“Quite frequently, it is in the best interest for project organizers to pay off the people opposing the project, instead of going through the lawsuit and delay…. And understand that these groups claim they are speaking for you.” [Josh Albrektson, Market Urbanism Report] Earlier on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) here.
A highly placed Democrat in Sacramento is acknowledging the problems with the state’s environmental-review law, which empowers complainants to stop, slow down or drive up the cost of new development projects. Among those who’ve learned to turn CEQA to their own uses: NIMBY-minded neighbors, business competitors seeking to hobble rivals, and unions looking for a shakedown tool. [Los Angeles Times]
Following up on last week’s post, Gideon Kanner calls our attention to this summer’s case of Clover Valley Foundation v. City of Rocklin. As Prof. Kanner wrote at the time in the L.A. Daily Journal:
This was a lawsuit challenging a housing project on environmental grounds some 30 years after the subject property was zoned for housing development, 20 years after the developer’s request for a permit, and after 10 years of planning and environmental review, plus a nearly one-half reduction in the number of permitted dwellings, a five-fold increase in open space, and after millions of dollars were exacted for in-lieu payments. The city approved the project in 2007.
Then the NIMBYs attacked in court. To its credit, the court in effect said “enough already” and rejected the NIMBY challenge. But the court also said that this was a case in which environmental laws “worked.” I would hate to see what it would take for their Lordships to acknowledge a case in which those laws didn’t work.
For more of a flavor of the Clover Valley case, see the write-up from the Meyers Nave law firm.
Many attorneys, planners, architects, engineers, scientists, developers, small businesses, business associations and governments in the state, and many environmentalists are agreed that CEQA needs major reform. Delays in the system are causing projects to suffer delays of 2 to 9 years to get EIRs approved, especially for (but not limited to) the failure to compare the project with all “feasible” alternatives, establish vague baseline analysis for existing mitigation, and the tricky determination as to which parts of regional, general and specific plan EIR findings can be incorporated, to eliminate duplication of effort and cost. The law is so confused on these points that it is a miracle that any EIR can survive its first round in the courts without a remand to do it over again. Complicating this result is the establishment of a specialized group of attorneys that initiate litigation at the drop of a hat, primarily because the statute authorizes attorney’s fees for any remand or reversal. Many community associations and no growth environmentalists use the EIR litigation process to delay and in many cases kill projects for little or no environmental substance.
- California delay: “NIMBYs get to file until 90 days ‘after the current state of emergency ends.” In other words, no one can know when they are free to build so the law could put every CA construction project that hasn’t already past CEQA review into limbo.’ [Alex Tabarrok, earlier on CEQA] “San Francisco Bureaucrats Can Shoot Down Almost Any Housing Project They Want. This Ballot Initiative Would Change That.” [Christian Britschgi]
- Local building-stopping regs have national economic implications: “If America’s three most productive cities relaxed their planning regulations to the same level as the median U.S. city, real per capita income [for *all* Americans] would rise by about 8.2%.” Conversely: “If you were to force America’s 11 largest cities to be no larger than Miami, real income per American would fall by 7.9%.” [Tyler Cowen]
- In western U.S., value of implicit firefighting subsidy “can exceed 20% of a home’s value… and decreases surprisingly steeply with development density” [Patrick Baylis, Judson Boomhower, NBER]
- Review of “Order Without Design” by Alain Bertaud [Scott Beyer]
- Not new, but well worth a read: overlap between libertarian and Strong Towns ideas [Andrew Burleson, 2013]
- “‘I asked the park representatives if there was any way we could negotiate on this, and they told me, “The time for talking is over. We’re taking this property.”‘” Bike path eminent domain [Steve Malanga, WSJ/Manhattan Institute]
- NYC landmark decree will strangle famed Strand used bookstore, says owner [Nancy Bass Wyden, New York Daily News, Nick Gillespie, Reason, earlier] NIMBY resistance to Dupont Circle project behind Masonic Temple insists on preserving views that weren’t there until fairly recently [Nick Sementelli, Greater Greater Washington]
