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In Case You Missed It: LA Times Columnist George Skelton says CEQA reform is needed: “stop using environmental laws to kill jobs”, 9/8/15

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September 8  |  News, News Articles, Press Releases  |   user

Yesterday, Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton called out blatant abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), arguing that CEQA lawsuits are leading to middle class job loss and attacks on “green” projects like solar and renewable energy projects. Reforms are needed, he suggests, including transparency to identify those bankrolling CEQA lawsuits.

Key excerpts from Skelton’s column:

  • “…CEQA also has been shamefully abused by union blackmailers — “greenmailers” — who threaten to derail a project by filing an environmental lawsuit unless the developer caves in to their labor demands.”
  • “Unions aren’t the only abusers. Business rivals try to drive off potential competitors. And NIMBYs — “not in my backyard” — fight local projects, even environmentally friendly ones such as transit stations.”
  • “The result is costly, years-long delays, if not outright project scuttling, that discourages future investments in the state.”
  • “The fact that CEQA is flawed and abused is no secret in the state Capitol.”
  • “Another much-needed reform is transparency. The true plaintiffs — the CEQA lawsuit bankrollers — don’t have to be identified.”
  • “[The Holland & Knight] study found that 45% of plaintiffs remain basically anonymous, using fronts with nice environmental-sounding names and hiring “bounty” and “shakedown” lawyers. Digging into the paperwork, she estimates that most of the anonymous plaintiffs are NIMBYs, but roughly one-third are unions.”
  • “Her report includes this chilling statement: ‘CEQA, which in its heyday was used to challenge nuclear plants, coal-fired plants and plants burning hazardous waste or garbage, is now used most frequently to challenge solar and wind renewable energy projects — precisely the ‘green’ projects that are most critical to meeting California’s climate change reduction mandates.’”

Read the press release from the CEQA Working Group which hits the highlights from the Holland & Knight CEQA study examining 600 CEQA lawsuits. 

San Diego Union Tribune, Column, Steven Greenhut, “Climate bill may chill new infrastructure”, 9/4/15

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September 4  |  News, News Articles  |   user

Business and labor fear new greenhouse-gas targets put them in crosshairs

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature are wrangling over a new transportation plan to help the state meet its growing population, with the differences centering on whether to raise taxes — or focus on reforming the existing transportation bureaucracy — to assure projects aren’t delayed. That’s the hot Capitol debate these days.

But at the same time this transportation session does its work, legislators are moving ahead major climate-change bills that could slow major infrastructure projects in the future, although newly introduced amendments could lessen the blow.

The most climate-change attention has gone to SB 350, which would mandate a 50-percent reduction in petroleum use, a 50-percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings and 50-percent use of renewable energy by utilities — all by 2030. But another bill is causing more consternation to business and trade unions.

SB 32, authored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, advances the state’s original anti-global-warming law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 (AB 32). “AB 32 requires California to reduce its (greenhouse gas) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a reduction of approximately 15 percent below emissions expected under a ‘business as usual’ scenario,” according to the California Air Resources Board, which gained power to impose reductions under the original law and would gain more under the new proposals.

Similarly named SB 32 steps up the goals, by mandating these greenhouse-gas emissions are 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030 and 80 percent below that level by 2050. Critics say these mandated reductions have diminishing returns — e.g., it’s easier for a dieter to lose the first few pounds, but tougher to lose additional pounds as the weight decreases.

But the biggest problem may involve the impact on transportation and home-building, given the Legislature has yet to reform its infamous California Environmental Quality Act. The 40-year-old CEQA is the subject of endless Capitol debates given that it makes it easy for opponents of virtually any construction project to file time-consuming litigation.

It’s often abused, as unions threaten lawsuits unless they get Project Labor Agreements, businesses file lawsuits to hobble the competition, and local activists file lawsuits against any projects they don’t like. Proof of CEQA’s problem: Even environmentally friendly politicians seek CEQA exemptions for their pet projects, such as the arena being built for the Sacramento Kings basketball team. Legislators from both parties complain about it.

