Author Archives: afrew

New Economic Analysis: Abusive CEQA Litigation Threatens Thousands of Prevailing Wage, Union Jobs Every Year, 9/3/13

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September 3  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 3, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – A newly-released economic analysis by John Husing, Ph.D., principal of the economic consulting firm Economics & Politics, Inc. in Redlands, CA, found that thousands of prevailing wage union jobs are put at risk every year by meritless CEQA litigation. Husing evaluated a cross-section of recent CEQA litigation and the delays and increased costs caused by the litigation.

“Very often the discussion about CEQA abuse is centered around impacts to businesses, but more important is the direct impact these abuses have on job creation and employees,” said Husing. “Our analysis found that, by and large, for otherwise environmentally sound projects, prevailing wage union construction jobs are those most heavily impacted by CEQA litigation.”

The Economics & Politics study analyzed seven projects from all over the state. They were chosen because they are typical of the types of projects being impacted by CEQA litigation.  Projects analyzed ranged from major commuter rail efforts to massive affordable housing/transit oriented developments to smaller community projects. 

For just these seven projects, the study found that on an annual basis:

  • 3,245 prevailing wage jobs were delayed or eliminated due to CEQA litigation,
  • $326.1 million in annual wages and benefits for union workers were put at risk.

“These numbers are significant,” continued Husing. “This analysis represents only a small fraction of the projects delayed every year by CEQA litigation.  There are literally hundreds of CEQA lawsuits filed each and every year. It can be concluded then, that thousands of prevailing wage union jobs are lost or delayed by CEQA every year, as well as billions in lost wages and benefits for union workers.”

Ironically, the loudest voices fighting even moderate CEQA reforms are the very same construction trades unions whose members are being hurt most by CEQA abuses through lost or delayed jobs and lost or delayed wages and benefits. Read the full study here.

About Economic & Politics, Inc.

Dr. John Husing is a regional economist trained at Claremont Graduate University who has studied California’s economy for 49 years.  Of late, the focus of his work has been on the clash between regulatory policy in California that is shutting off the growth of jobs in fields like construction, manufacturing and logistics needed by marginally educated workers to access the middle class.  He sees this as contributing to the dramatic increase in the number and share of the state’s people living in poverty with all of the public health and social implications that this entails.  There is a social justice component to this difficulty in that the problem is falling disproportionately on the state’s Hispanic population.

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Tehachapi Hospital

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August 28  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Special Interest Group Uses CEQA in Attempt to Block Reconstruction of Overcrowded and Seismically-Unsafe Hospital

For more than a decade, residents of Tehachapi (Kern County) have been planning a new hospital to replace the current community hospital which is outdated and overcrowded. The current facility, constructed in 1956, was designed to serve a population of 1,600, and is now serving a community of more than 30,000. Along with being overcrowded, the structure itself does not meet current California Seismic Safety Standards and must be retrofitted or rebuilt by January 2015 to continue operating.

The Tehachapi Hospital Project is a two-part effort managed by the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District to build a new full-service hospital facility to replace the overcrowded, seismically-unsafe 57 year-old structure and repurpose the original building as an outpatient clinic. The proposed new hospital would be built two miles from the current hospital, on a 22.6 acre parcel of land donated to the Healthcare District by a local family in 2008.

Bond funding for this project was approved twice by voters in 2004 and 2009, and is supplemented by charitable donations from the community.

In 2011, a comprehensive CEQA environmental review of the project was completed, finding no significant environmental impacts. On October 19, 2011, the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District Board unanimously approved the environmental document, a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND).

The project was expected to break ground in November 2011. But only four weeks after project approval, an opposition group filed a CEQA lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental review. The group claimed a full EIR was necessary and that the project violated CEQA on the basis of aesthetics, among other things. The opposition group didn’t want a hospital in the planned location, even though the land was donated by the landowner and it was close to the former hospital site.

The following year, on September 21, 2012, Judge Kenneth Twisselman of the Kern County Superior Court denied the

opponents’ lawsuit and upheld the approved environmental review document. In his ruling, the judge said, “The rules regulating the environment must not be subverted to an instrument for the oppression and delay of social, economic or recreational development and advancement.”

