California regulators hope new rules will spur more bike lanes, housing near transit

By Liam Dillon : latimes – excerpt

Bike lanes, mixed-use residential and commercial construction near transit and other development projects might get easier to build in California after regulators on Monday released a long-awaited overhaul of the state’s environmental law.

Regulators say the proposed changes, which modify rules under the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, will help the state meet its ambitious goals to combat climate change. That law requires developers to disclose and minimize a project’s impact on the environment…

“These rules make clear that reducing vehicle miles resulting from projects is a state goal and an environmental benefit,” said Ken Alex, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, in a statement.

Modifications to CEQA are often politically fraught because numerous powerful interest groups, including builders, environmentalists and unions, have significant stakes in how the existing process works…

Regulators are opening public comment on the CEQA overhaul in the coming weeks and will hold at least one public hearing before the proposal becomes final, according to a spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency. Regulators are hoping the new rules will go into effect sometime in 2018… (more)

This article that ran in the LA Times holds very little useful information. If this is the future of the news we are in trouble. (This happens to be the first story I have seen since the Sales of Times to Meredith was announced.)

Regulators don’t overhaul CEQA laws. Legislators do. This appears to refer to a bill that has not yet passed, with no reference to the identity of the bill, the author, or Committee the bill is in or came out of. There is no indication of where in the process the bill is now. This looks like a PR piece not a news article.

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Governor Brown Vetoes CEQA Bill That Would Mandate Lead Agencies To File NOEs For Projects Approved As Categorically Exempt

By Miller Starr Regalia : jdsupra – excerpt

On October 15, 2017, Governor  Brown vetoed SB 80 (Wieckowski), a bill that would have added to CEQA’s already detailed notice requirements.

Specifically, SB 80 would have amended Public Resources Code §§ 21092.2, 21092.3, 21108 and 21152 so as to require, inter alia, that state and local lead agencies:  (1) offer to provide scoping notices, notices of preparation, and notices of determination by email to persons so requesting; (2) post all such notices on the agency’s website (if any); and (3) file with OPR or the County Clerk, as applicable, all Notices of Exemption (NOEs) for approved projects found exempt pursuant to the categorical exemptions contained in the CEQA Guidelines (as opposed to other possible bases for exemption).

The bill would have also required county clerks to post on their counties’ Internet Web sites EIR scoping notices and notices of preparation for EIRs and negative declarations, for specified periods… (more)

Office of Planning and Research Releases Updated General Plan Guidelines

pillsbury : jdsupra – excerpt

On August 2, 2017, the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released its first update to the General Plan Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) since 2003. The Guidelines provide guidance to cities and counties throughout California on the preparation and content of their General Plans, which govern land uses and zoning within their jurisdictions. The updated Guidelines contain new recommended policies, information resources, and  reflect recent legislation regarding General Plans.

Under Government Code section 65300, cities and counties must adopt and periodically update their General Plans. The process can be costly and time consuming, which tends to discourage frequent updates, especially by small municipalities with limited resources… (more)

Housing crisis: Will California force its cities to OK more building?

By Katy Murphy : mercurynews – excerpt

State lawmakers are desperate to address a statewide problem that has been decades in the making.

Amid a housing crisis that is displacing the poor and forcing millennials and countless others to look outside the Bay Area to live, all eyes turned this week to the tiny Peninsula town of Brisbane where a developer wants to build thousands of homes on a 684-acre swath of wasteland.

Powerful tech companies, state lawmakers and pro-growth activists from around the region implored the City Council on Monday to allow housing on land once used as a rail yard and a landfill ​— an idea many residents oppose. But after hearing passionate arguments from both sides, the City Council shelved the decision, prolonging a land-use debate that has dragged on since 2005….

In the nine-county Bay Area, the median price for a single-family home has topped $800,000. And nearly one-third of renters statewide — 1.5 million households — spend more than half their income on rent, according to state estimates

As soon as next week, lawmakers are expected to unveil a package of affordable-housing bills that will include new tools to prod cities and counties to add their share of housing — at least, in theory.

“I think that many of my colleagues understand that individual decisions by city councils and boards of supervisors are having an extremely negative and detrimental impact on our region,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a former San Francisco supervisor who chairs the Assembly’s housing committee. “When you have so many decisions going the wrong way on proposed housing that meets all local laws and planning and zoning requirements we have to do something different.”

