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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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)

CEQA Roundup: Debate resets with Jerry Hill appointment

by Justin Ewers : caeconomy.org – excerpt

The debate over updating California’s premier environmental law officially moved past last week’s frenzy surrounding Sen. Michael Rubio’s sudden resignation from the Legislature, when lawmakers confirmed the appointment yesterday of Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) to replace Rubio as chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
Much was made last fall of Sen. Darrell Steinberg handing the reform-minded Rubio the reins of the committee tasked with sending CEQA-related legislation to the Senate floor. And then much was made again of Steinberg’s decision a few months later to pack the same committee with green Democrats who were expected to prevent Rubio from proposing anything that would weaken the law.
Now, speculation about where Democratic leaders intend to take CEQA will focus on Sen. Hill, a respected former assemblyman known for his moderate views on environmental issues. Steinberg has said he wants to force all sides to “confront” the need for changes to the state’s premier environmental law—something he believes the Silicon Valley Democrat can do.
“[Hill] is well-positioned to appreciate the complexities of this challenge, and well-versed in the false dichotomy that pitches business against the environment,” Steinberg said this week. “California has led, and will continue to lead the nation in smart, environmentally sustainable economic growth.”…

A reminder of what lawmakers aren’t talking about
Arthur F. Coon, a lawyer for the real estate firm Miller Starr Regalia, takes a closer look this week at several other important reform ideas that haven’t yet made their way into Steinberg’s legislation:
In its current form, SB 731 does not address: (1) codification of “CEQA-in-reverse” case law; (2) uniform standards for mitigation; (3) combatting lawsuits that are economically rather than environmentally motivated; and (4) reforming provisions concerning the timing, content, and manner of preparation of the record so as to expedite CEQA litigation.
Some of these issues are addressed in other bills—most notably Sen. Noreen Evans’s SB 617, which includes proposals that would update the law’s record-keeping requirements and resolve legal questions about CEQA’s scope resulting from the Ballona Wetlands case. (More on that here.)
But Coon is right about one glaring omission in this year’s evolving legislative lineup. In more than two dozen bills, lawmakers haven’t addressed one of the biggest complaints environmentalists and business leaders alike have with CEQA—that the law is being abused by everyone from labor unions to gas station owners for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
Before he introduced his bill, Steinberg explained his reasoning for avoiding that issue, pointing out that determining a petitioners’ motive is a slippery slope.
As the legislative debate begins again, look for reformers to find a way to climb back up it… (more)

Reforms for CEQA? Watch out!

by Gary Patton : santacruzsentinel.com – excerpt

Gary Patton

You have probably heard talk about “reforming” the California Environmental Quality Act. My advice? “Watch out!” The bill language proposed in the last two weeks of the legislative session last year would have eliminated all the benefits of California’s most important environmental law. When widespread “fracking” is on the horizon; when global warming and its impacts are ever more real; when water supplies are diminishing, and when huge and costly infrastructure projects (including desalination) are under consideration at the state and local level, this is not the time to weaken laws that protect our environmental quality.
Here are the three main things that the California Environmental Quality Act actually does. First, it makes government “stop and think” before it acts. Often, governmental officials decide that they really have a good idea, and want to push it through. In Santa Cruz, the proposed desalination plant comes to mind. The California Environmental Quality Act makes governmental agencies go through a process that fully analyzes the pros and cons. This means that the government sometimes changes its mind, precisely because of the new information generated in the environmental review process. Often, the changes are improvements, so projects are made better. That is what has been happening for more than forty years, thanks to the California Environmental Quality Act. There are countless examples. Unless you think that state and local government officials always “know best,” and shouldn’t have to “stop and think” about their plans, you will not want to weaken CEQA… (more)

Democrats now see downside of CEQA

By STEVEN GREENHUT : ocregister.com – excerpt

SACRAMENTO – Although many of California’s legislative Democrats are eager to “test drive” the new two-thirds majorities their caucuses hold in the Assembly and Senate – i.e., pushing the limits of their power to advance their progressive agenda – others are focusing on a sensible reform that almost everyone knows is slowing job growth.

Passed in 1970 at the height of the nation’s push to clean up the environment, the California Environmental Quality Act created a convoluted bureaucratic process to “mitigate” environmental harm from major new projects. One can argue whether the high costs the act imposes in terms of delays and reports have helped preserve the state’s ecology, but there’s no question it delays the construction of just about everything… (more)

Without CEQA protections, citizens have little hope of controlling the growing governmental disdain for public opinions with regards to increasing public debt to fund controversial projects like Big Rail. If you care about controlling government spending, you should care about protecting CEQA.

CEQA Week in Review: Stakes go up after Texas showdown with new opposition forming

 

Regulatory reform made its way into headlines all over the state this week, thanks to a high-profile spat between the governors of Texas and California over which state is better for business. (California’s governor made his state proud by dismissing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s sales pitch about his state’s regulatory and tax perks as “barely a fart.”)

Political watchers speculated that the tit-for-tat is only likely to fuel the fires of CEQA reform in Sacramento. “Governor Brown loves the Perry move,” The Nooner’s Scott Lay wrote this week, “as it will help keep tax-and-spend demands by the two-thirds Democratic supermajorities under control and will provide additional momentum for CEQA and other regulatory reforms.”

Former governors: Wait, what about us?

*** (more)

State senator says do no harm to CEQA

by Ed Coghlan : caeconomy.org – excerpt

What to do about California’s 43-year-old California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a question that is intensifying in the State Capitol.
Senator Michael Rubio, a Democrat from Bakersfield, is chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and he is leading the effort at modernizing CEQA.
Not all of his colleagues are happy about this. One prominent Democratic state senator thinks there are more important issues than CEQA, the state’s transportation and education systems to name two. But Senator Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa isn’t sitting idly by. She likes the CEQA law–a lot. And she says she is alarmed by some of the rhetoric that she’s been hearing thus far.

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