Is CEQA Really to Blame for Preventing Infill Development?

According to new figures from California's Annual Planning Survey, the state's environmental law is low on the list of barriers to infill development, writes Ethan Elkind.
September 25, 2012, 9am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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California's landmark Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been under threat of late from a broad coalition of politicians, labor leaders, and developers, who see the law as an easily abused obstacle to economic development. However, as Elkind points out, according to the results of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research's 2012 annual survey [PDF] of California's local governments, those looking to blame CEQA for preventing infill development should look elsewhere. 

"Of the 423 cities (88% of all cities) and 49 counties (84% of all counties) responding to the survey, less than 5% cited CEQA as the primary barrier to infill development. Instead, the big 'winners' were infrastructure constraints, lot issues, lack of funding, community opposition, and the economy, among others. CEQA was way down on the list."

"So why do infill developers make such a big deal about CEQA?" asks Elkind. "My [Elkind's] theory is that individual developers will be focused solely on their own projects, and if CEQA is a threat to their investment and risk-taking, they will understandably become CEQA haters. But perhaps this project-based focus distorts the view of the larger forces that stifle infill business opportunities throughout the state, such as in the suburb with the major rail line that won't zone for more downtown development or the rundown neighborhood near jobs and services that needs new infrastructure."

"Ending CEQA tomorrow won't magically lift these barriers and create new infill opportunities, and it won't convince local communities to support new downtown development." 

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Published on Monday, September 24, 2012 in Legal Planet
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