The CEQA Working Group — business, labor and local government groups — sent a letter late last month to Pavley opposing SB 32 “for the sole reason that it would vastly expand opportunities for litigation under CEQA and it would create an impossible threshold to meet under CEQA.” Their concern is critics of any project proposed now — even green-friendly ones for, say, infill housing — would have to immediately “prove themselves to meet the year 2050 80 percent reduction goal today.”

That sounds like a scare tactic, until one looks at their main evidence: The San Diego Association of Governments regional plan “has been in CEQA litigation for years over a complaint (upheld by a lower court) that the plan does not meet the (greenhouse-gas) reduction requirements of a 2005 executive order … . Clearly, a more ambitious statute like SB 32 would create (an) even greater legal bar to meet under CEQA.”

In this case, environmental groups are using CEQA and long-term global-warming goals to force the San Diego agency to reduce freeway construction and focus instead on mass transit. More aggressive targets will give litigants better ammunition.

In response, Pavley’s office on Friday announced amendments intended to do the following: The California Air Resource Board “is required to work with builders, local governments, others to ensure that land use and permitting decisions on new construction are not subject to 2050 target on Day 1.”

Critics of the bill fear the amendments won’t provide enough specific direction and they will still end up in court. It would be ironic to have state leaders asking Californians to pay more to help reduce congestion as they simultaneously make it tougher for congestion-busting projects to get built.

Greenhut is the San Diego Union-Tribune’s California columnist.

Read the Full Article Here.

New Comprehensive Analysis of 600 CEQA Lawsuits Shows Law Is Most Often Used Against Transit, Renewable Energy and Housing Projects

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August 4  |  News, Press Releases  |   user

First-ever analysis of 3 years of CEQA lawsuits demonstrates law frequently abused to stop projects crucial to meeting California’s environmental, social equity, and economic policies

Sacramento — In a first-of-its-kind analysis, the law firm Holland & Knight recently conducted a comprehensive review of more than 600 lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) at the local, regional or state agency level during a three year study period (2010 – 2012).  The analysis, entitled “In the Name of the Environment: How Litigation Abuse Under the California Environmental Quality Act Undermines California’s Environmental, Social Equity and Economic Priorities – and Proposed Reforms to Protect the Environment from CEQA Litigation Abuse,” was based on all CEQA lawsuit petitions provided to the California Attorney General’s office over the three year study period.

The findings of this exhaustive analysis run counter to the common perception that CEQA litigation is primarily used to benefit the environment. In fact, the numbers show that CEQA lawsuits most frequently target infill housing projects, public works projects such as transit, renewable energy projects and other critical projects California needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The law is often used for non-environmental reasons and in ways that actually harm important environmental objectives, like building renewable energy, transit and infill housing. You can read our executive summary for more detail or read the full study on Holland & Knight’s website.

This new analysis provides clear and quantifiable metrics that demonstrate CEQA litigation is most often used:

  • Against taxpayer-funded public works projects, not “business” or “developer” projects. Nearly half of all CEQA lawsuits (49%) were filed against taxpayer-funded projects for which there was no private sector applicant.
  • Against infill projects in urban areas. Of the CEQA lawsuits that targeted infill or greenfield development projects, 80% of CEQA lawsuits targeted infill projects.
  • Against housing, especially in established communities. The most frequently challenged category of private sector project was housing (21%), and nearly half (45%) of these CEQA housing lawsuits challenged the types of affordable housing and other multi-family (apartment, condominium and mixed use) projects that are critically needed to address housing affordability, are required by state housing and general plans laws, are subsidized by state or federal taxpayer funding, and are key to achieving the state’s regional greenhouse gas reduction targets for the land use and transportation sectors.
  • Against projects designed to achieve critical environmental objectives. In fact, for utility/industrial projects, the top target of CEQA lawsuits were new and retrofitted clean energy projects like solar plants – and for infrastructure projects, the top target of CEQA lawsuits were transit projects.
  • Against projects that have already undergone an earlier environmental review process, most often a full Environmental Impact Report. Duplicative CEQA lawsuits are especially frequent for urban projects and plans, with some challenged projects emerging from a dozen or more CEQA lawsuits filed over a period of nearly 20 years.

