When CEQA Gets Ugly: Third District Holds Lay Public Opinion Supports Fair Argument That Project May Have Significant Aesthetic Effect Requiring EIR

by Miller Starr Regalia : jdsupra – excerpt

In a published opinion filed December 17, 2018, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment granting a writ setting aside El Dorado County’s approval of, and related Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for, construction of a Dollar General Store in the “quaint” downtown area of unincorporated Georgetown, a Gold Rush-era “hamlet” designated as a State Historical Landmark…

The Court held lay public commentary on nontechnical issues concerning the project’s size and general appearance constituted substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that the project may have significant aesthetic impacts, and thus required an EIR, notwithstanding County’s findings that the project complied with its Historic Design Guide… (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In an unpublished opinion issued June 19, 2018, Center for Biological Diversity v. County of Los Angeles, Case No. B284427, the California Court of Appeal rejected the Center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)

Eye on the State: Environmental care part of smart housing policy

Op-ed By and : sfexminer – excerpt

Over the next few months, legislators will be debating new housing legislation — both state and local — to meet the pressing needs of California’s growing population. It is good that our legislators are facing the state’s affordable housing crisis head-on; having a decent home for everyone is critical. But as we work to meet that need, we must also ensure that the environment is not harmed.

Creating vibrant and complete urban communities requires a strong commitment to protecting and enhancing the quality of urban life. Some of the features shared by healthy urban communities include convenient public open spaces, parks, playgrounds and natural “unimproved” spaces. Creating these communities must also involve a commitment to preserving existing affordable housing, preventing displacement of low- and moderate-income residents, protecting cultural heritage, providing efficient public transit and sheltering existing communities from unreasonable economic and physical disruption.

It’s also critical that urban areas be non-polluting, so as to minimize our impacts upon this planet’s resources and environment.

When there is a lot of pressure for one set of needs — in this case, housing — there is the temptation to ignore other needs. There is a tendency to say that “just for this project” it is acceptable for the developer to ignore the need to carefully consider the impact on the environment.

One such short-sighted idea currently being discussed is to allow projects to be approved by-right and, in the process, to bypass environmental review now mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act…(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)

SF plan for natural areas likely to draw fire

By Lizzie Johnson : sfgate – excerpt

A comprehensive new plan for San Francisco’s natural areas could anger dog lovers, golfers and nature lovers in one swoop, while protecting delicate habitats and endangered species.

The plan — originally proposed in 2006 — will review the biology and geology of the Recreation and Park Department’s 32 natural areas and trails, including Twin Peaks, Bernal Heights and Mount Davidson. It will also outline maintenance and capital improvements within those areas for the next 20 years. The Recreation and Park Commission and the Planning Commission will vote on the document Thursday.

The biggest impacts that could come are changes in urban forestry management, the removal of off-leash dog areas in sensitive environmental areas and the rejiggering of Sharp Park’s golf course — changes with which the various groups will probably be unhappy… (more)

The public comments for on this EIR lasted for over 6 hours. This is  major project that is highly controversial. Thousands or trees are planned for removal, that will release tons of carbon into the air. People anticipate a lot of herbicides will be used and that this will go into the ground water that is now being mixed into the drinking water. More details can come later. Comments welcome.

There is no money for any of this according to the proponents of the Natural Resources Plan. This is a big messy project that will get approved and then swept under the rug until someone comes up with money and the contract will be approved and then the public will hear about it. That is what happens with these large broad plans.

How driverless cars are set to reinvent and humanise our streets

by: : ft – excerpt

This is a must read for anyone who appreciates contradictions. The future is UNKNOWN, and if we are lucky the tech industry manipulators will dance on each others toes long enough to allow the public to decide what we want.

Private vehicles could soon be replaced by autonomous ride-hailing services and even ‘helicopter’ cars.

When the muddy streets of San Francisco were laid out during the heady days of the gold rush, riding a horse was the fastest way to get around. Today a new type of vehicle can be seen cruising the city: the driverless car.

