Amending CEQA law to counter trivial lawsuits while protecting the environment

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill, SB 731, which proposes to address some of the more infamous loopholes in state environmental law. CEQA law currently mandates that major developments have a respective environmental impact report which addresses potential harm to the environment. This law is very noble and has allowed for cleaner development projects throughout the state. It's roots must be maintained. However, it is a clear fact that this landmark legislation has been misused by various opposing parties of many projects; such NIMBY groups exploit loopholes to delay or stop projects through the judicial system while their notions have nothing to do with protecting the long term welfare of the environment.

As reported earlier, NIMBY opposition has placed an indefinite delay on the Metrolink Perris Valley line extension when a judge tossed out the project's EIR over trivial concerns on May 16, 2013. According to a May 20, 2013 Los Angeles Times editorial and information from CEQA Working Group, there are several other cases of CEQA abuse:

  • A local gas station owner in San Jose wanted to install three additional gas pumps at his gas station and received city approval to do so. A competing gas station owner filed a CEQA lawsuit, demanding an EIR over frivolous traffic concerns. The gas pumps were then delayed for years and ended up costing the owner approximately $500,000 in added costs to fight the lawsuit and complete the EIR.
  • Sacramento Senior Homes, infill senior housing development in Berkeley - NIMBY opposition foolishly claims the development was not  “visually compatible with its surroundings”. The property was previously an abandoned storefront; so the development was actually a significant “visual” improvement. The NIMBY's lost in court, but the suit placed $3 million in extra costs for the project and an extra $2 million in taxpayer expenses, enough money to build a second development.
  • A school renovation project in the San Francisco Bay area - delayed for 4 years by frivolous CEQA litigation. The NIMBY's lost, but the taxpayer bill was at least $10 million.
  • LA Metro Purple Line subway toward the sea extension - CEQA abuse is evident where NIMBY opposition aims to prevent the subway extension from crossing under Beverly Hills High School.

To be fair, there are cases where certain elements of CEQA needs to be maintained to control runaway urban sprawl. The Villages at Lakeview and Travertine Point are two prime examples. The former rightly got it's EIR struck down in court; the latter, currently opposed by The Transit Coalition, is facing a legit CEQA suit.

We will keep a close watch on Steinberg's bill which we hope will give the state a strong policy to protect the environment while closing up loopholes to stop NIMBY abuse.