Breed’s planning commissioner pick is Latina with Mission ties

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Many weeks see Latinos from the Mission lambaste the San Francisco Planning Commission.

From the Monster in the Mission to the Beast on Bryant, the neighborhood is home to some of the most contested housing developments in The City, which, neighbors fear, spur evictions.

Now their voice may grow.

On Guard has learned the Planning Commission’s newest potential commissioner is a Latina woman with decades of experience in Mission District activism: Myrna Melgar.

She’s a recent Democratic Party board candidate and current commissioner at the Department of Building Inspection. Melgar told me, “Planners like to think we’re neutral, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

She added, “We have to be mindful of power imbalances and equity issues.”
Her approval comes by way of Board of Supervisors President London Breed, and is pending approval by the full board.

In a statement, Breed noted that the Mission “is facing such enormous land use pressures right now,” and that “Myrna has two crucial qualities: independence and integrity. She will bring balance. She will serve the whole city.”

There is some worry Supervisor Mark Farrell may not back Melgar, sources tell On Guard, because Melgar ran on the progressive “reform” DCCC slate opposite Farrell.

However, the Board of Supervisors majority may make Farrell’s vote moot, as Melgar has strong progressive ties — perhaps a consideration of Breed in her supervisor race against progressive Dean Preston.

Christina Olague was the last Latina planning commissioner, who left her seat in 2012.
Melgar was born and raised in El Salvador, and her family fled its civil war to San Francisco when she was 14. She worked at activist groups like PODER, Senior Action Network and St. Peter’s Housing Committee (now Causa Justa Just Cause).

Those are serious bona fides…(more)

Ran into one of the Planning Commissioners last night who told me we will like this choice. He appears to be right about that. Thanks Supervisor Breed.

 

 

Full speed ahead, and damn the facts! CEQA in operation in Berkeley

OpeEd By Becky O’Malley : berkeleydailyplanet – excerpt

Last weekend I had two more lessons in how powerless the California Environmental Quality Act is to inform politically-based decisionmaking. One was at the Wellstone Democratic Club’s endorsement meeting and the other was the Superior Court hearing on the EIR for 2211 Harold Way.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to hear both candidates for Berkeley’s District Five City Council seat who spoke at the Wellstone Democratic Club meeting on Saturday endorse the ongoing plan to cut down many of the blue gum eucalyptus trees in the East Bay Hills and kill off the stumps with Roundup. Coincidentally or not, both are trained as lawyers.

This is a controversy that has been going on for quite a while now, all over the country in many contexts. For my money, the best analysis of the politics involved, with a side of science cites, can be found in a story which ace reporter Andrew Cockburn wrote for Harpers Magazine last year: Weed Whackers: Monsanto, glyphosate, and the war on invasive species. It’s well worth reading end to end, and you can do it online for free.

A lot of environmental decision-making is mistakenly based on the Sesame Street principle: Which one of these things is not like the other? When the eucalyptus tree has been scrutinized, a lot of the analysis comes down in the end to personal preference: love ‘em or hate ‘em: natives good, introduced bad—or maybe it’s the other way round. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

We attempt, with inadequate data and cumbersome legalistic processes, to make decisions which are more properly scientific, or would be if the data existed. For a decent view of what facts we have, see Management of blue gum eucalyptus in California requires region-specific consideration in the January issue of California Agriculture.

As near as I can determine, the Achilles heel of the East Bay Regional Park/FEMA scheme is the promised “restoration” plan: what will happen in the park after the trees have been chopped down and the stumps nuked with Roundup. We just don’t know enough to be sure that the lovely native grasslands which preceded the trees can be sure to come back as before, and some park users might prefer woodlands to grass, an even more difficult goal. In situations like this one, the paper’s authors suggest, eucalyptus roots may have altered the soil in which they grow with persistent chemicals which kill other plants.

A professor of environmental studies of my acquaintance tells me that “restoration is a moving target, an evolving field”. It’s frequently a promised mitigation in an environmental impact study, but more often than not it just doesn’t happen as planned, either from unforeseen scientific impossibility or lack of funding. And sometimes it’s cynically promised by governmental bodies with no intention of enforcing compliance. In Santa Cruz there’s a “restored wetland” which was promised to mitigate a building project elsewhere that is routinely clearcut by city officials worried that criminal activity might thrive among those “weeds”.