The litigation set back construction of the hospital for a year and added $10 million to the project cost. This increase in cost has caused the project to go over the original budget, leaving the Healthcare District unable to complete the obstetrics unit until future funds are available – depriving the community of important women and children’s services for an indefinite period of time.

Construction began on March 28, 2013 with a groundbreaking event that welcomed the entire community to join in festivities. The construction is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

COST OF CEQA MISUSE:

  • CEQA lawsuit delays seismically-unsafe hospital retrofit project by one year
  • $10 million in increased project costs caused by litigation
  • Delay causes budget shortfall and elimination of new obstetrics unit at hospital

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In Case You Missed It: San Jose Mercury News editorial: SB 731 (CEQA reform) needs to be turned into “something worthwhile.”U-T San Diego editorial calls on legislature to enact stronger CEQA reform to help stimulate jobs, 8/20/13

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August 20  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 20, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In an editorial today, the San Jose Mercury News called on Senator Steinberg to turn CEQA reform bill SB 731 into something “worthwhile” and to bring all parties to the table during the negotiation process. The U-T San Diego also called on the legislature to enact reforms that would help stimulate the economy and spur job growth in California, such as reforms to CEQA. Excerpts from the editorials are below. Read the San Jose Mercury News editorial here and the U-T San Diego editorial here.  The Mercury News and the U-T are just two of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

San Jose Mercury News, Editorial, August 20, 2013, “CEQA reform bill doesn’t go far enough.”

  • “Steinberg sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 731, that passed the Senate, but it falls far short. Unless it is substantially improved, the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown should reject it.”
  • “…the law today is often used by NIMBYs to oppose development they don’t like, by businesses to prevent competition and by labor to pressure builders to use union workers.”
  • “Encouraging infill is a priority of Steinberg’s and of ours, but that’s too narrow a focus. Other projects that help the environment should also be protected from trumped-up objections, including wind and solar farms in undeveloped areas. These projects are essential for the state to meet its aggressive greenhouse-gas reduction requirements.”
  • “SB 731 won’t even do much of what he says he wants to accomplish.”
  • “In the three weeks left in this legislative session, Steinberg needs to turn the bill into something worthwhile, even if it’s not as comprehensive as necessary. And everybody needs to be at the table.”

U-T San Diego, Editorial, August 18, 2013, “Fixing California: State’s unemployed face heartless indifference in Sacramento.”

  • “…excessive state regulations hinder job creation and block economic growth.”
  • “For more than two years, Senate President Darrell Steinberg has declared his firm support for ‘major regulatory relief.’”
  • “Steinberg has won Senate passage of a narrow bill that alters the California Environmental Quality Act to shorten the review process for projects in highly developed neighborhoods. But its prospects are dim in the Assembly, and a recent report said Pérez was ‘not optimistic there will be any significant changes to CEQA this year.’”
  • “A well-placed Pérez loyalist says the speaker is disappointed in the modesty of Steinberg’s proposals.

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San Jose Mercury News Editorial: CEQA Reform Bill Doesn’t Go Far Enough, 8/20/13

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August 20  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

Mercury News Editorial

When the CEO of the area’s Building and Construction Trades Council stood before the San Jose City Council last week to explain his challenge to a new downtown high-rise based on environmental law, he didn’t even bother pretending that the project might foul the water or air. No, the first point Neil Struthers made was about the developer’s choice of workers.

“Bringing in subcontractors who bring in lesser-skilled lower-paid workers from Sacramento hurts all workers in the construction industry,” Struthers said before launching into some flimsy environmental and procedural criticisms.

This highly technical appeal is relatively minor; it won’t stop construction of the project vital to downtown San Jose. But it’s a textbook case of “greenmail” — the misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act to harass builders and sometimes cities to win concessions unrelated to the environment. In this case, Struthers wants an agreement from the developer of One South Market to use only union labor.

Cases like this are the reason many businesses, housing advocates and other groups hoped the Legislature would update the 43-year-old law to return to its environmental intent. Earlier this year that seemed possible, with Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Leader John Perez all sounding positive.

But opposition from labor and environmental groups has derailed meaningful reform. Steinberg sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 731, that passed the Senate, but it falls far short. Unless it is substantially improved, the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown should reject it.

The 1970 law signed by Ronald Reagan requires studies of the environmental effects of proposed development and requires builders, whether public or private, to mitigate negative effects or show why they can’t. But the law today is often used by NIMBYs to oppose development they don’t like, by businesses to prevent competition and by labor to pressure builders to use union workers.