With their spinning radar sensors and bulky camera arrays, these vehicles have the awkward look of a technology that is not quite mature. Yet just as the automobile gave rise to paved streets and suburban sprawl, the driverless car is set to radically reshape the cities we live in…

Anti-car, pro-cyclists, pro-public transit industry people are fighting a losing battle and they know it. They are trying desperately to hang onto their piece of the pie so they can flip it for top dollar, nervously watching all the hot new options that are popping up. Those options are not all in sync with the current urban future plans.

Let’s face it, bike lanes and sidewalk treatments are old news and investors are always looking for THE NEXT BIG THING. If taxpayers are lucky, the self-propelling helicars will overtake High Speed Rail before that projects digs us into a huge debt. So far, they are in the land-grabbing stage. The assets can always be sold.

“We are looking at the decaying infrastructure of the last century and beyond,” says Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber and a co-founder of Hyperloop One, which aims to create 700mph tubes that will move people faster than aircraft. “Cities are effectively taken hostage by the automobile designs of the 20th century.” His solution is to design and build new cities, in conjunction with hyperloop networks, which will feature lush, green urban centres and underground tunnels for transportation. He refers to this as “re-terraforming the earth.”…

Great idea. Build completely new cities from scratch that you want to live in and see who else wants to live in them.

“It is really important that we don’t allow autonomous vehicles to undo the gains that cities have made in the last 20 years in terms of rebuilding the city centre and creating vibrant downtowns,” says Merker…

The economics of driverless cars

When Uber was founded, one of co-founder Travis Kalanick’s goals was not just to create a transportation app but to make car ownership obsolete. Achieving that would mean driving down the cost of Uber’s rides so that they are eventually cheaper than owning your own car…

This looks like a huge environmental impact. Where are the calls for an Environmental Impact Reviews and studies?

… (more)

Appellate Court Rejected EIR That Found Insignificant Traffic Impacts, Despite Consistency With Infill-Promoting General Plan Policy

by Amanda J. Monchamp, Genna Yarkin : jdsupra – excerpt

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Third Appellate District, overturned an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for an urban, residential infill project, rejecting the threshold of significance the City of Sacramento used to determine that traffic impacts were less than significant at two busy intersections.
  • The appellate court held that consistency with an infill-promoting general plan mobility element policy alone does not constitute substantial evidence that there is no significant impact, even where the policy is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using flexible standards to measure traffic impacts in central city areas.

East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City v. City of Sacramento et al., No. C079614 (Cal. Ct. App. 3rd Dist., Nov. 7, 2016)..(more)

Good news for people claiming traffic impacts are significant under CEQA. There is also a renewed interest in stadium proximity to airports due to problems with Levis Stadium. Pilots landing in San Jose complain about being blinded by the lights and thrown off course. No accidents so far, but a few near misses.

Sacramento Residential Infill Project EIR Violated CEQA By Basing Less-Than-Significant Traffic Impact Finding Solely On Compliance With General Plan Policy Allowing LOS F

by Arthur F. Coon and Miller Starr Regalia : jusuptra – excerpt

On November 7, 2016, the Third District Court of Appeal filed a published opinion mostly upholding the EIR for a 48.75-acre, 328-unit residential infill project (known as McKinley Village) against various CEQA challenges, and finding the Project to be consistent with the City of Sacramento’s general plan.  East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City v. City of Sacramento (Encore McKinley Village, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (3d Dist. 2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, 2016 WL 6581170.  In a pointed reminder that a perfectly CEQA-compliant EIR for a large infill project is difficult to prepare, however, the Court found merit in a single argument of the petitioner and appellant neighborhood group, ESPLC – its argument that “the EIR ignored [certain] significant traffic impacts.”  Specifically, the EIR failed to adequately support its less-than-significant (LTS) impact conclusion concerning such impacts, in light of a substantial project-caused degradation in level of service (LOS) at affected intersections and streets that was nonetheless compliant with the General Plan’s policy that LOS F was acceptable for the area.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR, and ordered it to issue a writ directing the City to set aside its certification and correct this lone deficiency prior to considering recertification… (more)

Livable City must not mean the same thing in Sacramento.

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.

 

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.

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