“CEQA litigation abuse is real, it is harming people—especially the poor, the working class and the young—and it is hindering rather than advancing critical environmental priorities,” said Jennifer Hernandez, the head of Holland & Knight’s West Coast Land Use and Environmental practice and lead author of the study. “CEQA litigation abuse also allows parties seeking to advance non-environmental objectives to anonymously sue—again in the name of the ‘environment’—to gain leverage against competitors, employers and taxpayers.

The Study also confirms that CEQA litigation is only rarely used by well-known national and statewide environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Audubon Society.  In fact, only 13% of CEQA lawsuits are filed by these environmental groups – with the plurality (45%) filed by an assortment of “associations” which do not need to disclose either the existence or interests of “members” and individuals.  Follow-up investigations into these anonymous “associations” revealed widespread abuse of CEQA for non-environmental purposes by business competitors, labor unions, “greenmail” lawyers seeking financial settlements, and Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) groups on the losing end of votes by elected officials or residents.

“CEQA is an important law that has provided many benefits to Californians and our environment,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. “But this analysis shows what we have always known, that the law is also being used and abused to stop environmentally beneficial projects.  These projects are needed to meet new climate change policies, and these lawsuits frequently have little to do with protecting the environment. As lawmakers continue to grapple with the challenge of modernizing CEQA, we hope the findings of this study can inform the debate and underscore the need to fix the law.”

“The Bay Area is in the midst of a housing crisis and this study offers real insight into how CEQA has become a leading tool that groups abuse, often for non-environmental reasons, in order to block housing projects throughout the state,” said Matt Regan, Senior Vice President with the Bay Area Council. “We urge the legislature to take the results of this study, and the findings in a recent similar study conducted by the LAO, seriously and put in the hard work to make this law work in a way that continues to protect the environment, but doesn’t stymie smart growth.”

For an executive summary, please visit http://ceqaworkinggroup.com/?p=1238.

The full report can be found at: http://issuu.com/hollandknight/docs/ceqa_litigation_abuseissuu?e=16627326/14197714 and Holland & Knight’s press release can be found at: http://www.hklaw.com/news/Holland-Knight-Study-Uncovers-Widespread-CEQA-Litigation-Abuse-08-04-2015/.

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment. www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

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In Case You Missed It: Bay Area Council Op-Ed in The San Francisco Chronicle

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July 24  |  News, News Articles  |   user

California Can’t Reach Greenhouse-Gas Targets Without CEQA Reform

By Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council.

Meeting the new greenhouse-gas reduction targets set in Gov. Jerry Brown’s April executive order and Sen. Fran Pavley’s SB32 will require significant changes in the way California plans, lives and operates. We will need to focus on higher-density infill housing and commercial development closer to transit. We will need to place more emphasis on congestion-reduction projects, public transit, bike lanes and walkable neighborhoods. We will also need to move more rapidly to expand our sources of clean energy, such as wind and solar.

Ironically, one of the biggest obstacles to achieving the aggressive new targets likely will be California’s oldest environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act.

A groundbreaking report conducted by Holland & Knight, a law firm with extensive CEQA experience, analyzed 15 years of published opinions in CEQA litigation at the Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court from 1997-2012. The report found that 62 percent of cases litigated under CEQA involved urban infill development. The analysis demonstrates how the environmental protection law actually is frustrating our greenhouse gas reduction goals by hindering infill development, more public transit and cleaner power.

Remarkably, these greenhouse-gas reducing projects are the very type of projects that anonymously funded opposition groups most frequently attempt to stop through time-consuming and expensive litigation. CEQA is their tool of choice, but environmental protection is not often their aim.