SB 731 aims to reduce CEQA barriers to so-called infill projects in already developed areas. Encouraging infill is a priority of Steinberg’s and of ours, but that’s too narrow a focus. Other projects that help the environment should also be protected from trumped-up objections, including wind and solar farms in undeveloped areas. These projects are essential for the state to meet its aggressive greenhouse-gas reduction requirements.

The bill should also require disclosure of those who are behind CEQA challenges, much like rules for political campaigns. These kinds of regulations are imperfect, but the goal of transparency is important. The public can be affected by these appeals — sometimes for the better, sometimes not — as much as by public policy, and disclosure would help clarify whether the environment really is at the root of objections.

Reform proponents say some language in the existing bill could invite even more pointless litigation and drag the process out further. Steinberg should close those loopholes.

Brown’s administration has proposed other important additions to the bill, including changing the way the state analyzes transportation impacts. Steinberg told us he thinks he can incorporate many of these; that’s good news.

He has been bickering with reform proponents who complain they’ve been left out of the talks while labor and environmental groups have had his ear. The current bill certainly supports that complaint.

Steinberg says he has no interest in helping to build more big box stores or auto malls. Fair enough. But SB 731 won’t even do much of what he says he wants to accomplish. In the three weeks left in this legislative session, Steinberg needs to turn the bill into something worthwhile, even if it’s not as comprehensive as necessary. And everybody needs to be at the table.

Read full editorial here.

In Case You Missed It: San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Calls on Legislature to Pass Meaningful CEQA Reform this Year, 8/19/13

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August 19  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

Says SB 731 (Senator Steinberg’s CEQA reform bill) “falls measurably short”.  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 19, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In a Saturday editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle reiterated their support for thoughtful reforms of CEQA that balance both economic and environmental goals. The Chronicle urged Senate Pro Tem Steinberg to bring all parties to the table during this negotiation process to ensure his SB 731 is amended to ensure true CEQA reform is achieved. Excerpts from the editorial are below. The full editorial can be read here.  The Chronicle is one of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

San Francisco Chronicle, Editorial, August 17, 2013, “CEQA Reform Bill Falls Short”

  • “The version of Steinberg’s SB731 that advanced out of the Assembly Local Government Committee last week falls measurably short of what should be the ultimate goal of any CEQA reform: to reduce the duplication of project reviews and to stop the exploitation of an environmental law to achieve objectives (such as unions using lawsuit threats to coerce labor agreements) that have nothing to do with the environment.”
  • “But the latest version of SB731 misses the mark in three important ways.”
  • “It fails to require forthright disclosure of the real interests behind CEQA lawsuits…”
  • “The focus on infill development, while worthy, does not cover other types of environmentally friendly projects that have been subject to CEQA abuse…”
  • “The bill includes requirements that could lead to new avenues for CEQA litigation, such as a requirement that government agencies prepare an annual report on a project’s compliance with mitigation measures…”
  • “Steinberg is a leader, and one of the Capitol’s premier problem solvers, and he should get everyone back at the table – including the business groups, which have been feeling shut out – to find the elusive middle ground that can serve the economic and environmental objectives that are being undermined by CEQA abuses.”

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San Francisco Chronicle: CEQA reform bill falls short, 8/17/13

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August 19  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has consistently promised to find “the elusive middle ground” between business groups that believe the 40-year-old California Environmental Quality Act is “irretrievably broken” and certain environmental and labor groups that are determined to block any change.

Regrettably, Steinberg seems to be wavering on his pledge for significant reform.

The version of Steinberg’s SB731 that advanced out of the Assembly Local Government Committee last week falls measurably short of what should be the ultimate goal of any CEQA reform: to reduce the duplication of project reviews and to stop the exploitation of an environmental law to achieve objectives (such as unions using lawsuit threats to coerce labor agreements) that have nothing to do with the environment.

In a most egregious twist, CEQA lawsuits have even been used to slow or stop environmentally friendly projects, such as the four-year legal battle against a San Francisco plan to add 34 miles of bike lanes. A more recent example: A labor union’s attempt to stop a downtown San Jose high-rise under CEQA, in part to pressure the developers not to use out-of-area subcontractors. Mayor Chuck Reed last week called that appeal, which the City Council rejected, “just an abuse of the environmental process.”

