerpt
The San Francisco-based development duo looking to bring a rare spate of new housing to the northern part of the city agreed to a lease deal with the University of California San Francisco to take control of its Laurel Heights campus.
SKS Partners LLC and Prado Group, which won exclusive negotiating rights with UCSF earlier this year, signed a 99-year ground lease for the campus this month. They will lease back the space to UCSF for the next five years while they work on development plans. The developers will meet formally with neighborhood groups in the coming months to unveil what will likely be a plan for hundreds of housing units and some retail space.
The developers have not yet filed any preliminary plans with the city. Soon, they will launch a website with more project information, said Dan Safier, president and CEO of Prado Group. Other groups that had vied for the site, like Wilson Meany and TMG Partners, had pitched senior housing for the site. SKS and Prado have been quiet about specifics…
The 10.3-acre site at 3333 California St., which has nearly a half-million square feet of building space, could hold up about 500 units, according to current zoning rules. There’s also a 40-foot height limit. The site could also still be used as offices, according to UCSF…
Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents Laurel Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods, said developers will need to show that their plans do not further clog California Street traffic. He also pointed to the potential development on top of the California Pacific Medical Center site near Laurel Village – a hospital that will move to Cathedral Hill – as being “transformational” for the neighborhood.
The Laurel Heights campus “has been a sleepy campus for decades, but when UCSF decided to shutter this campus obviously there was a significant amount of interest,” Farrell said. “It’s going to be monumental over time. It’s a combination of being very exciting, but also there’s a burden that it happens in the right way.”… (more)