Cases in point:

  • A single individual used a CEQA lawsuit to delay San Francisco’s plan to expand its network of bicycle lanes and encourage more bicycle commuting. The lawsuit claimed the city had not sufficiently studied the negative environmental impacts of the project. Five years, several million taxpayer dollars and 2,200 pages of environmental review later, the plan finally was approved.
  • A neighborhood group used a CEQA lawsuit to further its antidevelopment agenda to block Park Merced, an affordable infill housing community in San Francisco set to become America’s first net-zero carbon community, with upgraded public transit access and on-site neighborhood-serving retail and services. The suit held up the project for three years, costing millions of dollars.

Another report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office also points the finger of blame for California’s high housing costs squarely at CEQA. The report found that cities in California take on average 2.5 years to complete the various CEQA analyses required to permit new infill housing, and that’s before anyone files a lawsuit that can add many more years to the process.

The unfortunate reality is — for all the good it has done to improve the California environment and planning process — CEQA is being used to impede the type of responsible growth California needs in order to meet the new greenhouse-gas targets.

The governor’s ambitious executive order seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, setting an interim target for the 2050 goal of 80 percent reduction set by Brown’s predecessor. Pavley’s bill codifies the new target. The Bay Area Council supported AB 32 in 2006 and supports SB 32 if amended to include CEQA reforms among other changes.

CEQA was written in the 1960s before we knew what climate change was. It is designed to analyze individual projects, not address a global threat. It’s time to modernize CEQA so that it is used to protect the environment, not to protect hidden agendas that have nothing to do with environmental protection.

Jim Wunderman is president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a regional business association.

Read the Full Article Here

LA Times Editorial: “Too Many CEQA Execptions” 7/14/15

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July 16  |  Editorials, News  |   user

The LA Times editorialized today against the annual exercise of legislators granting favored projects CEQA exemptions and urged Governor Brown and the Legislature to instead focus on fixing CEQA.

The editorial says, But it seems he and his colleagues in Sacramento are more interested in using their power to grant exemptions rather than to fix the underlying problems.”

The CEQA Working Group believes CEQA needs to be updated to stamp out abuses. It has become an annual ritual for politically connected projects to be granted legislatively sanctioned CEQA exemptions. CEQA needs reform to prevent the law from being abused for non-environmental reasons. The law should work for everyone and reforms to CEQA should benefit all projects, not just those with political connections.  

Read the full editorial,Too many CEQA exemptions”. Below are key excerpts:

  • “The real concern is that lawmakers keep carving out CEQA exemptions for favored projects.”
  • “Yet legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown show no interest in comprehensive CEQA reform that would give all projects — not just lawmakers’ picks — the opportunity for streamlined review.”
  • “Instead, they seem perfectly happy to create a two-tier system in which projects with enough lobbyists or political supporters can get on the fast track, while other projects get stuck in the slow lane.”
  • “Certainly it will be difficult to craft a sensible, reasonable reform package that maintains the fundamental purpose of CEQA, which is to ensure that decision-makers have the analysis and public feedback they need to make intelligent choices.”
  • “Brown himself has said that CEQA reform is “the Lord’s work.” But it seems he and his colleagues in Sacramento are more interested in using their power to grant exemptions rather than to fix the underlying problems.”

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment.  www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

In Case You Missed It: Riverside Press Enterprise and Orange County Register Editorial: “CEQA used as legal ‘greenmail’” 7/6/15

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July 7  |  Editorials, News, Press Releases  |   user

The Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise today editorialized against CEQA exemptions given by the CA Legislature in this year’s state budget to politically connected projects.

The editorials say:  “If the law is not good enough for professional sports teams and politically connected developers, then it is not good enough for anyone else.”

