Skip to comments.CA: Moves abound to change environmental law to build more housing (CEQA)
Posted on 04/03/2005 3:38:22 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
SACRAMENTO (AP) - California's housing shortage, which has pushed median home prices above $470,000, is spurring a variety of moves to change the state's 35-year-old environmental protection law, long considered the nation's toughest.
Attempts by the state's home building industry to change the 1970 law, signed by former Gov. Ronald Reagan, are nothing new, but this year Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a growing list of Democrats are joining in. Key lawmakers are pushing bills to make it easier for developers to maneuver around the law, especially to build housing in downtowns and older urban neighborhoods.
The growing momentum to change the California Environmental Quality Act sets up a clash between business and environmental interests in a state with some of the nation's highest priced homes and lowest rates of homeownership. A majority of Californians can no longer afford to buy homes, prompting some lawmakers to lament their generation may be the state's first unable to provide a better life for its children.
Although environmental groups have given Schwarzenegger's early moves high marks, the governor is expected to unveil proposals to ease current CEQA rules and make it harder to use the law to stop residential construction projects. A draft version of the bill would limit the ability of opponents to file some lawsuits and would streamline the regulatory process for developers in areas already planned and zoned for housing.
Earlier this year Schwarzenegger called home ownership "part of the American Dream" and promised to eliminate "regulatory and legal hurdles that delay construction and increase the costs."
His proposal also expands on recommendations made by the California Performance Review study Schwarzenegger started last year. The review's report said CEQA creates "too many opportunities for blocking projects for non-environmental considerations" and that neighborhood opposition groups especially use it to block multifamily apartment projects.
Builders and their allies provided key input to the CPR panel and also to a 41-member Resources Agency advisory group regarding the draft legislation.
Although many of the proposals are aimed at limiting the sprawl of housing to empty farmland, environmental groups fear the proposals will change the law so much that it will actually foster more sprawl instead of more housing in urban areas. On the defensive, they're highlighting the act's success stories and preparing for battle in the Legislature.
"If builders get their way, ordinary Californians are going to be sitting in traffic even longer and living further out and having fewer options," said Karen Douglas, attorney for the Planning and Conservation League, a lobbying coalition of environmental groups. Because the law requires detailed studies of a development's potential effects on its surroundings, it "has made the state better."
Developer groups don't argue the law's benefits. Instead, they say it's been twisted by NIMBY - "not in my back yard" - groups to shrink development proposals by forcing extra environmental studies. Such delays - a new environmental impact report can cost up to $200,000 and take 18 months - sometimes make developers just walk away.
A handful of law firms have used it to stall many of the 40 Wal-Mart Supercenters planned in California. Developers building housing subdivisions on empty land also find themselves wrangling with lawsuits alleging insufficient environmental studies.
Some of the tactics led Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a Democrat who was staunch defender of the law when he was governor of California from 1975 to 1983, to push for a new law to restrict opponents' ability to use it to block downtown Oakland housing projects.
The problem isn't the law but those who abuse it, said Tim Coyle, the top lobbyist for the California Building Industry Association.
Coyle said legislators, many of them former city council members, complain to him that the law "keeps getting in the way of urban revitalization projects and neighborhood restoration projects."
Last year, California developers built 211,000 new homes and apartments, and expect to reach a similar target this year. But that's still 80,000 short of demand for a two-year span, they say. As prices of existing homes reached a median price last month of $471,620 - where half cost more and half cost less - fewer than one in four households could afford one, reports the California Association of Realtors.
"We're killing the most fundamental goal or objective of every middle-class Californian - owning a home," said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.
Perata wants more central city and downtown housing projects declared off limits to CEQA challenges and has introduced a bill greatly expanding the acreage and number of homes that qualify. The bill is part of a package of anti-sprawl legislation that Perata said will be a top Senate priority this year.
Other lawmakers have followed suit. Bills awaiting their first hearings would allow builders to use "short form" environmental reports in areas already planned and zoned for homes, make those who file CEQA lawsuits disclose their backers and their economic or other interest in the project.
Another would exempt some downtown residential projects from traffic impact studies.
"There are plenty of situations, in Sacramento and elsewhere in the state, where smart growth, infill housing developments, which are designed to give people an option to live close to work and where they shop, are faced with significant traffic mitigation requirements," said its author, Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento.
