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)

Riverside Press-Enterprise Editorial: Arena exemption, no; streamline CEQA, yes,

Riverside Press-Enterprise Editorial: Arena exemption, no; streamline CEQA, yes

ceqaworkinggroup.com – excerpt

The Legislature should craft reforms of the state’s environmental law that apply to all development, rather than offering special treatment to favored projects.

California needs a better approach to environmental issues than special treatment for favored projects. The Legislature should streamline and clarify the state’s overly complex, often ambiguous environmental law. And the reforms should benefit the entire state, not just offer aid to projects with political pull.

The year started with promises by Gov. Jerry Brown and ranking legislators that this year would see revisions to the California Environmental Quality Act. Instead, that effort has devolved into another last-minute push to give favored treatment to a special-interest project. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, last week unveiled legislation to speed the progress on a basketball arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The bill would require a full environmental report for the arena, but would fast-track any legal challenges and limit the courts’ power to halt construction of the project.

The four-decade-old California Environmental Quality Act requires public agencies to study the environmental effects of development plans, and take steps to avoid or repair any damage. But many of the law’s provisions are vague, leading to inconsistency, confusion and conflict. The law’s fuzzy language invites costly, time-consuming litigation and opens the door to nuisance lawsuits. Yet the Legislature largely leaves the job of clarifying the law to the courts, which yields a haphazard, case-by-case approach.

Reforms that would make the law more easily understandable, streamline the review process and curb abuses would benefit everyone. The state needs a law that protects the environment without bogging planning decisions in bureaucratic tangles and legal wrangling. A state worried about high unemployment and a fragile economy should not abide arbitrary roadblocks to economic growth.

But once again the Legislature is more interested in special-interest carve-outs than in serious public policy. Giving favored treatment for a Sacramento basketball arena would follow the dubious precedents legislators set in 2009 and 2011, when they similarly skirted environmental rules to aid professional football stadium proposals.

Changes that only benefit projects with sufficient political clout hardly address the broader concerns about the law. The Legislature should be enacting reforms that apply to all development, not just professional sports proposals.

That task will not be simple, admittedly. The environmental act is a minefield of conflicting interests, where compromise is all too rare and the extremes often drive the debate. The law has to simultaneously protect against harmful, defective development while not obstructing beneficial construction.

But finding the proper balance on the law requires more than giving special help to the well-connected. The state needs a clear, streamlined law that safeguards the environment, speeds planning and curtails abuses. Reforms that achieve that goal would be a substantial legislative achievement — and far better public service than a cynical game of political favoritism…. (more)

RELATED:
San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, No special environmental rules for sports

CEQA and Land Use Bills — An Update

CEQA and Land Use Bills — An Update

SB 731 (Steinberg)  CEQA Modernization Act of 2013.  (Last amended May 24, 2013.  Passed to Assembly May 30, 2013)

  • Aesthetic Impacts in Transit Priority Areas Not Significant. Bill would provide that aesthetic impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project, as defined, within a “transit priority area,” shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.
  • Significance Thresholds in Transit Priority Areas.  Bill would require revisions to CEQA guidelines establishing significance thresholds for noise, and transportation and parking impacts of residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center projects within transit priority areas.  Agencies could, however, adopt more stringent thresholds.
  • Lead Agencies Required to Make Draft Findings Available to Public.  The bill would require the lead agency to make findings available to the public at least 15 days prior to approval of the proposed project and to provide specified notice of the availability of the findings for public review…

SB 633 (Pavley)  New Categorical Exemption and Revision to “New Information” Standard.  (Last amended May 3, 2013.  Passed to Assembly May 30, 2013)…

AB 37 (Perea)  Requiring Lead Agencies to Prepare Record of Proceedings Concurrently with Preparation of Environmental Documents for Certain Projects.  (Last amended March 18, 2013.  Passed to Senate May 28, 2013. Referred to Com. on E.Q. June 6, 2013)…

AB 543 (Campos)  Requiring Translation of CEQA Documents.  (Last amended May 24, 2013. Passed to Senate May 31, 2013. To Com. on RLS for assignment June 3, 2013)…

SB 436 (Jackson)  Requiring Public Scoping Meeting and More Extensive Public Notice for Certain Projects.  (Last amended April 3, 2013. Passed to  Assembly May 25, 2013. Held at Desk May 29, 2013)

AB 380 (Dickinson)  CEQA: notice requirements.  Increasing Public Noticing and Posting Requirements for Agencies, County Clerks and OPR.  (Last amended May 24, 2013. Passed to Senate May 29, 2013; to Com. on RLS)

The bill would require notices to be filed solely by the lead agency….

AB 667 (Hernández)  Requiring Adoption of Economic Impact Report for Projects Permitting Construction of a Superstore Retailer.   (Last amended May 20, 2013. Passed to Senate May 28, 2013. Referred to Com. on Gov. & F. June 6, 2013)…

AB 1267 (Hall)   Exempting Certain Tribal Gaming Projects from CEQA.  (Chaptered by Secretary of State May 30, 2013)… (more)

CEQA Roundup – The Good, Bad & Potentially Bad: What business thinks of reform bills

CEQA Roundup – The Good, Bad & Potentially Bad: What business thinks of reform bills

by Justin Ewers : caeconomy.org – excerpt

The CEQA reform debate was put largely aside this week as lawmakers work to finalize the state budget before next week’s deadline. The short breather provided an opportunity for a post-mortem on the legislative process so far—with one analysis by a group of land use attorneys offering an early glimpse of where business interests, in particular, are likely to seek changes in the months ahead. (More on that below.)

