My turn: Don’t blame environmental law for California’s housing crisis

By Ashley Werner : calmatters – excerpt

California is facing a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions. Lower-income residents across the state must choose whether to pay for rent or food. People who can’t cover housing costs are forced to leave their homes, their neighborhoods and even the state.

But as legislators resume discussions regarding policy solutions, we must be clear: California’s environmental regulations did not cause the housing crisis and eviscerating the California Environmental Quality Act would harm disadvantaged communities.

Some developers claim the California Environmental Quality Act is a major factor behind the state’s unmet housing needs. But multiple studies have shown this act, a bedrock of California environmental law, plays a limited role in determining whether and where housing is built…

These policies would move us closer to ensuring all Californians have an affordable, decent quality home. We can and must address the housing crisis without sacrificing California’s core environmental protections.

Ashley Werner is a senior attorney for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability in Fresno, awerner@leadershipcounsel.org. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters... (more)

State builders, construction unions working on deal to ease pay, CEQA requirements

By Scot Rodd : bizjournals – excerpt

Developers and construction unions are reportedly working on a deal that could ease regulatory barriers to construction and improve wages and benefits for some construction workers.

Statewide business and union groups appear to be working together in an effort to write new legislation to address issues related to pay, benefits and training for workers in exchange for easing environmental regulations that impact development, the Los Angeles Times recently reported. The agreement has reportedly been in the works for more than a year and the talks now involve Gov. Gavin Newsom(more)

California Court of Appeal Upholds Ruling on Area Plan Modifications

By Latham & Watkins LLP : lexology – excerpt

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development

In an unpublished opinion issued June 19, 2018, Center for Biological Diversity v. County of Los Angeles, Case No. B284427, the California Court of Appeal rejected the Center for Biological Diversity’s (Petitioner) appeal and affirmed the trial court’s denial of a petition for writ of mandate to require the County of Los Angeles (County) to set aside its approval of the modified Antelope Valley Area Plan (Plan) and certification of a program environmental impact report (EIR).

In summary, the court determined:

  • When modifications to an area plan do not constitute “significant new information” or “substantial changes” as compared to the original area plan, an agency need not revise the EIR before certification, recirculate the EIR, prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR, or prepare an addendum to the EIR.
  • When modifications to a plan do not require an agency to recirculate an EIR, or prepare a supplemental EIR or addendum, the agency is not required to make further CEQA findings or provide an updated statement of overriding considerations... (more)

Proposed CEQA Guideline for Highway Projects Promises Flexibility In the Measurement of Traffic Impacts, But Delivers Ambiguity

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)

DWR Certifies EIR for WaterFix, Triggering 30-Day Deadline for Opponents to File Suit

by Downey Brand LLP : dsupra – excerpt

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)

Moving away from “environmental reviews” that favor driving: San Francisco, Mountain View, Menlo Park

greencaltrain – excerpt

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)

Bay Area cities prepare for 60 days without Hetch Hetchy supply

By Lizzie Jordan : sfgate – excerpt

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)

Judge blocks oil development in Central California over fracking

By David R. Baker : sfchronicle – excerpt

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.

 

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)

“CEQA-In-Reverse” Case on Remand: First District Holds BAAQMD’s 2010 Air Pollutant Thresholds Not Facially Invalid, But Can’t Be Used For Primarily Intended Purpose

By Miller Starr Regalia : lexology – excerpt

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)

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