The CEQA Working Group believes CEQA needs to be updated to stamp out abuses. It has become an annual ritual for politically connected projects to be granted legislatively sanctioned CEQA exemptions. CEQA needs reform to prevent the law from being abused for non-environmental reasons. The law should work for everyone and reforms to CEQA should benefit all projects, not just those with political connections.  

Read the full editorial,CEQA used as legal ‘greenmail” Below are key excerpts:

  • “California has earned a notorious reputation for fickle policymaking and unequal application of the law, from targeted tax breaks for politically favored industries such as green energy and Hollywood to special exemptions from major regulations like the California Environmental Quality Act.”
  • “…not all laws are applied equally, and special interests have used CEQA to serve their interests, which oftentimes have nothing to do with the environment.”
  • “Unions have often held projects hostage through CEQA lawsuits to demand concessions… thus driving up construction costs even more.”
  • “Businesses have used the law to keep out potential competitors, and local governments and neighborhood groups have used the law as leverage to compel developers to build additional facilities or features on their wish lists.”
  • “CEQA might have been implemented with noble intentions, but capricious application of the law is no rule of law at all.”

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment.

www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

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In Case You Missed It: So Cal Assn of Governments in LA Times: “CEQA should be for everyone”

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June 19  |  News, News Articles, Press Releases  |   user

Lack of Comprehensive CEQA Reforms Results in another Round of Legislative Exemptions for Special Projects

A story in today’s Los Angeles Times,Development deals tied to state budget sidestep ‘green’ rules,” highlights what unfortunately has become an annual tradition in Sacramento: favored projects getting special legislation to exempt them from certain CEQA rules.

Hasan Ikhrata, executive director, Southern California Association of Governments (and CEQA Working Group member) put it best: “It’s not fair, simply because if you have resources and money, you can get things done. You can get people to lobby for you…. CEQA should be for everyone.”

The CEQA Working Group has long maintained that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), California’s premiere environmental law, needs updating. Too often the law is abused for non-environmental reasons by NIMBY’s and others, and their abuses jeopardize much-needed projects.  The law should apply equally to all projects, even smaller projects like infill, low-income housing, senior housing and transit projects, not just those who have backers with enough money to hire lobbyists. 

It’s time for the legislature to modernize CEQA and even the playing field instead of giving exemptions to special projects.

Read the full article, Development deals tied to state budget sidestep ‘green’ rules

Below are key excerpts,

  • “After returning to the governor’s office, [Jerry Brown] vowed to ease California’s landmark environmental restrictions, saying it would be ‘the Lord’s work.’”
  • “… Brown and Democratic lawmakers have instead struck deals giving special consideration to certain projects rather than confront the political difficulties of overhauling the law.”
  • “‘The administration continues to support comprehensive CEQA reform, but in the meantime we are not going to pass up opportunities to achieve targeted reforms, like getting key water projects done in the face of California’s drought crisis,’ Westrup said in a statement Thursday.”
  • “‘Picking and choosing favorite projects is not good policy,’ said Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus)”

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment. www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

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Sonoma Index-Tribune Editorial: Is county ‘housing crisis’ caused by environmental-review abuse? 5/15/15

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May 15  |  Editorials, News  |   user

“If you build it they will come” is the famous line from “Field of Dreams.”

But if Kevin Costner had been restricted by CEQA requirements, the 1989 let’s-build-a-ballpark-in-the-cornfield movie would’ve been a different story altogether.

CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, turned out to be the special guest at last week’s North Bay Housing Summit, where more than 300 stakeholders gathered at the Petaluma Sheraton for the North Bay Leadership Council’s event – put together in response to what NBLC officials have called a housing shortage crisis.

CEQA has emerged in recent years as something of a whipping boy for critics who say the law’s strict environmental review process stymies even environmentally sensitive development – in that legal challenges to CEQA-required environmental impact reports are frequently used to tie up housing proposals in the courts. It’s a move, critics say, less about genuine environmental concerns than simply intended to drain developers of time and money – and ultimately the desire – to see such projects through.