Another manifestation of the flaws in our environmental decision-making was on view Friday in Oakland in the court of Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, hearing the challenge to the environmental impact report on the project for 2211 Harold Way in Berkeley, which was approved on December 8 by Berkeley’s clownish City Council. Petitioners were citizens James Hendry and Kelly Hammargren, appearing individually on their own without benefit of lawyers, a Herculean task which they executed remarkably well, all things considered.

Next time you hear Governor Jerry Brown whining that his developer pals are suffering mightily under the heavy burden of the California Environmental Quality Act’s reporting requirements, please laugh out loud with me. Here we have a multi-million-dollar project to construct 18 stories of luxury apartments, tearing down in the process a film center which is a mainstay of the downtown Berkeley economy, tunneling under a historic building which is built on infill on a creekbed with a ceramic foundation.

(Some of you may have seen the reports of a building in San Francisco also built on fill which has started to sink…) .

Despite CEQA, we were in the last round on Friday, and the chances of two private citizens stopping the project were slim.

In the developer’s corner: the Manatt law firm, the great big one which has historically represented all the bigtime Democratic pols.

Representing the public interest: a retired nurse and an economist, doing their damndest to figure out what CEQA should have done to inform the decision-makers adequately.

Here again, it’s a matter of separating the weeds from the flowers. CEQA is supposed to do that, but it fails…

There is an election in November. A better city council might be the only way to prevent future travesties like this one…  (more)

The failure to protect valuable community spaces is seems to often be on the part of the politicians who are still buying into the Plan Bay Area theme that anything new and expensive that increases the value of the property is better than whatever it replaces. Some efforts to stem that reasoning are taking root in San Francisco as artists, cultural institutions and small businesses situated in post-industrial PDR (Production, Distribution and Repair) zones, fight back with Prop X. If you can figure out which candidates agree with your vision of your city you should vote for those people, especially the ones you send to Sacramento and Washington. That is where the damage is being done, as the author is finding out. There are so many bills aimed at tearing down CEQA it is hard to keep track of them. We try to track some of them here: https://discoveryink.wordpress.com/california-bills-2016/

Transportation expert opines on the Plan Bay Area and other subjects.

americandreamcoalition – excerpt – (videos)

Downloads of Tom Rubin videos and reports:
http://americandreamcoalition.org/?page%20id=3979

Thomas A. Rubin, CPA, CMA, CMC, CIA, CGFM, CFM has over four decades of experience in government surface transportation and finance, concentrating on public transit. As a consultant and auditor, he has served well over 100 transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, suppliers to the transit industry, and not-for-profits.

He founded and directed the public transportation practice of what is now Deloitte & Touche, LLP, growing it to the largest of its type. He has also served as the chief financial officer of two the largest transit systems in the U.S., including the Southern California Rapid Transit District (now Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority), the third largest.

Since 1996, he has been a sole practitioner consultant, helping government agencies to improve their capital, operational, and financial planning and overseeing contraction projects. He has been named “the world’s funniest transit accountant” (not in reference to transit agency financial statements he has worked on)…

Expertise: Transportation, transit, rail transit, transit systems in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other cities

Best way to reach: email to tarubin at earthlink.net

Cost: Travel expenses (from California) plus honorarium based on ability to pay and distance traveled

Downloads:

(more)

Brown’s climate bill SB32 not ready for prime time

By Jim Nielsen : sfchronicle – excerpt

The California Legislature’s most contentious bill of the year, SB32, which attempts to establish far-reaching reductions in greenhouse emissions, is in the final stages of the legislative process. It miraculously moved out of a committee meant to hold the line on state spending with very little scrutiny or transparency.

Creating cleaner air is a noble cause. We all want clean air for our children, grandchildren and ourselves.

At issue is the blank check authority that SB32 hands over to faceless, unelected state bureaucrats at the California Air Resources Board. The board has repeatedly failed to produce basic performance reviews of its climate change programs.

The board’s self-proclaimed achievement has been so fuzzy that a bipartisan group of legislators has called for a state audit of its programs. Republican and Democratic lawmakers want to better understand what, if any, emission reductions the programs are achieving. Repeatedly, the board has failed to provide basic information to the Legislature. The audit request has stalled and will not be approved before this legislative session terminates at the end of the month.