- “Barcelona city hall has finally issued a work permit for the unfinished church designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí, 137 years after construction started on the Sagrada Família basilica.” [AP/Guardian] At least they’re not in one of the American towns and cities that would make them tear down work outside the scope of permit before proceeding;
- FHA lending tilts heavily toward detached single-family housing over condos, encouraging sprawl [Scott Beyer]
- “San Francisco’s Regulations Are the Cause of Its Housing Crisis” [Beyer]
- “What Should I Read to Understand Zoning?” [Nolan Gray, Market Urbanism]
- I think we can all guess which union was not cut into a share of the work in this Bay Area housing development [Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside (Laborers union files CEQA suit), Christian Britschgi, Reason]
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other California laws are notorious for delaying and driving up the cost of building projects. Aside from their uses for neighbors pursuing Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) goals, the environmental laws are also employed for leverage by labor unions who threaten to invoke them “to stop new construction unless they get a cut of the action. One developer is fighting back.” [Scott Shackford, earlier on CEQA]
The California Public Utilities Commission has voted to approve a $7.6 million dollar fine levied against ride-sharing app provider Uber “for not adequately reporting legally-demanded data on its service to the disabled.” The paperwork dispute is distinct from any actual proceedings over claims of service denial. [Brian Doherty, Reason; earlier and related on what Doherty calls California’s “regulatory war on Uber” here (employee status of drivers), here (CEQA), etc.]
- Availability of Uber and Lyft at LAX airport tied up in lawsuits including one filed under CEQA, the California environmental-review law often used tactically to delay projects [Los Angeles Times]
- Twenty years after his classic contrarian article on recycling, John Tierney returns with another close look at its pros and cons [New York Times] Quit scapegoating plastic bags, they carry enough weight as it is [Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason, related]
- California class action: Reynolds should have disclosed formaldehyde in vaping [Winston-Salem Journal] Authors of widely noted New England Journal of Medicine formaldehyde/vaping paper got “philanthropy to support research” from two big-league trial lawyers [NEJM paper, disclosure form, Joseph Nocera January, related April, August and recent New York Times columns, Michael Siegel]
- Federal court blocks EPA’s hotly disputed Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) rule [Jonathan Adler; National Wildlife Federation (pro-rule); Todd Gaziano and M. Reed Hopper, PLF (against), American Farm Bureau Federation (same)]
- Environmental law firm intervenes in Louisiana governor’s race to tune of $1.1 million [Greater Baton Rouge Business Report]
- Same state: “BP oil spill settlement to reimburse millions Louisiana paid to politically connected law firms” [Kyle Barnett, Louisiana Record]
- Government subsidies for rebuilding hurricane-prone areas disproportionately aid the wealthy [Chris Edwards, Cato]
- Study: California’s high-profile CEQA environmental-review law is used heavily against public, not just private projects, particularly environmental, transit, and renewable-energy projects [Holland & Knight; more, George Skelton, L.A. Times] Estimate: needless delays in infrastructure permitting methods cost U.S. economy $3.7 trillion [Common Good]
- “‘[F]ive White Pelicans, twenty (regular old) Ducks, two Northern Shoveler Ducks, four Double Crested Cormorants, one Lesser Scaup Duck, one Black-Bellied Whistling Tree Duck, one Blue-Winged Teal Duck, and one Fulvous Whistling Tree Duck’ met their untimely end in an open oil tank owned by CITGO. Did CITGO ‘take’ these birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918? Fifth Circuit: There’s a circuit split, but we say no.” [John Ross, Institute for Justice “Short Circuit”]
- Judge: no, “waters of the United States” don’t include dry land over which water sometimes flows [Andrew Grossman, Cato]
- Just as we were getting ready with jokes about a wind shortage comes word that maybe there isn’t one [Tyler Cowen, AWEA blog]
- After the West’s outrage-binge over lion trophy hunting, African villagers feel the repercussions: “Now they are going back to hating animals.” [New York Times]
- “Solyndra: A Case Study in Green Energy, Cronyism, and the Failure of Central Planning” [David Boaz, Cato]
- Serving municipal water without charges makes for both an economic and an environmental fiasco. Who will tell that to Ireland’s #right2water marchers? [Telesur TV, Charles Fishman/National Geographic]