Yet another housing development in Davis is being threatened with a lawsuit under CEQA. Almost every project in town has been sued by a small cadre of citizens, with Susan Rainier the most recent stalking horse. This group was first encouraged by a suit in the 1990s that was settled for more than $100,000 that went to two individuals. (Part of those funds went to start the “Flatlander.”) That pattern has been the modus operandi ever since.
The problem is that these individuals and organizations have rarely been meaningful participants in the planning and permitting process for these projects. A valuable CEQA reform would be to require that any litigant to participate in a meaningful way in the preparation of the EIR, and that the litigant include any document or discussion in the suit that is filed. The intent of litigation in CEQA was to act on a check on failing to address any concerns raised during the deliberative process–let’s make that the case.
The legitimate environmental concerns are to be addressed during the deliberative process. The potential litigants need to develop a record during the deliberative process that fully raises their concerns. A suit should be limited to the issues raised during that process, and the required evidence clearly specified during the process. The litigants can then more fully develop counter evidence in a suit if that is the final outcome.
Bay Area Economics conducted a study for the Rose Foundation that found that CEQA regulations have had no appreciable effect on economic growth in California.
Here’s a summary of the findings:
The report includes a number of significant findings, including:
- There is no quantitative evidence that CEQA has a retarding effect on the state’s economic prosperity.
- Legislative changes to CEQA aimed at streamlining the CEQA process to encourage infill development are working. In San Francisco, only 14 environmental impact reports were prepared in the last three years. In that time, 100 projects proceeded with CEQA exemptions or expedited review.
- Despite rapid population growth and development, the number of CEQA lawsuits statewide has remained constant over the past 14 years. Between 2013 and 2015, legal challenges were filed in 0.7 percent of projects subject to CEQA review.
- Less than one percent of projects subject to CEQA review face litigation.
- Direct costs for complete environmental reviews under CEQA typically range from 0.025% to 0.5% of total development costs.
- California is the 11th most densely populated state in the nation. Its urban areas compare favorably to cities around the country with regard to the rate of infill vs. greenfield development.
- The state’s largest cities show ongoing improvement in walkability. California is home to 12 of the nation’s 50 most walkable cities.
- CEQA does not hamper the development of affordable housing in urban areas. Although the need to provide more affordable housing in California is undisputed, when compared to other states, California produces the second highest number of affordable housing units per 100,000 residents in the nation.