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.

 

 

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.

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)

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)

Major Changes May Come to Bay Area Planning As MTC and ABAG Move Toward Merger

Michael Krasny : KQED – excerpt – (includes audio)

MTCvABAG

THE MERGER UNDER CONSIDERATION

http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201602180900

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are responsible for housing and transportation planning for the Bay Area, including the controversial “Plan Bay Area” mandate. Now there’s talk of merging the two agencies, with a study underway on how that could be accomplished. But critics argue that the merger process lacks transparency, and that a consolidated agency will take decision-making out of the hands of local communities. We’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a potential merger.

Host: Michael Krasny

Guests:

  • Dave Cortese, chair, Metropolitan Transportation Commission; supervisor, District Three, Santa Clara County; former president of ABAG
  • Julie Pierce, president, Association of Bay Area Governments; council member for the city of Clayton
  • Egon Terplan, regional planning director, SPUR
  • Catharine Baker, assemblymember, 16th District (R) (Walnut Creek, Danville, Pleasanton), California State Assembly
  • Zelda Bronstein, Bay Area activist and journalist; former chair of Berkeley Planning Commission; writes for 48hills.org

More info:

Replacing LOS: Experts Debate How CA Should Measure Transpo Impacts

by : la.streetsblog – excerpt

California planning experts continue to debate how to most effectively measure transportation impacts in a way that will foster smarter growth, after the state abandoned the car-centric metric known as Level of Service (LOS).

The acronym-laden process of measuring transportation under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) may be complex and wonky, but it’s certainly important. In creating a replacement for LOS, the CA Office and Planning and Research (OPR) will shape the future of development in California for many years to come.

SB 743, passed last year, mandated that the state create a replacement metric for LOS to measure the transportation impacts of developments under CEQA. The Office of Planning and Research has proposed a metric called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which would measure the amount of driving developments would generate, instead of focusing solely on minimizing delays for drivers.

OPR has made several other suggestions in their proposed guidelines, and are seeking public input to help them refine the changes. Specifically, they are asking for help on the following questions:

  1. Under the proposed guidelines, any project built within a half mile of transit with frequent service (running at least every 15 minutes) would be deemed to have no significant impact on travel, and wouldn’t have to undergo a VMT review. Is this an appropriate rule? Are there other factors that should be considered?
  2. What amount of vehicle miles generated by a development should be considered significant, and thus require an environmental impact report (EIR)? Who should decide what those levels are?
  3. What kinds of strategies should be used to mitigate increases in vehicle miles generated by a project?… (more)

Governor Changes His Mind on CEQA Reform

jdsupra – excerpt

In published reports, Gov. Jerry Brown discussed that he has had a spiritual conversion, of sorts, on his plans for CEQA reform. He strongly telegraphed that, if he wins a second term, he will not be making a push for CEQA reform. The Contra Costa Times reports:

“Brown said his hopes to [take up CEQA reform] have dimmed significantly. He wouldn’t say CEQA reform is dead, but he compared hurdles in changing the law to revising the Catholic Church’s persistent opposition to birth control.  ‘Once you start to fiddle with the theology of CEQA, you get into difficulties,’ Brown said.”

These statements are in strong contrast to Brown’s August 2012 observation that “CEQA reform is the Lord’s work.”… (more)

Agenda 21 in Action: Sacramento Can ignore CEQA in Building Arena—Near “Transit Area”—100 Locations in State Can Also Ignore CEQA

by Stephen Frank : capoliticalnews – excerpt

Government by its very nature is corrupt.  Democrats in Sacramento passed legislation that exempts the Sacramento Kings and the city of Sacramento from water protection, the CEQA Rules.  This was to keep a billionaires toy in town, at a taxpayer cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.  The worse news is that the way the bill was worded over 100 other areas of the State can do the same.

And, if you have a project within a half mile of government transit, you might be able to take advantage.  Who said the Democrats want to protect the environment?  It is all about the money for the unions, the special interests and the very rich.

“The changes in this bill specifically impact projects that are in a “transit priority area,” which means that they have some type of public transit available within one-half mile from the project location. They also affect the infill site projects, meaning a zone that is surrounded by urban areas on at least three sides. CEQA requirements on those types of projects would be eased, although a project must still comply with other existing (or future) laws that apply to aesthetic or parking impacts.”… (more)

Sacramento Kings’ CEQA Bill Could Affect Cities Statewide