Steinberg’s revised bill makes only modest changes in the law, and limits them to infill development projects. He said SB731 has been narrowed to focus on the question “What are the regulatory obstacles to building more infill?” Promotion of infill development is the overarching goal of his landmark 2006 bill (SB375) to encourage cities and counties to take the impact on greenhouse gases into account in planning decisions.

As Steinberg put it, there was no appetite in Sacramento for easing environmental laws to promote development of auto malls, suburban sprawl or industrial plants. It’s a fair point.

But the latest version of SB731 misses the mark in three important ways.

— It fails to require forthright disclosure of the real interests behind CEQA lawsuits. The public, elected representatives and the courts deserve to know when there might be an ulterior motive behind a lawsuit brought on environmental grounds. In one notorious case, a San Jose gas station owner used CEQA to challenge a competitor’s proposal to add three pumps – adding $500,000 to the cost of the project.

— The focus on infill development, while worthy, does not cover other types of environmentally friendly projects that have been subject to CEQA abuse. Examples include renewable-resource projects, mass transit and myriad forms of mixed-use development.

— The bill includes requirements that could lead to new avenues for CEQA litigation, such as a requirement that government agencies prepare an annual report on a project’s compliance with mitigation measures. Some critics, most notably a coalition that includes the California Chamber of Commerce, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., have suggested that the revised SB731 is “worse than current law.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who encountered the excesses of CEQA when trying to breathe life into downtown as mayor of Oakland, has called reform of the law “the Lord’s work.” He should insist that he will not sign any CEQA “reform” that falls short of significant.

Steinberg clearly has grown frustrated with the demands of the business groups. “If you’re an all-or-nothing coalition, then you need to find a different author, a different bill, a different year,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Still, Steinberg is a leader, and one of the Capitol’s premier problem solvers, and he should get everyone back at the table – including the business groups, which have been feeling shut out – to find the elusive middle ground that can serve the economic and environmental objectives that are being undermined by CEQA abuses.

 

Read full article here.

 

 

 

CEQA MISUSE CASE STUDY: Placer County Continuing Care Retirement Community

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August 7  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Continuing Care Senior Housing Community Delayed Many Years Due to Frivolous NIMBY CEQA Lawsuit 

By 2030, the California senior population is projected to double to approximately nine (9) million.  The County of Placer’s General Plan and related planning documents recognize that there is a growing need for reliable quality senior housing in the County.  On January 30, 2008, in response to this need, a project proponent proposed an 858-unit continuing care retirement community and mixed-use commercial project on an infill site identified in a County Community Plan as “probably the best opportunity in north Auburn” to develop a mixed-use project of this nature.  The Project is designed to easily enable residents to utilize the public bus and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to travel to appointments and shopping areas surrounding the infill site. 

Over an approximately two-year process, the County’s consultants prepared the Draft EIR for the Project. The 2,000 page Draft EIR was released on November 10, 2010 for public review.  On March 16, 2011, the County released a Final EIR responding to comments received during the public comment period on the Draft EIR.  On August 9, 2011, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Project.

Despite the detailed environmental review spanning over three years, the County land use plans encouraging this type of development on the site, and unanimous support by the Board of Supervisors, a couple of neighboring residents (who called themselves the “Ad-Hoc Committee”) filed a lawsuit challenging the County’s approval of the Project pursuant to CEQA.  At trial, Ad-Hoc Committee raised one claim:  that the EIR should have evaluated the potential environmental impacts that may be caused by Ad-Hoc’s concern that the project proponent could go bankrupt before the Project was completed.

The trial court quickly rejected Ad-Hoc Committee’s claim, explaining that the Ad-Hoc Committee’s challenge was based on a number of baseless assertions. The trial court found the baseless accusations “especially troubling when put forward in a formal legal document by a licensed attorney and counselor at law.”

Notwithstanding this resounding defeat at trial, the Ad-Hoc Committee attempted to further delay the Project by filing an appeal from the trial court’s decision.  Ad-Hoc’s opening brief on appeal completely ignored the trial court’s Decision and advanced the same arguments the trial court had dismissed.  Placer County and the project proponent filed a Motion to Dismiss the Appeal and Motion for Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal.   Facing monetary sanctions, Ad-Hoc Committee dismissed the appeal and agreed not to reinstitute a lawsuit challenging the Project in the future.