In Sacramento, opponents recently used the act to delay a 119-apartment project just blocks from a downtown light rail line and within walking distance of thousands of jobs.
Despite some of the complaints, the law's defenders said its benefits are too great to ignore.
It's not perfect, because any law that opens the way for lawsuit can be abused, said Sean Hecht, executive director of the Environmental Law Center at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
"The fact that some people might frivolously file employment discrimination lawsuits when there's been no discrimination doesn't mean we throw out employment law. I see CEQA the same," he said. "Like any good law, it's done some really important things for our state."
Read the bills, SB948, SB832, SB785, SB427, AB648 and AB1387 at http://www.legislature.ca.gov
Planning and Conservation League: http://www.pcl.org
California Building Industry Association: http://cbia.org
The Associated Press
Proposals to spur more housing by changing the 1970-era California Environmental Quality Act
--- - AB648, By Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento: Makes cities considering development projects subject to CEQA analysis identify the eventual owner or user of the project.
- AB1387, by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento: Allows housing projects proposed in downtown or central city neighborhoods to be approved without analyzing traffic impacts if they comply with traffic and transportation policies in the city's zoning and growth plans.
- SB427, by Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-La Mesa: Exempts new freeway overpasses, on ramps and off ramps proposed on existing Caltrans property from undergoing an environmental analysis.
- SB785, by Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge: Requires groups that use the environmental quality act to sue development projects to list all people, associations, partnerships or corporations involved and their financial interest in the controversy or other interest that could be affected by the outcome.
- SB832, by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland: Greatly expands areas of central city development exempt from CEQA requirements. Would include projects under 10 acres with fewer than 300 homes in cities with more than 200,000 residents.
- SB948, by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City: Allows home builders to prepare a short-form environmental impact report rather than expensive full-blown report for residential projects inside cities or unincorporated areas already planned and zoned for houses. Cites the state's housing shortage and need to remove regulatory barriers.
- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Working on draft legislation that says developers who build homes on land already planned and zoned for housing - and analyzed earlier for environmental effects - would not have to do more analyses for impacts. It would also limit lawsuits to whether the project is consistent with growth plans
Supporters of the environmental act point to numerous "success stories:"
- In 2002, the Antioch City Council shelved a 2,700-acre residential-commercial project near Antioch when the environmental impact report showed it would add 14,000 more car trips to Highway 4.
- In 2003, Hercules developers planning a 123-home project on an old industrial site agreed to more extensive soil sampling tests after newly required environmental studies raised concerns about toxic soils.
- In 2003, Lockheed Martin dropped plans for 18,000 homes and two golf courses in Riverside County's Portrero Valley after a Sierra Club lawsuit proved its environmental impact report inadequate. The land eventually became part of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.
- In 2003, Dow Chemical agreed to 30 measures to reduce emissions from a proposed pesticide manufacturing plant in Pittsburg, and agreed to donate $1 million for environmental projects after a lawsuit challenged the city's approval of the plant without environmental studies.
- In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles abandoned plans to tear down St. Vibiana's Cathedral after courts forced further environmental studies. The archdiocese eventually sold the property to a developer who began a seismic retrofit of the building.
Critics of how the environmental act is used cite examples of abuse:
- In 2003, an environmental lawsuit seeking new traffic impact and air quality studies blocked construction for several months on a 119-unit residential building near a light rail station in downtown Sacramento and within walking distance of thousands of jobs.
- In 2004, environmental lawsuits halted construction on a Bakersfield Wal-Mart Supercenter and blocked the start of construction on a second Supercenter. Developer attorneys, who allege that competitors and labor unions are behind the lawsuits, say delays could range from two to four years.
- In 1994, an environmental lawsuit caused a 1 1/2-year delay for a 40-apartment, low-income housing project approved by the city of West Hollywood for people with AIDS.
- In 1992, an environmental lawsuit produced a 2 1/2-year delay for a low-income housing project in Fairfax.
- In 2000, an environmental lawsuit added six years to the time line to build a 566-lot, equestrian-themed subdivision in rural El Dorado County.
Sources: California Building Industry Association; attorneys for Castle and Cooke, Inc.; Planning and Conservation League; California League of Conservation Voters.
They'd better change the environmental restrictions and delays on power plants while they're at it. The last thing they need is more houses and less power.
