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CEQA reform is as needed as it’s ever been

 

The California Environmental Quality Act has a noble purpose. Signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the landmark environmental protection statute is intended to ensure the public is aware of the impacts of proposed projects and that deleterious impacts are appropriately mitigated. However, it has long been evident the law is being abused by NIMBYs and is in need of reform.

A report published a couple of weeks ago by the California Business Roundtable and written by attorney Jennifer Hernandez of Holland & Knight underscores the harms of CEQA abuse.

“Nearly half of new housing units in 2020 were targets of CEQA lawsuits,” the report notes. In total, 47,999 housing units were hit with challenges across the state that year alone.

In addition, “thousands more were blocked in CEQA lawsuits challenging upzoning in communities to allow more housing, including near transit.”

While, on the one hand, California’s high housing costs reflect the high demand from people who want to live in this state, these high costs also reflect the limited and strained supply of housing.

The threat and reality of often frivolous CEQA lawsuits are certainly part of the problem.

To the latter point, the report notes that “Only 13% of lawsuits were filed by environmental organizations that existed prior to filing their CEQA lawsuit.”

“NIMBYs, bounty hunters (lawyers seeking quick cash settlements), economic competitors, and labor unions dominated the ranks of those filing CEQA lawsuits,” Hernandez notes.

This is untenable, given the much-talked-about housing crisis that imposes prohibitively high costs on housing across California.

While California has rightly taken steps to ease land-use restrictions and exempt certain types of projects from CEQA, it’s time for the Legislature to stop merely acknowledging the problem of abusive CEQA lawsuits and actually do something about it.

“California is losing people, and the people being expelled are our families, our kids and grandkids, our favorite young teacher, our most compassionate nurse, our lifeline electricians and carpenters, our first responders, and our future caregivers,” argues Hernandez.

That’s right.  And for what? So lawyers can make a quick buck and special interests can hold up projects they don’t like?

High housing costs are harming future generations of Californians and contributing to escalating wealth inequality in what’s said to be a progressive state.

The time for the California to act on CEQA reform is now.

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