California Supreme Court Ruling Bolsters Bullet Train Foes

By sanfrancisco.cbslocal – excerpt

U.S. law does not allow state-owned rail projects to completely bypass California’s strict environmental regulations, the state Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision that ensures further legal complications for the planned $64 billion bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco…

The high court overturned a lower court ruling and gave renewed hope to those who have used the California Environmental Quality Act to challenge the high-speed rail project championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“It basically says that California has a right to control its own railroads and decide whether they should be required to consider carefully the environmental impacts of their projects,” said Stuart Flashman, who represents several San Francisco Bay Area cities in a lawsuit that claims the bullet train project violates the state’s environmental law.

Richard Frank, an environmental law expert at the University of California, Davis School of Law, said the ruling, however, was not a “sweeping or unqualified victory” for litigants who have challenged the high-speed rail project. That’s because the court also said in some cases, federal law will trump the state’s environmental act… (more)

Valley attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

by Sonoma Valley Sun : sonomasun – excerpt

Superior Court Judge Nancy Case Shaffer in Santa Rosa has ruled in favor of local Sonoma Valley attorney Jerry Bernhaut’s lawsuit challenging Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020 Plan. A lawyer with River Watch, a Sonoma County firm active in filing environmental challenges, Bernhaut’s suit argued that the county’s plan violated various provisions of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act…

Commenting on the ruling, Bernhaut said, “The court’s ruling validates River Watch’s contentions that:

1. By failing to account for GHG emissions from global tourist travel and global distribution of wine and other Sonoma County products, the CAP grossly understated the true GHG emissions generated by activities in Sonoma County…

Bernhaut added, “It’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

The County’s Climate Action Plan 2020 was adopted by Sonoma County last year, but River Watch’s legal action has placed the program on hold. The plan was that all nine Sonoma County cities would join the county and sign-on to the plan, conforming to its goals and methodology. That process was halted while the lawsuit proceeded, and now that the court has made its ruling, it’s unclear as to the next steps. The county can appeal the court decision, or it can decide to revamp and reissue the plan in accordance with the corrections and changes the court decision highlights.

Of particular note is the court’s reference to the need to use VMT calculations (Vehicle Miles Traveled) to better asses and calculate the full impacts of GHG (Greenhouse Gas emissions). During the recent, successful appeal of the certification of the EIR for the proposed hotel on West Napa Street, appellants objected to the fact that VMT methodology was not used to calculate the project’s GHG impacts, but city staff and the EIR consultant argued that calculations using VMT need not be used. It’s unclear what, if any, this court decision will have on that EIR, which is currently undergoing review and amendment…(more)

DWR Certifies EIR for WaterFix, Triggering 30-Day Deadline for Opponents to File Suit

by Downey Brand LLP : dsupra – excerpt

On July 21, 2017, the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) certified the final environmental document and issued its Notice of Determination for the California WaterFix, a significant new water infrastructure component proposed by DWR and United States Bureau of Reclamation. DWR’s action triggered a 30-day statute of limitations to raise CEQA challenges to the project, which has been the subject of steadily accelerating public discussion and debate over the last two years…

WaterFix, sometimes referred to as the Delta Tunnels, would divert water from the northern Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta just south of Sacramento, under water right permits held by DWR and Reclamation. According to its advocates, WaterFix is intended to improve and update the existing Delta conveyance systems, while preserving the vulnerable species populations that rely on Delta waters…

The approval is one of several required before the WaterFix project can move forward…

Our CEQA attorneys are carefully tracking these legal developments, and will offer thoughts and analysis in future alerts as this situation (and the complicated legal issues surrounding it) evolves… (more)

California WaterFix Reaches Key Milestone As State Environmental Review Is Certified

by ect  : eastcountytoday – excerpt

SACRAMENTO – Clearing another major milestone toward the modernization of the state’s water delivery system, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Friday certified the environmental analysis of the California WaterFix. Friday’s announcement follows recent federal biological opinions that confirm the project is consistent with environmental and wildlife protection standards.

“Today, we have reached our next important benchmark in moving California towards a more reliable water supply,” said DWR Acting Director Cindy Messer. “With this certification, our state is now closer to modernizing our aging water delivery system in a way that improves reliability and protects the environment.”