No reasonable lawmaker will deny that the very fundamentals of good policy-making require evaluations of whether a program is working, based on sound criteria. When we see where a policy or program is failing or has not met expectations, we need to come to an agreed upon solution before expanding or renewing the program… (more)

The citizens of California deserve to see all the facts laid out in plain English. When this doesn’t happen, the legislature should NOT approve taking action on this measure. Clearly this is a controversial bill that needs a lot of public comment and debate. Sneaking highly controversial language into trailing legislation and last minute bills is dishonest and should also be brought to the attention of the voting public.

If it is a good idea, why are they hiding it from public debate?

Coalition to Preserve LA Praises Conservationists: They Stopped Gov. Brown from Wiping Out Environmental Protections Under CEQA

businesswire – excerpt

“This is a lie designed to kill CEQA, which is used modestly to attack only the worst developments.”

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Coalition to Preserve LA applauds the Sierra Club, the Planning and Conservation League and scores of groups who fought and today stopped Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to gut CEQA and Coastal Act environmental protections for virtually any urban project where developers agreed to add an insignificant number of affordable housing units.

In June, we urged our supporters, and those who believe developers are the last ones who should decide their communities’ fates, to call Gov. Brown to protest Trailer Bill 707. Brown’s now fully dead idea would have trampled over the California Environmental Quality Act and Coastal Act, handing the wheel to developers who have shown that without environmental oversight they will gladly place thousands of children in harm’s way, create massive surface street gridlock and destroy unique and beloved neighborhood character.

The Coalition is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 Los Angeles ballot to end developer control over what L.A. becomes. Contact us to attend our events, or to very easily donate and send a message, at 2PreserveLA.org…

CEQA is a crucial tool to assure safe housing, but this year a raft of California legislators who take money from developers tried to pass some 30 bills to tear CEQA apart. In USC’s watershed Children’s Health Study of 3,600 children, scientists proved that youngsters living near freeways suffer chronic lung damage. UCLA found a higher risk for premature babies. Experts say this tainted housing cannot be “mitigated” with filters, trees or tight windows — microscopic metal and rubber particles still lodge in the lungs and brain…

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which is almost finished gathering more than 62,000 signatures for the March ballot, gives L.A. residents the power to “call a time-out” and shape what L.A. becomes. We believe environmental review is crucial to preserving safety, fighting gridlock and ending the current destruction of neighborhood character to build a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles.

The fight to protect CEQA is not over. Los Angeles city leaders have falsely claimed that CEQA is being abused and has increasingly pushed development disputes into court. Said Stewart “This is a lie designed to kill CEQA, which is used modestly to attack only the worst developments.” A new study from the NRDC shows that CEQA is used very seldom in court, has no effect on development costs, and is a key tool to force healthy out-of-court compromise.

Additional information available at ethics.lacity.org

Please visit us at neighborhoodintegrity@gmail.com / http://2PreserveLA.org(more)

The legislative gut-and-amend season is upon us

By Scott Wilk : signalscv – excerpt

Prop 54 will allow an informed public to hold policymakers accountable for their actions and stop the special interests from hijacking the democratic process.

…Gut-and-amend is a process whereby bills have their original contents deleted and replaced with language completely unrelated to the original subject matter.

On occasion this is necessary because an issue has arisen after the legislative deadline that needs to be addressed…

The Rules Committee simply “waives” the rules and brings the proposal to the floor. The procedure is call Without Reference to File or “WORF.”

The most egregious gut-and-amend happened during my freshman year. Then-Senate Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg. D-Sacramento, had a bill, SB 743, to expedite the building of the new arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

The bill did two things: allowed eminent domain of a downtown property; and expedited the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, to ensure the arena would be ready for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Like many legislators I was opposed to the bill. First, I don’t like eminent domain for private interests, and I think everyone should enjoy CEQA reform, not just rich, politically well-connected people.

The final day of session the rules were waived and SB 743 was amended to offer some minor CEQA reforms that applied statewide.

SB 743 was brought to the Assembly floor at approximately 8:30 p.m. Since the bill had statewide CEQA reforms, I joined 55 of my colleagues in voting “aye.” The bill was then sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

At 11:30 pm, a mere 30 minutes before the close of session for the year, we were presented a bill, AB 852, by Roger Dickenson, D-Sacramento. The bill had been gutted, and the new language inserted into the bill sought to remove the CEQA reform we passed three hours earlier!