But none of the pending housing bills — as written — would immediately force the city of Brisbane’s hand. And some cities have flouted existing laws with similar goals….

A more controversial proposal, Senate Bill 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would speed up the approval process for housing developments — limiting local reviews — in cities and counties that have failed to meet state goals for home-building.

Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that he will only sign a deal with money for affordable housing if it includes provisions to fast-track development — which, he argues, will make housing construction cheaper and quicker… (more)

A number of lawsuits are being waged by both sides of the density debate and a few of them are mentioned in this article for those who want to delve deeper. Interesting to note is the mention of the nine-county area that many recognize as the counties in the Plan Bay Area.

The argument is largely over local versus state jurisdiction. Our Governor and Lt. Governor are suing SF for the right to develop the city waterfront. What does this tell you about the pressure coming out of Sacramento? Perhaps we need to involve the citizens in a state-wide ballot over the loss of their rights.

Local initiative right still under legislative assault

By : foxesandhounds – excerpt

Earlier this year I wrote of an assault on local democracy in the guise of an Assembly measure intending to force citizens to run a gauntlet of local planners and environmental analysis prior to gathering signatures for local ballot measures.

In the intervening three months the measure has been overhauled several times, approved by the entire Assembly and now awaiting action in the State Senate. In its newest form the bill isn’t as bad as when it was first introduced.

It’s worse…(more)

We don’t follow the reasoning behind this author’s statements, but do agree that this is a bad bill. If you have any reason to support it let us know.

 

Timeline: Lawyers for Developers Share Tactics to Blunt CEQA

By Kevin Stark : SFpublicpress – excerpt

Why the rush to build on the lowest levels of the bay?

In 1995, the Diablo Valley Ranch, a drug rehab facility in Contra Costa County, planned to expand. The problem? According to neighbors, the land it wanted to build on was contaminated with oil and toxic chemicals.

The company made what was then an obscure argument: The California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, the state’s premiere environmental law, did not require developers to consider how the environment might influence its project, only how the project would affect the environment.

Today, developers are using the same reasoning to push back on the ability of Bay Area cities to regulate waterfront development and protect residents from rising sea levels, a product of human-caused climate change. Over the last two decades, as developers won over judges in more and more state courts, lawyers began peppering these phrases in environmental impact reports, lawsuits and responses to public comment…

November 2016: RULING

Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure; Golden State Warriors Arena LLC — The Court of Appeal rules in favor of the Golden State Warriors basketball team in its application for a $1 billion development including a sports arena and office complex. The legal challenge had focused on the effects on traffic and wind patterns, mentioning sea level rise only parenthetically.

Defendants argue correctly that CEQA does not require analysis of the wind impacts on the project. “[T]he purpose of an FSEIR is to identify the significant effects of a project on the environment, not the significant effects of the environment on the project.”

December 2016: ACTION

San Francisco’s Natural Resources Management Plan — The City of San Francisco, which owns a golf course and natural area in coastal San Mateo County, issues a wide-ranging parks management plan calling for keeping the level of wetlands artificially stable. In comments, the Sierra Club objects that the proposal “will lack any resiliency in the face of increased climate stress and inevitable sea-level rise.”

“The purpose of an EIR is to provide public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect which a proposed project is likely to have on the environment.”(more)

Regardless of how your feel about global warming and sea level rise, pay more attention to who supports the candidates if you don’t like these rulings.

Eye on the State: Environmental care part of smart housing policy

Op-ed By and : sfexminer – excerpt

Over the next few months, legislators will be debating new housing legislation — both state and local — to meet the pressing needs of California’s growing population. It is good that our legislators are facing the state’s affordable housing crisis head-on; having a decent home for everyone is critical. But as we work to meet that need, we must also ensure that the environment is not harmed.

Creating vibrant and complete urban communities requires a strong commitment to protecting and enhancing the quality of urban life. Some of the features shared by healthy urban communities include convenient public open spaces, parks, playgrounds and natural “unimproved” spaces. Creating these communities must also involve a commitment to preserving existing affordable housing, preventing displacement of low- and moderate-income residents, protecting cultural heritage, providing efficient public transit and sheltering existing communities from unreasonable economic and physical disruption.

