By: Robert D. Thornton, Benjamin Z. Rubin, Liz Klebaner :
In response to material opposition from many of the transportation agencies in the State, the California Natural Resources Agency has proposed to provide transportation agencies with the discretion to determine the metric for evaluating traffic impacts of highways and road projects. Unfortunately, instead of putting the issue to bed, the proposed regulation introduces considerable ambiguity that will likely lead to a CEQA challenge if any project EIR relies solely on Level of Service (LOS) to evaluate the significance of traffic impacts. The proposed regulation states:
For roadway capacity projects, agencies have discretion to determine the appropriate measure of transportation impact consistent with CEQA and other applicable requirements.
The language “consistent with CEQA and other applicable requirements” arguably creates ambiguity as to whether transportation agencies may rely solely on measures of traffic congestion such as LOS to determine the significance of traffic impacts, or whether the State’s climate change legislation mandates a “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT) analysis.
As we have previously reported, the proposed SB 743 implementing regulation represents a paradigm shift in the evaluation of transportation impacts of road and development projects, by replacing the traffic congestion-based LOS metric with the VMT metric. With VMT, the very acts of driving a vehicle or inducing vehicle travel by improving roadway infrastructure is an environmental impact requiring analysis and potentially mitigation. The proposed regulation generally removes traffic congestion from the required scope of a CEQA impacts analyses… (more)
On July 21, 2017, the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) certified the final environmental document and issued its Notice of Determination for the California WaterFix, a significant new water infrastructure component proposed by DWR and United States Bureau of Reclamation. DWR’s action triggered a 30-day statute of limitations to raise CEQA challenges to the project, which has been the subject of steadily accelerating public discussion and debate over the last two years…
WaterFix, sometimes referred to as the Delta Tunnels, would divert water from the northern Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta just south of Sacramento, under water right permits held by DWR and Reclamation. According to its advocates, WaterFix is intended to improve and update the existing Delta conveyance systems, while preserving the vulnerable species populations that rely on Delta waters…
The approval is one of several required before the WaterFix project can move forward…
Our CEQA attorneys are carefully tracking these legal developments, and will offer thoughts and analysis in future alerts as this situation (and the complicated legal issues surrounding it) evolves… (more)
Three recent environmental reviews reveal the dramatic transition under way in California’s assessment of the transportation impacts of new buildings.
San Francisco’s Central SOMA plan is the first “Environmental Impact Report” (EIR) in the Bay Area that we know of for a land use plan that moves away from a method of analysis that favors driving and promotes car-centric place design. San Francisco’s recent report, using new rules, is dramatically different from new reports in Mountain View and Menlo Park, cities that have been transitioning to less car-centric policies, but still use the older standard in environmental reviews…
Mountain View North Bayshore
The City of Mountain View also places a high priority on reducing the share of driving in the North Bayshore area, where Google is headquartered. The North Bayshore precise plan requires a reduction in drivealone mode share from the current rate around 60% to 45% in the time frame of the plan. This year, the city is updating its North Bayshore Precise Plan to incorporate housing, transforming a single use office park into a mixed-use neighborhood with housing and services…
Menlo Park – El Camino near Caltrain
Menlo Park is another city that has been updating its policies and plans to more effectively support multi-modal travel, though its multi-modal policies are less strong than those of Mountain View. Like Mountain View, Menlo Park has not yet made the shift to VMT. Menlo Park recently adopted a new General Plan. Updates to its Transportation Impact Analysis guidelines, including rules to incorporate the use of VMT, and changes to transportation impact fees, are proposed for a transportation guidelines update to be completed in 2018… (more)
In late December, the filtration tanks at a treatment plant in San Bruno were quietly filled with millions of gallons of raw water.
At the same time, water was drained out of Mountain Tunnel, the century-old artery connecting the Bay Area to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, 175 miles away in Tuolumne County. From Tuesday through March 5, crews will traverse the 19-mile conduit making repairs and performing a rigorous inspection. Officials have known for years that the tunnel is at risk of catastrophic collapse.
The shutdown will help them decide whether the tunnel can be saved or will need to be entirely replaced… (more)
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from opening more than 1 million acres in Central California to oil drilling because the agency did not properly explore the potential dangers of fracking.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald sided with environmentalists who argued that the bureau should have addressed the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing in an environmental impact statement issued as part of the formal process of opening public lands to drilling.
Instead, the 1,073-page impact statement only mentioned fracking three times and never discussed the controversial practice in depth, according to the judge…
Environmentalists who consider fracking a threat to California’s strained groundwater supplies hailed the ruling.
“The Obama administration must get the message and end this reckless rush to auction off our public land to oil companies,” said Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of two environmental groups that sued the bureau. “As California struggles against drought and climate change, we’ve got to end fracking and leave this dirty oil in the ground.”… (more)
Not to mention the earthquake potential in an earthquake zone. They are worrying about it in Oklahoma now. We should consider it a potential threat in California.
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)
In a published decision filed August 12, 2016, following remand from the California Supreme Court after its landmark “CEQA-in-reverse” decision, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded with directions to issue an order partially granting CBIA’s writ of mandate and to consider CBIA’s requests for declaratory relief and attorneys’ fees. California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (1st Dist., Div. 5, 2016)… Cal.App.4th …, 2016 WL…
The opinion reaches the same general conclusion as the Court of Appeal’s previous opinion in the matter (my blog post on which can be found here) – i.e., that BAAQMD’s 2010 Toxic Air Contaminants (TAC) Thresholds of Significance (i.e., for air pollutants including TACs and PM 2.5) are not facially invalid, because not invalid in all their potential applications. However, following the holding of the Supreme Court’s opinion (my blog post on which can be found here), the Court of Appeal importantly clarifies that the TAC Thresholds “may not be used for the primary purpose envisioned by District, namely, to routinely assess the effect of existing environmental conditions on future users or occupants of a project.”…(more)
The City of San Jose filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Clara on Friday July 29 claiming that the 240-acre City Place project will have a negative impact on San Jose.
“The City of San Jose hasn’t gotten very specific with their complaint thus far,” said Vice Mayor of Santa Clara, Teresa O’Neill. “The lawsuit is at the very beginning phase… We are waiting for further information from San Jose before we can take any further action.”
City Place, commonly referred to as the Related Project, is a Santa Clara development project located across from the Levi’s Stadium. The project will include retail, entertainment, and office space as well as hotels and residential units. The project is slated to break ground in 2017 and be complete by 2020.
San Jose claims its complaint is justified under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and that City Place will be environmentally damaging to the region.
According to California’s government website, CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts…(more)
…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?
The Golden State Warriors’ push to relocate the basketball team from Oakland to San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood cleared a key hurdle Monday, as a judge ruled against a group that had filed multiple lawsuits to kill the project.
On Monday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the city’s environmental review of the proposed arena was adequate, rejecting arguments it had failed to consider a number of environmental impacts, including alternative sites for the arena.
The ruling was in favor of the city’s Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure, which oversees the development of Mission Bay, and the project sponsor, the Warriors.
In a statement, Warriors President Rick Welts said the ruling “brings us a huge step closer to building a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue, which will add needed vitality to the Mission Bay neighborhood and serve the entire Bay Area extremely well.”
“We look forward to breaking ground soon,” he said.
Mayor Ed Lee, who has portrayed the arena as his legacy project, called the decision “an important milestone in the process of bringing the Golden State Warriors back to San Francisco and to building a state-of-the-art entertainment venue the entire San Francisco Bay Area can be proud of.” The arena will be called the Chase Center… (more)