Like it or not, the “CEQA move” works. Sonoma Raceway’s recent bid to adjust its use permit drove barely a single lap before venue officials cooled their engines in the face of daunting legal challenges.

And many longtime champions of CEQA are now coming around to the idea that all too often its environmental protection ethos is being used as a property values protection ethos – by those “conservationists” most interested in conserving their quality of life in and around their property limits.

The California Environment Quality Act was groundbreaking state legislation when it passed in 1970, a mere eight years after Rachel Carson’s game-changing book “Silent Spring” brought the conservation movement to the mainstream. CEQA’s mandate was simple: any proposed project that could alter its surrounding environment would require an independent report on the project’s plan for mitigating that environmental footprint.

But over the course of the four decades since its enactment, a flurry of other environmental safeguards have come down the federal and state legislation pipe – many for good reason, but a mishmash nonetheless – making it relatively simple to challenge developments via claims of flawed EIRs. Concern over using CEQA to limit development – as opposed to ensuring development was eco-friendly, the law’s original intention – was pretty much a non-issue in the conservation-minded North Bay, until it became clear it was severely hampering another, perhaps more pressing, issue for local progressives: affordable housing.

At the Housing Summit, in fact, Sonoma County 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbitt called CEQA “one of the most abused acts” to come out of Sacramento.

“The idea of CEQA is a great one – in which people should be made aware of environmental impacts from any development project,” Rabbitt said. “But there is no such thing as a project that will have no footprint and CEQA should not be a tool to stop all projects from moving forward.”

Susan Gorin, 1st District Supe, stopped short of pinning it all on CEQA challenges, saying the county can’t “build its way” out of an affordable-housing shortage. “We need to elevate wages,” Gorin said.

She’s certainly right about that – and the county may be addressing that soon when it considers a $15 an hour living wage ordinance. But that doesn’t mean CEQA couldn’t use an update by the state Legislature. One idea to discourage frivolous CEQA lawsuits would be to allow defendants to recover attorney fees from plaintiffs in cases of particularly egregious challenges. (Currently only plaintiffs can recover attorney fees.)

Another proposal that deserves attention is to limit the standing of such lawsuits to litigation focused on environmental and planning law.

An Environmental Quality Act with teeth is a must, and there are ways to make CEQA stronger without gutting it.

Because if things stay as they are, to borrow another phrase from the Costner movie, Sonoma may never “go the distance” it needs to emerge from its “housing crisis.”

Full Editorial Here

Santa Rosa Press Democrat Opinion Editorial, Pete Parkinson & John Lowry: Close to Home: Facing our pressing housing needs 4/29/15

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April 30  |  News, News Articles  |   user

The two of us have spent several decades working on housing issues from different perspectives — one as a local government planning director and the other as a nonprofit housing builder. Despite our different perspectives, common themes have emerged, and we see several specific actions that can be taken to improve housing affordability.

Cities and counties can help “front-load” the planning and permitting process by adopting neighborhood-level development plans in areas suitable for increased housing density and infill development. Known as specific plans, these long-range planning tools are more than a zoning map. A good specific plan spells out design requirements for buildings, amenities and infrastructure, shows how improvements will be financed and includes an upfront environmental clearance under the California Environmental Quality Act. This planning increases predictability for future housing providers and reduces the time and cost of the permitting process. Santa Rosa’s specific plan efforts are a good example. The state Legislature and governor can help jump-start these planning efforts by increasing funding for long range planning.

The state Legislature can provide immediate help by improving California’s environmental review process. A recent study showed that nearly 60 percent of CEQA lawsuits were filed against infill development projects. The costs of CEQA litigation — in time and money — can be devastating for an affordable housing project. We believe the CEQA process can be streamlined without compromising environmental quality. The existing CEQA exemptions for infill housing projects can be expanded. Reforms also are needed to reduce the ability of housing opponents to raise last-minute CEQA issues as a delay tactic.