While the litigation resulted in no changes to the Project, it resulted in significant costs and delays for the County and project proponent.  Approximately 5 ½ years after the Project application was filed and after approximately twenty (20) months of litigation and substantial legal expenses, project proponents are now able to complete the continuing care retirement community and mixed-used project to address the County’s growing senior population.

COST OF CEQA MISUSE: 

  • Frivolous CEQA lawsuit delays transit-oriented continuing care senior housing community
  • Litigation resulted in no changes to project, and added significant costs and approximately 7 years to project timeline

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Local Government, Business, Schools, Affordable Housing Leaders Urge Amendments to SB 731 – Senator Steinberg’s CEQA Reform Legislation

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July 30  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

More than 50 Statewide and Local Organizations Send Letter Urging Lawmakers to Amend Current Draft of CEQA Reform Legislation to Achieve True and Meaningful Reform this Year. State Current Draft of SB 731 Not Viable and Could Make Matters Worse.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 30, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

Sacramento, CA – A broad coalition of more than 50 statewide and local organizations representing local government, business, schools, affordable housing, transportation and other leaders recently sent a letter to legislators stating that significant amendments are needed to Senate Bill 731, Senator Steinberg’s CEQA reform legislation, in order to achieve meaningful CEQA reform this year.

In the letter to Senator Steinberg, the group says: “We want to thank you for your continued leadership in advancing the cause of CEQA reform and for your introduction of Senate Bill 731. As we enter into the final months of the legislative session, we believe it is critical to significantly amend SB 731 to achieve meaningful reform that stamps out widespread abuses of CEQA that are serving as roadblocks to environmentally responsible projects that create high-value jobs and economic growth. Unfortunately, as drafted, SB 731 would not advance true CEQA reform and, in fact, could make approval of worthy and responsible projects even more difficult.”

Carl Guardino, President & CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and co-chair of the CEQA Working Group, said: “We support Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and are committed to working with him, the Assembly Speaker and all legislators to enact meaningful CEQA reform this year. As we enter the final weeks of the legislative session, we felt it was important to reinforce our commitment to this process and, more important, to express our strong opinion that we have to amend SB 731 in order to accomplish our mutual goal of meaningful reform.”

Gary Toebben, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said: “We appreciate the effort that has been put into the bill thus far. But we still have a long way to go. We know Senator Steinberg shares our commitment to modernize CEQA in a meaningful way, and we’re hopeful that we can work together to achieve real reform this year.”      

The coalition also laid out policy principals that could guide amendments to SB 731 that include:

  • Incentivizing Projects that Help California Achieve Its Aggressive Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Land-use Planning Goals.
  • Increasing Transparency in CEQA Litigation.
  • Ensuring that CEQA Litigants Have Skin in the Game.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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Associated Press, Calif. groups worry over environmental law reform, 7/29/13

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July 30  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

By LAURA OLSON Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A coalition of business, housing and local government leaders is warning California legislative leaders that a plan to rewrite the state’s landmark environmental law could lead to more lawsuits and make it harder to approve responsible projects—the opposite of what lawmakers hope to achieve with the overhaul.

The group outlined its concerns to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. The group includes powerful organizations such as the California Chamber of Commerce, the Southern California Association of Governments, and the California Association of Realtors.

The coalition is among many environmental, business and labor groups that have been privately working with the Democratic Senate leader to reform the four-decade-old California Environmental Quality Act. Critics say the law, which was intended to protect the state’s air and water, has been abused to block projects and gain costly concessions from developers.

Steinberg’s legislation, SB731, aims to cut the number of lawsuits and the resulting delays in construction that can drag on for years when opponents object to a project.

It would create statewide standards for noise and traffic issues involving urban development projects, allowing projects that meet those standards to be protected from lawsuits based on those issues. A project’s aesthetics also could not be used as grounds for suing under the environmental law.

The bill also seeks to speed up administrative procedures stemming from lawsuits and directs the attorney general to track court filings related to the environmental statute.

In the letter sent to Steinberg on Thursday, the CEQA Working Group wrote that the measure as drafted would create new requirements that will lead to meritless lawsuits against projects that otherwise comply with stringent state and local environmental laws.