The WaterFix will modernize a 50-year-old water delivery system that is increasingly vulnerable to disruption by natural disaster and climate change. With new intakes along the Sacramento River, the project also would give water project operators the flexibility to divert water at times of high flow when the risk to native fish at the new diversion facilities is minimal, thus better balancing water supply and environmental protection needs…

For more information, including fact sheets about project costs, cost allocation, project delivery, and environmental benefits, visit www.californiawaterfix.com….(more)

Planning Commission to Decide Whether to Recommend Certification of MRIC EIR

By David Greenwald : davisguard – excerpt

The Planning Commission this evening is scheduled to make a recommendation as to whether the Mace Ranch Innovation Center Final Environmental Impact Report document adequately analyzes “the potential environmental impacts of the project for the purposes of CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], with the project description as set forth in the EIR.”

Staff is recommending certification with a clarification “that the environmentally superior alternative is the mixed-use alternative assuming the addition of a legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that at least 60 percent of the on-site units would be occupied by at least one MRIC employee can be provided.”

Back in early 2016, the council had rejected a request to make the mixed-use alternative the preferred option and, shortly thereafter, the MRIC’s applicant suspended but did not withdraw their application.

This is the second meeting before the Planning Commission in consideration of certification of the Final EIR for MRIC. It follows a May 24 meeting where staff presented the item and received feedback and questions from the commission and public.

Staff notes that this action “is limited to certification of the FEIR and is not an action on or approval of the project.”

The issue of certification absent an active project remains controversial.

Critics have argued, “The project has not been defined therefore the MRIC EIR should not be certified

the MRIC EIR is flawed, “The MRIC makes false assumptions…

MRIC in its ‘mixed-use’ alternative proposal wants its 850 residential units to be ‘vertical mixed-use’ which is a flawed City zoning category

Finally, they add that “one of the most serious issues is that the City would be compromising the welfare of the community by surrendering its leverage to negotiate with the Ramos developers if the City was to grant certification of the MRIC EIR now. The City needs to retain negotiating power to achieve the design, sustainability features, and timelines on if and when a project was ever to move forward for a vote by Davis citizens.”(more)

We have a few questions that need to be answered to better understand the CEQA process and how it relate to other development approvals.  How do government projects differ from private development projects?

 

Most of us are familiar with the CEQA Flowchart. We could use a little primer on the next steps. What happens after CEQA is approved? How does CEQA tie into the federal NEPA requirements and how may citizens be involved in that part of the process. We need to a chart for the next steps that involve the approval of the project. How and when does this fit in? Sometimes the Planning Commission approves all the steps at one time. Other times the approvals are split, such as they are with the Geary BRT that has been approved without the  project design. We need a chart that times these options into the ERI process. If anyone can help with that, let us know.

 

Rare Outer Sunset housing development may use new local density bonus

By Michael Barba : sfexaminer – excerpt

The architect behind a rare four-story housing development in the Outer Sunset said he is considering using the new density bonus program in San Francisco to build more units and a taller structure than currently planned.

Architect Kodor Baalbaki designed the plans for a mixed-use building with 18 residential units at Lawton Street and 42nd Avenue, the current site of a 76 gas station. Proposed in June, the plans include two below-market-rate units under Proposition C’s inclusionary housing requirements.

The project is likely raising eyebrows in the Sunset for proposing a building taller than the two-story houses that fill the neighborhood. The Outer Sunset has one of the highest numbers of single-family homes in San Francisco and has largely been untouched by new development as cranes tower elsewhere.

The project would be one of the first known developments to add more units and height through the new Home-SF density bonus program from Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset District.

Home-SF, which went into effect last Thursday, allows certain developers to build two stories above height-limits and add more density in exchange for 30 percent on-site affordable housing.

While Baalbaki said using the density bonus is under consideration, there are still issues that need to be pencilled out, such as pricing, height and the number of affordable units on-site.

“I actually had a phone call from the office of Supervisor Katy Tang and we talked about it and I asked them for more information,” Baalbaki said. “I believe more information could clarify this issue and we are willing to technically find out if there is a way of making this happen.”… (more)

 

What a Dump! Movie Line as Sustainable Development

ninecountycoalition – excerpt

For the last five or so years the San Francisco Bay Area has emerged as a leading example of environmentally blessed “sustainable development.”  Strangely, environmentally blessed development includes residences and other structures built on waste dumps.  These dump sites are variously known as landfill (garbage), brownfield (toxic waste), and infill (“underdeveloped” for various reasons).

Dumpster Building is Not New

Building on dumping sites is not new.  For example, Treasure Island, Foster City, and parts of San Francisco’s financial and Marina districts are build on landfill.  What is new is labeling such development sustainable and environmentally desirable.

