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/

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)

Reforms for CEQA? Watch out!

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)

A CEQA advance environmentalists should explore

A CEQA advance environmentalists should explore

By Stuart Leavenworth : sacbee.com – excerpt

For environmentalists in the Golden State, few laws are more sacred than the California Environmental Quality Act. Enacted in 1970, the law gives citizens and interest groups the power to challenge the decisions of local governments and state regulators and block projects they find objectionable.
Used at its best, CEQA has protected poor communities from toxic incinerators and landfills. It has helped conservationists stop big development projects in the wrong places, such as the sensitive Martis Valley near Lake Tahoe.
Yet because of its sweeping nature, CEQA has sometimes been abused in cities, undermining the kind of transit-friendly development that environmentalists say they support… (more) Continue reading “A CEQA advance environmentalists should explore”

Democrats now see downside of CEQA

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

CEQA – Standards Compliance Mode

 

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

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.

Continue reading “State senator says do no harm to CEQA”

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