“Unfortunately, as drafted, SB731 would not advance true CEQA reform and, in fact, could make approval of worthy and responsible projects even more difficult,” the leaders of several dozen groups wrote.

Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Steinberg, said Monday that he could not immediately comment on the concerns outlined in the letter. He said the Senate leader is continuing to work with interest groups to address concerns and craft a final version of the bill.

“The pro tem is still optimistic that we’ll be able get this done this year,” he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has supported changing the environmental law, though he has expressed doubts about whether the reforms could be completed this year. Many environmental groups and labor unions strongly support the existing law and argue that the tough rules are necessary to safeguard the state’s natural resources.

Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said he appreciated Steinberg’s efforts to find consensus but insisted the current version of the legislation was not acceptable.

The proposal “does not make the improvements that we were looking for and in some cases makes CEQA even more likely to be abused,” said Toebben, who serves as co-chairman of the CEQA Working Group.

Among the group’s concerns are provisions to create statewide standards for noise levels and handling parking issues. The group says it is impractical to address those issues on a statewide basis and could discourage development.

It also is concerned an optional procedure intended to speed up the legal process would actually encourage lawsuits by putting the significant cost of preparing the case record on agencies or developers, giving potential plaintiffs little to lose in filing suit.

Other sections of the proposed overhaul provide little or no benefits over current rules, according to the coalition.

The group says it would like further changes that would prevent lawsuits and delays for renewable energy projects and those that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Steinberg has said he also aims to streamline approval for such projects.

The letter also calls for disclosure of any parties that help pay for a lawsuit filed under the environmental quality law.

Steinberg’s legislation passed the Senate in May. It is before the Assembly Local Government Committee, where it could be taken up when lawmakers return to session next month.

Read the full article here

 

CEQA Misuse Case Study: Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, San Francisco

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June 26  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Neighbors Use CEQA in Attempt to Block Expansion of Community Center for Underserved Youth

In 2006, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing to replace its 1952, 12,600 square foot building with a new, larger community center and affordable housing. The Center has been providing job training, after school programs and other services to underserved communities in San Francisco, particularly the African-American community, since 1919. The Center is on Presidio Avenue just north of Geary Boulevard, one of the City’s best-served transit corridors.  Center supporters have raised over $30 million for the project.

The Center’s immediately adjacent uses are single- and multi-family homes, although the neighborhood includes a Muni yard for bus storage and maintenance, retail (Target and Trader Joe’s), and storage.

The project’s original configuration was 8-stories, and included 42,000 square feet of affordable housing (half of which would be dedicated for transitioning foster youth) and 20,000 square feet of community center space.  During the community outreach and City review process, the project was reduced to 5 stories and only 50 residential homes.

As the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) came up for approval in June of 2010, neighborhood groups such as the Presidio Heights Association of Neighbors and Neighbors for Fair Planning opposed the project based on the size and aesthetics of the building, and parking. The neighborhood associations insisted that there was no opposition to affordable housing or foster youths, though in press reports some neighbors discussed concerns with increased “loitering”.

The most frequent neighborhood complaint was that the project did not fit in with the residential buildings and character of their neighborhood, and that the 22-space underground parking garage was inadequate.

The City responded that residents and recreational users typically did not have cars, and that the Center was in a highly urbanized area with excellent existing transit services less than two blocks away. The City also disagreed that the neighborhood character was exclusively residential, based on neighborhood uses such as Target and Trader Joe’s.  After an appeal, the Board of Supervisors approved the project on a 9-2 vote, finding the project was consistent with the General Plan and supportive of the city’s stated goal of creating 500 units of transitional youth housing by 2016.

The neighborhood groups sued, and the suit was dismissed by the Superior Court in mid 2011. Neighborhood groups promptly filed an appeal and in May 2013, two years later, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Center, upholding the project EIR. Although a full EIR was done, because of frivolous CEQA lawsuits, the project has dragged on for over 6 years, denying vital services for youth in need and drastically driving up costs for this critical project.

COST OF CEQA MISUSE:

  • NIMBY CEQA lawsuit delays vital youth services for over 6 years
  • Delay in creation of transit-oriented affordable homes for foster youth
  • Considerable attorneys’ fees and costs associated with lawsuit and litigation

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