CEQA Changes Proposed

By : landuse – excerpt

Over the past four months, Sacramento lawmakers have introduced a number of bills to tinker with the state’s premier environmental statute, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While it is too early to know whether any of the proposed changes to CEQA will be enacted, each could impact the building industry.  Below are a few to watch as they wind their way through the legislature:… (more)

We are tracking some California state bills here.

 

 

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Clearing CEQA: Study vindicates California environmental law as having less impact on development than previously claimed

By newsreview – excerpt

1 Center benefited from recent Steinberg CEQA tweak

Environmental regulations may not strike most developers as a harmonious complement to their industry, but a new study indicates that stubborn criticism of the California Environmental Quality Act may be wrongheaded.

The study, “CEQA in the 21st Century,” concludes that the act does not significantly impede business—and ties projects up in litigation far less than its critics believe.

“I think it’s bringing a little more proportionality into the discussion,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the Climate Change and Business Program at the UCLA and UC Berkeley schools of law, who helped review the report. “CEQA isn’t just about litigation; it’s also about having to do … reviews on projects that have a significant impact on the environment.

“It’s really the state’s bedrock environmental law.”… (more)

CEQA: This law has done a good job

by Cesar Diaz and Kyle Jones : capitolweekly – excerpt

The California Environmental Quality Act has long been the punching bag of business interests and some policy makers. It has been blamed for everything from a dearth of affordable housing to a sluggish economy during financial downturns.

Yet, until now, precious little objective research has been conducted to understand the costs and benefits associated with this 46-year-old law…

Recently,  the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment commissioned BAE Urban Economics to draft an objective report to dig into this sticky question.

Leveraging a combination of rigorous quantitative analysis, a literature review of past research, case studies and a review of recent legislative changes to the law, the report found little evidence of economic harm inflicted by this landmark environmental law.

In fact, the report found that CEQA has done a good job of helping California to grow in an environmentally sustainable way. The state is relying more on increased density to accommodate a growing population and less on agricultural land and open space to accommodate new housing than it has in decades past.

California is now the 11th most densely populated state in the nation, up from its ranking of 13th in 1970. Nearly one-quarter of the most walkable cities in the US are now located in California.

It’s difficult to justify claims that this law impedes environmentally-sensitive development with these facts at hand… (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)

Jerry Brown is Trying to Quash the People’s Ability to Fight Mega-Developers … For Him, It’s Personal!

By Jill Stewart : citywatchla – excerpt

VOX POP–A few years ago, then-state Sen. Alex Padilla implored us to embrace a fast-tracking plan that let wealthy developers rush huge mega-developments through the courts, getting around opponents by slashing the time they were given to fight back under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Padilla, who is now California Secretary of State, repeated at the time to KCRW’s Warren Olney what Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority Democrats in the legislature were saying in 2011: California’s then-12% unemployment rate justified the pushing aside of environmental damage concerns created by massive developments, to create jobs.

Asked what the rush was, given the possibility of environmentally questionable developments sailing through the courts, Padilla said, “The urgency is 99 percent driven by the unemployment rate that we have,” which had soared to 12%.

He went on to predict that a purportedly badly needed NFL stadium for Downtown Los Angeles would create some 20,000 jobs. It was a wild exaggeration in a time of desperate unemployment.

Fast forward to today. The California unemployment rate has plummeted, its urban areas are vibrant, and the absurd plan for a downtown NFL football stadium, squeezed onto insufficient land next to one of the most congested freeways in the world, died on the vine. The phony claims about “Farmer’s Field,” proved to be just that — downtown Los Angeles soon exploded in growth and jobs, sans the NFL stadium.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown and some very sneaky California Democratic state legislators are trying to push through the 2.0 version of that end-run around our environmental protections. But because Brown and Co. no longer have horrible unemployment levels as an excuse for egregious environmental backsliding, they went with a hardball, last-minute, non-debated, surprise law as their strategy, Senate Bill 734.

It is opposed by the Sierra Club, the Judicial Council that administers California’s courts, the Planning and Conservation League, and my own organization, the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is aiming to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot to end developer control of Los Angeles City Hall.

SB 734 will allow wildly inappropriate private developments to breeze through the courts, such as the traffic-freezing “Crossroads of the World” mega-blob development, proposed next to badly jammed-up Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, an area  now all but shut down for hours each day by overdevelopment and its endless, attendant, commuter traffic… (more)

California! Eye-Balling the Lesser Evil Up Close: No Climate Change Advantage with Dems in Charge

By Dick Platkin : citywatchla – excerpt

…In Sacramento, Californians have world-class climate legislation, such as AB 32 and SB 375. It is the envy of climate activists and environmentalists from coast to coast. But, even more importantly, Californians have CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.  It is one serious piece of environmental legislation, and it requires all major projects, whether public or private, to submit a rigorous environmental review, including climate change impacts. With this information at hand, decision makers can then make an informed choice.