What CEQA proposals are still moving

Of the more than two dozen CEQA bills introduced this winter, only five made it out of their house of origin last week, meaning they could still become law this year.

Perhaps the biggest surprises were the stumbles of the most comprehensive CEQA changes backed by environmentalists, Asm. Ammiano’s AB 953 and Sen. Evans’s SB 617. Both bills contained the same proposal to address lingering legal uncertainty surrounding the recent Ballona decision, a legal change that is popular with some Dems—but particularly unpopular with the state Chamber of Commerce, which tagged both bills as “job killers.” It will be worth watching to see if the bill’s legal language makes its way into one of the five CEQA bills still moving.

The Land Use & Development Law Report offers a helpful roundup of the CEQA changes that are still on the table. Their summary:

Active CEQA bills:

  • SB 731, the “CEQA Modernization Act of 2013.″ (See CAeconomy‘s summary of what the bill does—and doesn’t do.)
  • AB 37, which would require lead agencies to prepare their records of proceedings at the same time they prepare environmental documents for certain projects
  • AB 543, which would require translation of certain CEQA notices and CEQA document summaries if 25% of nearby residents are non-English-speaking
  • AB 436 and AB 380, which would impose additional CEQA notice and filing requirements

CEQA bills that did not make the cut:

  • SB 787, the same far-reaching and controversial CEQA reform proposal that first surfaced in August 2012
  • Proposals for specialized divisions within superior courts to handle CEQA case
  • Efforts to overturn recent appellate court decisions [including Ballona] holding that CEQA concerns the effects of projects on the environment—not effects of the environment on projects
  • Three bills, or portions of those bills, that would have extended the 2011 Environmental Leadership Act’s CEQA streamlining provisions to additional categories of projects

Where business may push back (more)

 

 

Wiener’s CEQA legislation headed for more compromise

Wiener’s CEQA legislation headed for more compromise

City Insider : SFGate.com – excerpt

Supervisor’s Scott Wiener’s proposal to change the environmental appeals process in San Francisco, already amended about 40 times since its inception, is likely headed for more changes.
Supervisors on the Land Use and Economic Development Committee voted to continue Wiener’s legislation that would set a deadline for challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act and allow appeals to be heard in front of board committees instead of the full Board of Supervisors.
“We should’ve done this more than 10 years ago,” Wiener said. “This has been going on for a long time and there’s always reasons for why it gets delayed.”
Wiener’s legislation is being countered by fellow committee member Jane Kim, who plans to introduce her own CEQA proposal on Tuesday that would give more support to project appellants. That leaves Supervisor David Chiu as the deciding vote, and as usual, he’s looking for compromise on increasing notification and clarity on which permits for a project would trigger Wiener’s 30-day deadline… (more)

CEQA Reform Update

CEQA Reform Update

By Douglas Aikins : jdsupra.com

Three flavors of reform

Between the two types of CEQA burdens, abuse of litigation is the least difficult to justify, and the easiest to fix. The two main CEQA reform bills in the Legislature, however, address mainly the burden of excessive environmental analysis, by exempting certain topic areas from repetitive study.

SB 731 (Steinberg, D- Sacramento) is fairly modest. It would allow EIR’s and Negative Declarations to omit study of certain environmental topic areas (noise, traffic, aesthetics, etc.) if a project did not exceed specified statewide impact standards. On the positive side, SB 731 would allow shorter, cheaper CEQA compliance documents in many instances. On the negative side, it requires qualifying projects to comply with new regulations favoring renewable energy projects, infill development, transit, bicycle and similar “green” projects.

SB 787 (Berryhill, D- Modesto) reprises a more aggressive reform proposal, supported by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group*, among others. This approach would reduce both regulatory burdens and litigation burdens. It would omit the need for analysis of environmental impacts when they can be shown to comply with existing state and federal limits on pollution, emissions, wetland fill, etc., and it would prohibit CEQA litigation contesting Lead Agencies’ determinations that compliance with existing regulatory standards will adequately mitigate projects’ adverse environmental impacts.

A third pending CEQA reform bill merely tries to make CEQA litigation more efficient, by allowing Lead Agencies to prepare the administrative record simultaneously with a project’s CEQA compliance documents. SB 617 (Evans, D- Santa Rosa) would save time by making these processes coincide, but the additional early expense of preparing an administrative record would be justified only where a litigation challenge is certain. SB 617 also would require additional environmental analysis, by reversing a line of cases which exempted from CEQA study “impacts of the environment on the project,” that is, the effects of locating a project in a sensitive location, as opposed to “impacts of the project on the environment,” CEQA’s primary focus. See Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles (2nd Dist. 2011) 201 Cal App 4th 455… (more)

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