"The growing momentum to change the California Environmental Quality Act sets up a clash between business and environmental interests in a state with some of the nation's highest priced homes and lowest rates of homeownership.....
Say, what about the people whose houses are increasing in value by 20% every year? I would say they have a horse in this race, although not a very attractive one.
Reforming the law is against my financial interest. Reform it anyway.
In short, the whole point is to make life more convenient for the rich.
I have always found it amusing that the people who sue to keep others from building homes already own their own homes. It is rather self serving to keep the available number of homes small. That causes the value of the existing homes to rise dramatically, and makes their own homes worth more.
What it means is you will be able to afford some furniture while you pay $3,000 a month for your mortgage.
Orange county California is such a place! (ROTFLMAO - We only have one IKEA and it's 15 minutes away ~ my house has tripled in price in 4 years).
They need to pass some new law to increase the amount of daylight while not letting it get too hot, and rain only in the early morning and not at all on
If the "Environmentalists" are for it, oppose it.
If the "Environmentalsts" are against it, support it.
Never give money (or anything else) to an "Environmentalist Charity".
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
Just east of San Diego, there is open land up the wazoooo. But .. there also happens to be a teeny-tiny butterfly who lives there.
Guess who gets the property ..?? It's not the humans.
My suggestion was - since we have a world renowed ZOO - why not prepare a habitat for the butterfly there and allow a lot more people to see them - leaving the land for PEOPLE.
What I always find extremely amusing is that the same far-left nuts who try to halt every building project for the sake of "the environment" also complain that the lack of "affordable housing" hurts the poor that they care so much about. Instead of admitting that there is a problem, they blame some big business conspiracy and try to mandate construction of affordable homes. The simple principle of supply and demand is out of their intellectual grasp. I know, I'm related to leftist nuts.
OTOH, I sold my house in California not so long ago. I'm not complaining. :)
We talkin growth here? Or are we talkin old growth??
Arnold knows on which side his Broad is buttered.
Infill. It's Sustainable Development.
Neither place was larger than 2000 sqaure feet.
My house an hour west of Chicago is about 1700 sf, and just appraised at 170K.
There's something wrong with this picture...
Sugar Daddy Government
A new generation of billionaires is remaking American cities. The cities are better off; the democratic process sometimes suffers.
From Governings June 2004 issue
By JOHN BUNTIN
Other cities exhibit similar ambivalence toward their current billionaire benefactors. Los Angeles is feeling it about Eli Broad, the citys second-richest man, who led the homebuilders Kauffman and Broad (now KB Homes) and the annuity giant [AIG] Sun America. Broad, 71, is a native New Yorker, the son of staunchly Democratic lower-middle-class parents who, in his words, was raised on this rhetoric of the poor workers and the big bad bosses.
While Broad made much of his fortune building suburban tract houses, he has also made a major effort to strengthen central Los Angeles, arguing that no city in world history has been great without a center. In the late 70s, he took the lead in creating the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. More recently, he stepped in to rescue the faltering downtown Disney Concert Hall project, and adjudicated a longstanding dispute between the city and Los Angeles County over development plans for Grand Avenue, a downtown boulevard that Broad is determined to transform into Los Angeles Champs-Elysees.
Meanwhile, Broad has used his money to alter the course of city electoral politics. Two years ago, when communities in the San Fernando Valley considered seceding from Los Angeles, he attempted to reconcile the warring camps. When that effort failed, he contributed handsomely to a successful media campaign aimed at defeating the secession movement in a referendum.
At the same time, he has emerged as an often-controversial power behind the scenes in the citys school policy decisions. In 1999, Broad helped engineer a takeover of the L.A. school board. Along with Mayor Richard Riordan, he created a new school pressure group, the Coalition for Kids, and contributed more than $200,000 to its slate of candidates. The Coalitions slate swept into office, defeating three incumbents. Two years later, Broad and Riordan pressured one board member to scale down a teacher salary increase, and then, when she refused, contributed to a candidate who ousted her in the next election. Broad is said to have dangled $10 million before the president of Occidental College in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to run against another school board member.
All this involvement in local politics has generated a backlash, notwithstanding the general good feeling about Broads charitable efforts. Broad has become a target for criticism not only from teachers unions but also from the Los Angeles Times, which has published accusations that Broad profited from school board construction decisions and improperly lobbied the school board to build yet another Broad project: a fancy new arts high school downtown.
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