Press Releases

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. 

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: 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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In Case You Missed It: California Legislative Analyst Report Says California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a Major Reason for High Housing Costs in California. 3/17/15

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March 17  |  News, Press Releases  |   user

LAO Report Recommends “Major Changes” to CEQA to Address California’s High Housing Costs

SACRAMENTO—In a new report released today, California High Housing Costs Causes & Consequences, the California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) cites the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a major impediment to building enough housing in California. The LAO says CEQA is a factor in California’s lack of housing supply, which leads to higher housing costs that burden working families and low income residents, and serve as a drag on our economy.

The LAO goes on to recommend, among other policy reforms, “major changes” to CEQA in order “to address California’s high housing costs.”

Today’s LAO report is further evidence that California needs to modernize CEQA in order to preserve the law’s original intent of environmental protection, while stamping out unnecessary abuses that have little to do with the environment.  

Key Excerpts from the Report:

  • “…CEQA’s complicated procedural requirements give development opponents significant opportunities to continue challenging housing projects after local governments have approved them.” Pg. 15
  • “Our review of CEQA documents submitted to the state by California’s ten largest cites between 2004-2013 indicates that local agencies took, on average, around two and a half years to approve housing projects that required an EIR. Pg. 18
  • “The CEQA process also, in some cases, results in developers reducing the size and scope of a project in response to concerns discovered during the review process.” Pg. 18
  • “If California continues on its current path, the state’s housing costs will remain high and likely will continue to grow faster than the nation’s. This, in turn, will place substantial burdens on Californians— requiring them to spend more on housing, take on more debt, commute further to work, and live in crowded conditions. Growing housing costs also will place a drag on the state’s economy.” Pg. 34
  • “Given the magnitude of the problem, the Legislature would need to take a comprehensive approach that addresses the problem from multiple angles and reexamines major policies. Major changes to local government land use authority, local finance, CEQA, and other major polices would be necessary to address California’s high housing costs.” Pg. 35

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.

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In Case You Missed It: Los Angeles Newspaper Group Editorial: “Loss of Tesla factory should put a charge in CEQA reform”, 9/5/14

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September 9  |  News, Press Releases  |   user

SACRAMENTO – Last week the nine Southern California newspapers that make up the Los Angeles Newspaper Group editorialized their disappointment that California legislators ended yet another legislative year without accomplishing “meaningful changes in the California Environmental Quality Act.”

The editorial emphasized that the California legislature needs to use 2015 to pass “CEQA reform [that] would not eliminate environmental protections but would simplify and remove duplications, restrict last-minute challenges and clarify its requirements.” 

Below are excerpts from the editorial:

  • “CEQA’s purpose is noble…Too often, though, it is exploited by local governments, landowners, business rivals and labor unions to block projects they dislike or to add to their negotiating leverage.”
  • “Done right, CEQA reform would not eliminate environmental protections but would simplify and remove duplications, restrict last-minute challenges and clarify its requirements.”
  • “This would limit — preferably eliminate — the need for exemptions like the ones state officials have handed to projects like the bullet train and sports stadiums and arenas from Los Angeles to Sacramento.”
  • Lawmakers “failed completely on CEQA reform — again. Let’s make sure our lawmakers don’t forget the lessons of the Tesla mess when they set their agenda for 2015.”

About the CEQA Working Group:

The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition representing business, labor, schools, hospitals, clean tech, transit, affordable housing and other organizations that are pushing 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. Follow us on Twitter: @FixCEQA or online at www.CEQAWorkingGroup.com.

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Governor Brown / Neel Kashkari Agree on One Thing: CEQA Reform is Needed

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September 5  |  News, Press Releases  |   user

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2014                               

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916.443.0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO — Though they didn’t agree on much during last night’s gubernatorial debate, both candidates did agree on one thing: Governor Jerry Brown and Neel Kashkari acknowledged the need to reform California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). See 27:10 mark of last night’s debate.

“There is near universal agreement that CEQA is a good law that needs to be modernized,” said Carl Guardino, President & CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and member of the CEQA Working Group. “Legislative changes are needed to update CEQA so that we maintain its original intent – environmental protection – while stamping out abuses of the law that are hindering vital job creation and environmentally friendly projects. We look forward to working with lawmakers in 2015 to accomplish this important priority for California.”