It’s also critical that urban areas be non-polluting, so as to minimize our impacts upon this planet’s resources and environment.

When there is a lot of pressure for one set of needs — in this case, housing — there is the temptation to ignore other needs. There is a tendency to say that “just for this project” it is acceptable for the developer to ignore the need to carefully consider the impact on the environment.

One such short-sighted idea currently being discussed is to allow projects to be approved by-right and, in the process, to bypass environmental review now mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act…(more)

 

Time to pull the plug on VMT/Orcem

By Jeff Carlson : timesheraldonline – excerpt

A review of documents and communications related to the VMT/Orcem proposal reveal that the principals submitted an application before developing a viable project. The draft Environmental Impact Report prepared at great expense and circulated for public comment can no longer fulfill the legal requirements for sufficiency under the California Environmental Quality Act. Information recognized only after circulating the draft EIR exposed the fact that three quarters of the described operations will not be approved by a regional permitting authority. The project has now been reduced to a marine terminal with a slag cement plant tenant using only a quarter of the terminal capacity, without even the pretense of financial viability.

The major Vallejo Marine Terminal component of the project was described in the application, in the EIR, and in the applicant’s economic analysis as a break bulk cargo-handling operation. According to the applicants, this would “establish a key site of multi-modal and intermodal transportation and logistics, thereby enhancing Vallejo’s role in the regional and international trade economy.” Why they would think so is something of a mystery, since the cargo reports show demand for break bulk shipping has dwindled away to nothing, with the last activity recorded at any Bay port in 2006. VMT was always a business plan decades behind the times, and as it turned out not something that would be permitted by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission… (more)

Environmental Protection or Principal Constraint to Housing Production?

 : FoxandHoundsDaily – excerpt

”The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been turned on its head, becoming a full employment act for lawyers and their client neighborhood groups.

The result is that CEQA has become not a protector of the environment, but a promoter of sprawl, pushing the housing market away from existing neighborhoods and onto farmland, where the cows don’t sue.”

Those are the words of the Sacramento Bee which on several occasions both before and after this editorial appeared in 2003 has spoken critically of the state’s premier environmental law, CEQA.  That’s because rather than protecting Yosemite and the coastline, CEQA intervenes in every development project – especially housing – from downtown Oakland to suburban San Diego.

Signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA exists to assess and mitigate environmental impacts of development.  CEQA says:  “It is the policy of the state to . . . take all action necessary to provide the people of this state with clear air and water, enjoyment of aesthetic, natural, scenic and historic environmental qualities.”  The statute goes on to direct all public agencies “to develop standards and procedures necessary to protect environmental quality.”

Yet, CEQA is the most deliberate and often-used means to stop or seriously delay a development of any kind.  The tales of CEQA stifling housing production are legion.  But consider an environmental impact report (EIR) done in 2011 to bless a solar plant, no less, in San Luis Obispo County.  Before they were done, development skeptics – using CEQA – demanded, among other things, analysis and mitigation of the project’s aesthetic, agricultural, biological, cultural, geological, public service, transportation and water-use profile.  The final report was several hundred pages long…(more)

Audubon slams oyster project’s legality

by Paul Mann : MadRiverUnion – excerpt

EUREKA – Audubon California and EarthJustice, the San Francisco-based environmental law advocate, charge in a joint statement that the lawful certification of the Coast Seafoods Company’s expanded oyster farming project must be ruled out.

The reason: the Final Environmental Impact Report has not received “an adequate review” under the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

In a nine-page letter submitted Jan. 18 to Jack Crider, executive director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, the two organizations acknowledged the series of modifications made to the 471-page environmental impact report in response to voluminous public comment.

But the two groups argued that “both the project and its impacts remain enormous and have yet to be fully analyzed and disclosed as required by the CEQA.”… (more)

It is our policy to track the media on these subjects. Please post comments on the source. Not sure this is a positive way to approach food production when there is a need to feed human beings and the interior department closed down a farm recently in California. People do need to eat and oysters clean the water, so this argument does not win me over, especially when the administration is threatening to cut imports of other foods by increasing import tax. We should perhaps increase local food production.