So far so good, but unfortunately a year does not go by without Governor Brown, in close cooperation with the Democratically controlled State Legislature, pitching bills that would erode CEQA, including its ability to inform decision makers of the climate change impacts of all major projects.

For example, this year, Governor Brown and his legislative counterparts are champions of SB 734, legislation that would fast track the environmental review of controversial high-rise mega-projects, like 8150 Sunset.

Other efforts to erode CEQA are proposed amendments to Governmental Code sections 65400.1 and 65913.3. They would exempt multiple-residential developments from environmental review by considering them to be by-right projects in order to increase housing production. This is based on an urban legend I have previously debunked: the production of luxury housing miraculously increases the supply of affordable housing… (more)

We are getting the same thing in San Francisco. Recently our Environmental Officer who makes CEQA determinations, was asked, what happens when the market rate housing goals are reached years ahead of schedule but the other elements of the plan lag behind.

The answer was, when one plan level is reached we simply shift to using the metrics of another plan. In other words, there is no plan to follow any of the carefully thought out plans to balance housing with jobs and infrastructure needed to sustain the growing population of residents moving into the market rate housing.

Why bother to cut out CEQA requirements legally when you can just ignore them entirely?

Op-ed: Jesse Arreguín is right to oppose Jerry Brown’s anti-democratic give-away to the real-estate industry

By Zelda Bronstein : berkeleyside – excerpt

Zelda Bronstein is a former chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission.

In his July 19 op-ed published on Berkeleyside, Garret Christensen slammed Berkeley City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguín for opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s Trailer Bill 707. Christensen called the legislation “an important state affordable housing bill” that “Berkeley and its councilmembers, especially those with aspirations of becoming mayor should welcome…with open arms.” “[I]t is truly baffling to me,” he declared, “why anyone who calls themselves a progressive is opposed to the governor’s proposal.”

In fact, Trailer Bill 707 is opposed by many people besides Arreguín who call themselves progressives— for example, the representatives of  the 60-plus organizations, including Public Advocates, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Jobs with Justice San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and SEIU 1021, who signed a July 8 letter urging the state legislature to reject the bill.

Brown’s proposal, they wrote, “gives developers the power to force approval of projects “’by right’ without public or environmental review.”

For Christensen, the lack of public or environmental review is a boon that would eliminate “Berkeley’s extra layers of approval requirements.” What he deems “extra” is anything beyond the “objective zoning standards” specified in the bill.

The problem: zoning is an essential but limited land use planning tool. A development could meet a city’s zoning and still displace existing tenants, small businesses, and jobs. By removing the right to negotiate with developers over such issues, Brown’s bill puts communities, especially disadvantaged ones, at the mercy of the real estate industry. Meanwhile, as the letter cited above notes, “privileged communities…can merely maintain or redesign zoning restrictions to keep out affordable housing.”

In any case, the amount of affordable housing created by Trailer Bill 707 is piddling, as Christensen himself intimated: “If a multi-family housing project includes a certain percentage of affordable units (the exact percentage depends on the level of affordability, but ranges from  5% to 20%) and meets the city’s zoning laws, the city must grant the permit.” In other words, as much as 95% of the new housing authorized by Brown’s proposal could be unaffordable.

Moreover, a proposed development could meet a city’s zoning and still damage the environment. That’s why Trailer Bill 707 is also opposed by the Sierra Club.

Christensen acknowledges that “[t]here is some environmental opposition to the bill…, since infill developments including the requisite amount of affordable housing would be exempt from CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] review.” But in his view, “these concerns are misplaced, since any honest accounting shows much lower carbon and water impact from allowing people to live in a denser, transit-rich city like Berkeley instead of making them commute from a far-flung car-dependent suburb.”… (more)

Comments are appreciated on the source as well as on social media sites. This is the most important campaign in the state. The more to remove local control over deciding how to build our cities by removing the options we have now to oppose projects we don’t like. This includes good ones as well as bad ones, but if this goes the state has taken away our options to control our environment. The only way to overturn this is to put new politicians in office who want to decentralize power and protect our rights to choose how we live.

Best comment I have seen on the subject: “If Jerry Brown really wants to help the housing crisis, he would repeal costa hawkins” – good point. How about it Jerry? Let’s repeal Costa Hawkins.