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.

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In Case You Missed It: Los Angeles News Group and Bakersfield Californian Reiterate Support for CEQA Reform this Year, 5/6/13

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October 18  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 6, 2013

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

SACRAMENTO – In an editorial today, the Los Angeles Times advocated in favor of thoughtful reforms of CEQA that strike a balance between preserving environmental protections and curbing misuses of the law. Excerpts from the editorial are below. The full editorial can be read here.  The Times joins a growing chorus of newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform.

Los Angeles Times, Editorial, May 20, 2013, “Alter CEQA but don’t weaken it”

  • “Over the years, the law has successfully compelled many builders to improve their proposals, but it also has been used at times as a tool to stop development by opponents whose objectives have nothing to do with protecting the environment.”
  • “Perhaps the poster child for what riles CEQA’s critics is a gas station in San Jose whose owner won city approval to add a couple of pumps. A CEQA lawsuit brought by a competing gas station at the same intersection claimed that the extra pumps would create too much traffic — and held up the modest expansion for years.”
  • “Critics also point to what they call not-in-my-backyard lawsuits brought under CEQA to kill construction of housing for low-income senior citizens on a dilapidated corner in Berkeley, to keep a school from being renovated in El Cerrito and, last year, to keep the so-called subway to the sea from tunneling along its most logical route under Beverly Hills High School. Competitors have filed CEQA lawsuits to stop businesses from opening or expanding, and unions have filed suits on supposedly environmental grounds, only to withdraw them as soon as a labor agreement is reached with the developer.”
  • “Reforming the law, then, requires striking a delicate balance between preserving its protections and curbing its unnecessary job-killing costs and delays.”
  • “A bill (SB 731) that goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday might not resolve all the valid complaints about the law, but it moves the state in the right direction.” 

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CEQA Working Group Responds to End of Session CEQA Developments, 9/12/13

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September 13  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 12, 2013

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

SB 731 Turned into Two-Year Bill.  SB 743 Contains Only Minor Improvements.

The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, business, transportation, transit, schools, hospitals, and other organizations that have come together to work towards meaningful CEQA reform this year. The coalition issued the following statement in response to the end-of-session efforts to implement true CEQA reform.

Carl Guardino, President & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group:

“Senator Steinberg made the right choice by turning SB 731 into a two-year bill. The bill as it is currently written is not meaningful CEQA reform, and actually contains troublesome provisions that would increase opportunities for litigation and delays for worthy projects. We want to thank the Pro Tem, Assembly Speaker and the Governor for the time they have dedicated to this issue. In particular, we want to thank Senator Steinberg for taking on the difficult and thankless task.”

Gary Toebben, President  & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce:

“While we are disappointed we were not able to accomplish CEQA reform this year, we believe our coalition has been successful in raising awareness that CEQA needs to be modernized.  This resulted in a widespread consensus from editorial boards, lawmakers, and thought leaders from throughout California that we must preserve the law’s environmental protections, while reducing opportunities for meritless litigation and bureaucratic delays for projects that meet our state’s stringent environmental laws and regulations. While we appreciate the effort that went into SB 743, we want to be clear that this law represents only a very marginal improvement. It is not the comprehensive reform that we need to support environmentally responsible job-inducing projects that our state needs. We remain committed to achieving true CEQA reform and will continue to pursue this important and long-overdue task.”

 

In Case You Missed It: San Jose Mercury News Editorial: “CEQA Reform Must be Comprehensive,” 9/9/13

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September 9  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2013

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

SACRAMENTO – In a recent editorial, the San Jose Mercury News urged the legislature to pass comprehensive CEQA reform this session that will curb abuses of the law and benefits worthy projects statewide.

The Mercury News is one of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

San Jose Mercury News, Editorial, September 6, 2013, “CEQA Reform Must be Comprehensive”

  • “…CEQA is regularly abused. Labor unions use it to extract concessions from developers. NIMBYs use it to stop development in their backyards. And businesses use it to stop competitors from expanding. The law needs to be updated to help stop these abuses.”
  • “If special interests continue abusing CEQA, and if Sacramento continues giving exemptions to those it favors without reforming the law for all, public support of CEQA could falter over time. That could open the door to sweeping changes that would weaken CEQA’s valuable environmental protections, which truly would be harmful to California.”

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