By Kim Murphy
Murphy & Murphy 

Real Estate Round-Up: C-what?


Last updated 6/24/2019 at 3:07pm

The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, is a well-intentioned platform to protect the environment. The California Environmental Quality Act was passed in 1970, shortly after the United States government passed the National Environmental Policy Act.

It was created to have a statewide policy of environmental protection. CEQA requires state and local agencies to follow specific analysis and provide public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts.

As a result of CEQA, environmental protection is a mandatory part of every California state and public decision-making process. It does not directly regulate land use.

It has been used to block, downsize, delay or gain other concessions from new development. Ironically, many of these projects were created to specifically advance California’s environmental policy objectives.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of protecting the environment, I think of clean air and water. At the base of the conversation, it is that simple.

The funny thing is that the most frequently challenged projects, in the name of CEQA, are projects that would help the environment. Take for example, public projects to schools, libraries, transit systems and wastewater treatment plants or improving highways, adding bike lanes and renovating state and county parks, all these projects must provide an environmental impact report or other CEQA documentation.

Sounds appropriate until you realize that 49% of all lawsuits brought forward in the name of CEQA affect these types of projects.

One more thing, guess who pays to defend these projects when a lawsuit occurs? You and me, the taxpayer. We get to pay to build the infrastructure, only after we have paid to defend its ability to be built in the first place.

Under infrastructure, transit is the most frequently challenged project. If carpool lanes are proposed, which would alleviate traffic congestion, it is challenged. If bike lanes are proposed, it is challenged. If commuter trains are enhanced, it is challenged.

Renewable energy is the most frequently challenged industrial/utility project. I guess we don’t want mass solar grids or fields of turbines, and we certainly don’t ever want to dam up a river to create waterpower. But we want renewable energy, right?

My favorite is housing. No one wants housing, especially high-density housing, even though it would be adjacent to a transit corridor and just might move some people closer to their job and hence lessen the congestion on the freeways.

The greatest CEQA challenges rests safely in the lap of in-fill projects. In-fill is just that, housing projects that would fill in vacant parcels within already high-density areas. This kind of development would combat sprawl, the biggest reason for congestion on our highways. Proponents of CEQA state that it will combat sprawl, however 80% of all in-fill projects are challenged in the name of CEQA. Attorneys win, taxpayers lose.

CEQA lawsuits are largely filed by individuals or local “associations,” the vast majority of which have no prior track record of environmental advocacy. CEQA litigation abuse is primarily the domain of “not in my backyard” opponents and special interest groups like labor unions seeking non-environmental outcomes.

CEQA litigation reform would be the most cost effective way to restore the state’s middle class job base, by approving projects that would require additional labor; make housing more affordable, when there is more it becomes more affordable; ensure that taxpayer funds are spent on projects and not the process and improve the future of the middle and lower income residents of California.

Reform would require those filing CEQA lawsuits to disclose their identity and environmental or non-environmental interests. It would eliminate duplicative lawsuits aimed at derailing plans and projects that have already completed the CEQA process. Preserve CEQA’s existing environmental review and public comment requirements, as well as litigation remedies for environmental purposes, but restrict judicial invalidation of project approvals to those projects that would harm public health, destroy irreplaceable tribal resources or threaten the ecology.

Why CEQA, why now? CEQA litigation abuse allows polite, passionate neighbors to oppose change in the name of the environment, including the changes required to address environmental priorities such as climate change, and changes required to address California’s growing population as it relates to affordable housing. Housing is the lead story on California’s agenda, and CEQA litigation abuse hurts us all at the same time as it is dressed up as the protector of the environment when in far too many cases it is the offender of the environment.

Don’t be fooled. CEQA litigation is out of control and shrouded in the cloak of environmental protection when it’s mostly just a case of “no growth anywhere near me.”

Kim Murphy can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 415-9292 or at 130 N. Main Avenue, in Fallbrook. Her broker license is #01229921, and she is on the board of directors for the California Association of Realtors.


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