Is Cal Am trying to get around the CEQA?

montereyherald – excerpt

The issue with the California American Water slant well isn’t if it is successfully pumping seawater, it is that Cal Am is simultaneously increasing seawater intrusion in the Salinas River Basin aquifers.

This is what the multimillion-dollar Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP) was designed to stop. CSIP was doing a good job until the test slant well started drawing seawater into the aquifers. Now nearby growers’ wells are displaying significant increases in saltwater intrusion.

No one from Cal Am or the so-called Hydrological Working Group has taken the time to check with these growers to confirm this.

Now multiply that effect by eight production slant wells drawing water from the aquifer and you can kiss the CSIP investment goodbye.

Because the slant well was originally designated a test well, it was not required to pass the California Environmental Quality Act requirements. However, Cal Am has redesignated the test slant well as a production backup well. Are they are trying to circumvent CEQA? Why?

Finally, it’s all about cost, an estimated $6,000 per acre-foot for Cal Am water vs. an estimated $2,000 for publicly owned desalinated water.

Which would you like to pay?

— Charles Cech, Monterey… (more)

What we need to change in Sacramento: How do we change the pilot, test program exclusion to CEQA reviews? This is how “they” are getting away with a lot of projects. This needs to be on the list of questions we ask Wiener and Kim and everyone running for state office. Cities all over the state are having the same problem with these “tests” turning into permanent changes, by-passing CEQA reviews or public debate.

Tech heavyweights Benioff, Mayer and Stoppelman enter state’s housing battle

By : bizjournals – excerpt

Tech titans are gathering to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s “as of right” proposal to reduce approvals needed for new projects that include affordable housing, even as some local elected officials have opposed the bill.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner are among dozens of tech and business leaders who support the bill, in a letter from the Bay Area Council, the largest local business group.

Other supporters include SV Angel venture capitalist Ron Conway, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and Max Levchin, founder of Affirm and Paypal. (Disclosure: Mary Huss, publisher of the San Francisco Business Times, is a member of the Bay Area Council’s Board of Trustees and is also listed as a supporter.)

The bill would remove discretionary reviews from projects with 20 percent affordable housing or 10 percent near transit, which could cut down the often multi-year approvals process for new development.

“The companies represented by these CEOs employ hundreds of thousands of workers statewide who are suffering because of the state’s epic housing shortage,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, in a statement.

“The lack of supply and resulting skyrocketing rents and home prices are taking a particularly steep toll on those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder who cannot compete for housing in this market and are being evicted, dislocated and marginalized,” said Wunderman.

Another supporter, Sam Altman, president of the prominent startup incubator Y Combinator, which provided early funding to Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit, also wrote a blog post in support of the legislation.

“I believe that lowering the cost of housing is one of the most important things we can do to help people increase their quality of life and to reduce wealth inequality,” he wrote. “A huge part of the problem has been that building in the Bay Area is approved by discretion; even when developments comply with local zoning, they can still be vetoed or stalled by local planning commissions, lawsuits, or ballot measures.”… (more)

Coalition to Preserve LA Slams Gov. Brown’s Attack on CEQA, as a Health Disaster for Children

businesswire – excerpt

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Coalition to Preserve LA strongly opposes Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to gut CEQA and Coastal Act environmental protections for virtually any urban project where developers agree to add an insignificant number of affordable housing units. We urge our supporters, and those who believe developers are the last ones who should decide their communities’ fates, to tweet and call Gov. Brown immediately regarding Trailer Bill 707. Brown’s twitter is @JerryBrownGov, and his phone is (916) 445-2841.

“It would be great if we could call a time-out and try to plan better, but it’s not practical.”

Tweet this

Brown’s wrongheaded plan tosses aside the California Environmental Quality Act and Coastal Act, handing the wheel to developers who have shown that without environmental oversight they won’t hesitate to place thousands of children in harm’s way, create gridlock and destroy 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 or donate at 2PreserveLA.org…

Under the guise of saving the environment, Brown has argued that cramming family housing into already congested areas reduces global warming. Now Brown claims that halting environmental review in congested areas is the best way to create affordable housing. While the City Council recently approved ineffective changes to address Black Lung Lofts in L.A., Brown must do better: end his war on CEQA and the Coastal Act and find another way to increase badly needed affordable housing units in California… (more)

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

Contacts

The Coalition to Preserve LA
Jill Stewart, (916) 595-9033
or
Media Contact:
John Schwada, Mobile: (310) 709-0056
john.schwada@gmail.com