A candid conversation about development impact fees is overdue. In the nearly 40 years since Proposition 13, impact fees have become an important funding source for public infrastructure. They are also the most regressive revenue source in our history. In many places, all units, from mansions to studio apartments, pay almost the same fees. While reducing fees on all housing, like Santa Rosa has done recently with its sewer and water fees, would be beneficial for housing supply, the fee burden is greatest for smaller units. We should move to a fee based on living area for higher density, low-income affordable housing.

We have seen a dramatic increase in regulatory complexity and the cost of compliance. New regulations affecting land development and building construction are added every year. These regulations originate from a worthwhile purpose, whether it’s health and safety, energy conservation, environmental protection or accessibility and equity. But compliance comes at a cost that is seldom, if ever, acknowledged at the state level. We believe that the cost of compliance should be considered for all new regulations, including the relationship between benefits and costs.While public funding, loan guarantees and tax breaks have a long history in providing low income housing and home ownership opportunities, we are in a time where even greater public commitment is needed.

There is resistance to this policy direction, and the question of why government needs to commit more public money to housing is a legitimate one. One answer is that government has restricted housing supply to accomplish other public policy goals and has used new housing to fund everything from public infrastructure to saving endangered species and reducing global warming; and the bill has come due. Another answer is that while housing supply must be increased, Sonoma County, as with most coastal areas, will never build its way out of the affordability crisis. Incomes of lower income people have not kept up with actual building costs. If wage stagnation is a long-term trend, the most effective way to prevent it from reducing more people to poverty, will be to make sure that we have decent housing for all.

Pete Parkinson is former director of Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Management Department. John Lowry is former executive director of Santa Rosa-based Burbank Housing Corp.

Full Opinion Editorial

San Jose Mercury News Editorial: Suspend CEQA for water recycling in San Jose and Silicon Valley 4/28/15

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April 30  |  Editorials, News  |   user

San Jose and Santa Clara pay a fortune to purify wastewater — really purify it — and then spill most of it away.

We can’t afford to do that any more. Water is too precious, and the alternatives, like desalination, are even more expensive and potentially polluting. Silicon Valley needs a system to re-use treated water that exceeds state standards for drinking. The technology is proven. Orange County residents have been drinking recycled water for seven years.

A coalition including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino and Santa Clara Valley Water District President Gary Kremen are leading the charge for an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to help speed construction of an $800 million comprehensive purification system so recycled water can be percolated back into the ground for general use.

If the exemption is granted, it easily could shave two years and $3 million in costs from what otherwise is expected to be a 10-year project. Two years will be critical if what we now see as a devastating drought proves to be the new normal for California’s climate.

The state should grant the exemption. As Guardino argues, if it can exempt a planned NFL stadium near Los Angeles from CEQA, surely it can exempt a project to deal with what Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

Environmentalists are lining up to oppose the CEQA exemption, even though they say they favor using recycled water. They want to preserve the detailed review of construction plans for the plant and pipe systems. Given the urgency of shoring up our water supply, it’s a weak argument.

The plan eventually could supply 20 percent of Santa Clara County’s water needs. Today only 5 percent of treated water is recycled, and only for landscaping, so it requires a whole separate, multimillion dollar system of distinguishable “purple pipe” to distribute it.

Public officials will need to combat the yuck factor in drinking recycled water: Yes, it comes from toilets, showers, dishwashers and the like, along with surface runoff into storm sewers. But by the time it goes through purification and then seeps from percolation ponds through the soil to replenish groundwater, it will be every bit as pure as the water we now drink. Remember, percolation ponds are home to fish, birds and all kinds of, um, polluting creatures now. Soil is an effective purifier.

We like to see Silicon Valley lead in innovation, but it’s following in this case. Not only Orange County but El Paso, Texas, is using or planning to use recycled water. Some East Bay communities that proposed it several years ago — when it still used to rain — are reviving proposals.

Valley leaders are showing courage to take this on. The Legislature and the governor need to help by granting a CEQA exemption.

Full Editorial Here