So those CEQA reform amendments were simply a Trojan horse to coax the state Assembly into passing the Sacramento Kings arena legislation.

It takes 41 “aye” votes to pass a bill off the Assembly floor. The final vote was 26 “ayes,” 35 “nay,” and 17 abstentions. So we killed the bill and allowed the statewide CEQA reforms to become law.

Clearly, gut-and-amends are an insidious tactic that erode public trust in government and produce results for special interests that often don’t align with the public good.

But on Nov. 8 Californians will have the opportunity to end gut-and-amends by voting for Proposition 54, the Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to a Vote initiative…

Prop 54 would require that a bill cannot pass until it has been in print and published for 72 hours prior to a vote. This ensures that the public and lawmakers have the ability to fully comprehend and digest the legislation being voted on.

In this digital information age we live in, it is especially appropriate that the initiative also requires audiovisual recordings for all legislative business – excluding closed-sessions – to be posted on the internet for public review.

Finally, Prop 54 would require these recordings be accessible and downloadable for 20 years, further increasing transparency in the Legislature.

As we wrap up the legislative session and approach a busy election year, I encourage you to use your voice by voting to enhance our democratic process and create a more honest, open and accountable government by supporting Prop 54.

We must end the cozy relationship between Sacramento elites and their special interest benefactors. An open, honest and transparent legislative process will forge better public policy and bolster people’s confidence in government institutions.

Prop 54 will allow an informed public to hold policymakers accountable for their actions and stop the special interests from hijacking the democratic process.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk represents the 38th Assembly District encompassing Simi Valley, the northwestern section of the San Fernando Valley and most of the Santa Clarita Valley…(more)

 

“CEQA-In-Reverse” Case on Remand: First District Holds BAAQMD’s 2010 Air Pollutant Thresholds Not Facially Invalid, But Can’t Be Used For Primarily Intended Purpose

By Miller Starr Regalia : lexology – excerpt

In a published decision filed August 12, 2016, following remand from the California Supreme Court after its landmark “CEQA-in-reverse” decision, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded with directions to issue an order partially granting CBIA’s writ of mandate and to consider CBIA’s requests for declaratory relief and attorneys’ fees. California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (1st Dist., Div. 5, 2016)… Cal.App.4th …, 2016 WL…

The opinion reaches the same general conclusion as the Court of Appeal’s previous opinion in the matter (my blog post on which can be found here) – i.e., that BAAQMD’s 2010 Toxic Air Contaminants (TAC) Thresholds of Significance (i.e., for air pollutants including TACs and PM 2.5) are not facially invalid, because not invalid in all their potential applications. However, following the holding of the Supreme Court’s opinion (my blog post on which can be found here), the Court of Appeal importantly clarifies that the TAC Thresholds “may not be used for the primary purpose envisioned by District, namely, to routinely assess the effect of existing environmental conditions on future users or occupants of a project.”…(more)

San Jose sues Santa Clara over City Place Project

by Alissa Reyes : santaclaraweekly – excerpt

The City of San Jose filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Clara on Friday July 29 claiming that the 240-acre City Place project will have a negative impact on San Jose.

“The City of San Jose hasn’t gotten very specific with their complaint thus far,” said Vice Mayor of Santa Clara, Teresa O’Neill. “The lawsuit is at the very beginning phase… We are waiting for further information from San Jose before we can take any further action.”

City Place, commonly referred to as the Related Project, is a Santa Clara development project located across from the Levi’s Stadium. The project will include retail, entertainment, and office space as well as hotels and residential units. The project is slated to break ground in 2017 and be complete by 2020.

San Jose claims its complaint is justified under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that City Place will be environmentally damaging to the region.

According to California’s government website, CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts…(more)

Lafayette: Homes at Deer Hill lawsuit moves forward

By Jennifer Modenessi : bayareanewsgroup – excerpt

A Contra Costa Superior Court judge has upheld a ruling that allows a lawsuit against developers and the city of Lafayette to move forward.