UPC has four major development projects in the pipeline.  Development Agreements for these projects are approved by the respective agencies. Schlage Lock Redevelopment in Visitacion Valley, a brownfield site, currently transitioning to a transit oriented development (TOD) including retail, office and housing project on a brownfield; Executive Park, a mixed-use/housing project near Candlestick Point in San Francisco, and the Sierra Point Hotel Project – at the Brisbane Marina.  The Brisbane Baylands, a 660-acre brownfield redevelopment project on a former landfill and railyard in Brisbane is currently going through the public approval process…Environmental sustainability is a core value that guides our projects – from conceptual design to property management.

UPC’s projects pale in comparison to Related Companies plan to build the “largest housing project ever proposed atop a landfill in the Bay Area, regulators say, and perhaps in the entire state.”  The $6.7 billion mixed-use project in the City of Santa Clara will contain 1,680 housing units.  And predictably the project is “sustainable:”  “Related is exploring a number of ways to incorporate the sustainability and environmental consciousness that defines the Bay Area.” The complex will be sitting on top of a foot-thick concrete barrier intended to protect residents, shoppers, and workers “from any kind of problem.”… (more)

As we know, problems with flood zones are often not disclosed, and may trigger lawsuits. How about that huge gas explosion that rocked the community of San Bruno a few years ago? Civil engineers we talked to are concerned that the gasses building up cannot be mitigated without an extensive system of escape valves, since there is no way to no where pockets of gas may develop as the biological waste breaks down. Who wants to live next to methane gas release valve anyway? Buyer beware.

The latest Silicon Valley housing idea: On a landfill

By Richard Scheinin : mercurynews – excerpt

Environmental watchdogs OK plan for 1,680 units at City Place

Are we this desperate for land that we need to build on a dump? Can’t wait to see the marketing materials and disclosure statements on this one. This is not the first I have heard about building on landfill. Major problems with shifting soil would seem particularly concerning in an earthquake zone. Maybe you can sell housing to non-natives, but, it may be hard to convince people to buy on landfill after watching the effects of Loma Prieta  on the Marina and other “filled areas” in San Francisco. CEQA is becoming a big toothless grin on the face of our state. I think Ruth Shikada’s comment sums it up rather well, ““But as long as we stay the course and continue to do the research and prepare the documents … then we’re going to see housing on that site.” In other words, we can afford to hire more consultants and attorneys than the pubic so we will win in the end. She left out the politicians who are busy cementing their power over the public this season in Sacramento. SB 35 is a developer’s wet dream.

SANTA CLARA — It’s not your typical site for a new housing development: a former landfill, containing an estimated 5.5 million tons of municipal waste dumped over a quarter century in the heart of this city.

But it’s looking more and more as if the Related Companies’ plan to build a $6.7 billion mixed-use complex with up to 1,680 units of housing across the street from Levi’s Stadium will come to fruition. The project represents the largest housing project ever proposed atop a landfill in the Bay Area, regulators say, and perhaps in the entire state.

Environmental overseers have accepted Related’s massive technical document, which includes elaborate safety systems to block the escape of combustible methane gas and other dangerous vapors, and to prevent groundwater contamination… (more)

Kushners face heated trial over suburban Jersey mall project

By Garance Burke and Bernard Condon, Associated Press : sfchronicle – excerpt

Days after a seaside reception for his father-in-law’s presidential campaign, Jared Kushner set out to pitch a deal to a small-town mayor: Kushner Cos. would transform an aging shopping mall into a live-work destination, bringing culture and commerce to a scraggy stretch of the Jersey Shore.

The mayor, a retired police officer, viewed it as a brilliant offer his town couldn’t refuse. But hundreds of Eatontown residents turned out in opposition, packing borough council meetings last year to protest the Monmouth Mall expansion as a giveaway to Kushner.

Kushner soon won approval to build 700 apartments atop his mall parking lot as part of a $300 million expansion deal — an agreement that now is the subject of a heated lawsuit set for trial Monday…

Plaintiffs in the mall suit are claiming town officials privately negotiated with the Kushners for half a year without telling the community, then rushed a vote on new zoning rules that benefited only Kushner’s company after the deal already had been rejected.

“People are mad. They’re mad at the mayor, and they’re mad at the backroom deals,” said plaintiff and longtime resident Sara Breslow… (more)

Sounds like familiar tactics used all over the country in “progressive” cities like San Francisco.

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