 Judge Judith S. Craddick affirmed Aug. 9 a tentative ruling rejecting the city and developer O’Brien Land Company’s request that the lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation not move forward.
 The city and developer filed the demurrer challenging the legal basis — but not the merits — of SFBARF’s suit. The group claims Lafayette broke state housing law when the city council approved a 44-home development that replaced 315 moderate-income apartments known as the Terraces of Lafayette originally pitched for a hillside above Highway 24.
 “I’m thrilled that we won at this stage,” said Sonja Trauss, the group’s founder. “The next step is to prepare for a trial.”
 City Manager Steve Falk said the ruling was “not entirely surprising” given the judge’s earlier tentative judgment, which rejected in part the city and developer’s arguments SFBARF had exceeded the statute of limitations to file its legal challenge.
 “No one has won or lost the lawsuit yet,” Falk said. “It’s just kind of a step along the way”… (more)

New Economic Study Shows CEQA Protects Environment without Stunting Economic Growth

BAE Urban Economics report includes quantitative analysis of CEQA’s impacts on litigation, development costs and affordable housing

Berkeley, Calif. – Economic analysis firm BAE Urban Economics released a new report today that shows the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) supports economically and environmental sustainable development in California. The report was commissioned by the Rose Foundation in response to a number of flawed analyses released in recent years that inaccurately blame CEQA for economic challenges in the state.

“This report uses quantitative analysis to clarify that anti-CEQA rhetoric really has no basis in fact,” said Janet Smith-Heimer, President of BAE Urban Economics. “After extensive analysis, we found that CEQA does not have an actual dampening effect on California’s economy.”

The report includes a number of significant findings, including:

  • There is no quantitative evidence that CEQA has a retarding effect on the state’s economic prosperity.
  • Legislative changes to CEQA aimed at streamlining the CEQA process to encourage infill development are working. In San Francisco, only 14 environmental impact reports were prepared in the last three years. In that time, 100 projects proceeded with CEQA exemptions or expedited review.
  • Despite rapid population growth and development, the number of CEQA lawsuits statewide has remained constant over the past 14 years. Between 2013 and 2015, legal challenges were filed in 0.7 percent of projects subject to CEQA review.
  • Less than one percent of projects subject to CEQA review face litigation.
  • Direct costs for complete environmental reviews under CEQA typically range from 0.025% to 0.5% of total development costs.
  • California is the 11th most densely populated state in the nation. Its urban areas compare favorably to cities around the country with regard to the rate of infill vs. greenfield development.
  • The state’s largest cities show ongoing improvement in walkability. California is home to 12 of the nation’s 50 most walkable cities.
  • CEQA does not hamper the development of affordable housing in urban areas. Although the need to provide more affordable housing in California is undisputed, when compared to other states, California produces the second highest number of affordable housing units per 100,000 residents in the nation.

CEQA was signed into law in 1970 by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. CEQA requires public agencies to identify environmental impacts associated with development and to reduce or eliminate such impacts whenever feasible. The law provides provisions to ensure transparency and invites community involvement in development decisions.

“CEQA is often the only legal protection afforded to communities of color and low-income communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms,” noted Gladys Limón, Staff Attorney with Communities for a Better Environment. “It identifies environmental health and safety impacts that would otherwise be passed off to residents and taxpayers generally. CEQA ensures smart development that respects the right of a decent home and suitable living environment for every Californian.”

The report’s analysis includes:

  • A literature review of recent studies on CEQA’s impacts.
  • A detailed review of legislation, legal findings and regulatory changes intended to streamline the CEQA process, and the degree to which those efforts have been successful.
  • Five case studies that illustrate how the CEQA process works (a transit center in Anaheim, an affordable senior housing project in Richmond, a Specific Plan for the Millbrae BART station, a solar installation in the Mojave Desert, and the contested SCIG railyard development at the Port of Los Angeles).
  • An analysis of the direct costs for the environmental review portion of a project, placed into context of other planning and constructions costs.
  • A review of California’s ranking compared to other states with regard to infill development, population density, walkability (a key metric of sustainable development) and economic prosperity.

“Public enforcement of CEQA plays a crucial function in protecting public health and the environment in California’s most vulnerable communities,” said Sean Hecht, Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law. “At the same time, this report shows that litigation under CEQA affects only a small fraction of projects in the state.”…

Read the full 102 page report (more)

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