Opinion: How California’s Environmental Law Empowers NIMBYs

Critics of a new provision calling “social noise” an environmental impact say the law can too easily be co-opted by anti-housing groups to block new development.

2 minute read

March 27, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

An opinion piece from early March by Jennifer Hernandez and Robert Apodaca in the Los Angeles Times outlines how community groups have used the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block new student housing at the University of California, Berkeley.

The authors argue that building more housing close to campus is in fact the more environmentally friendly option. “More students living near campus means less traffic.” But a recent court ruling halted plans for a new housing complex and forced the university to withhold admission from thousands of potential new students, citing the potential impacts of a higher population. 

Now, a new court ruling deems noise from college parties an environmental impact, giving NIMBY groups another weapon in their fight against new university housing. The authors see this as a slippery slope to other restrictions. “The concept of ‘social noise’ is perfectly designed to block housing in existing neighborhoods. If this ruling stands, other demographic and individual behaviors could become adverse ‘environmental’ impacts under CEQA.” Meanwhile, the authors point out that students who experience housing insecurity are more likely to drop out, making affordable housing a crucial part of supporting student success. 

More on the UC Berkeley story:

Friday, March 3, 2023 in Los Angeles Times

Three colorful, large beachfront homes, one khaki, one blue, and one yellow, with a small dune in front and flat sand in foreground.

Florida Homeowners 'Nope Out' of Beach Restoration Over Public Access

The U.S. Corps of Engineers and Redington Shores, Florida are at a standstill: The Corps won’t spend public money to restore private beaches, and homeowners are refusing to grant public access to the beaches behind their home in return for federal assistance.

June 7, 2024 - Grist

Multistory apartment building under construction.

New Tennessee Law Allows No-Cost Incentives for Affordable Housing

Local governments in the Volunteer State can now offer developers incentives like increased density, lower parking requirements, and priority permitting for affordable housing projects.

June 10, 2024 - Nooga Today

Pumping Gas

10 States Where the Gas Tax Is Highest

As the gap between gas tax revenue and transportation funding needs widen across the country, the funding mechanism is drawing increased scrutiny from both public officials and consumers.

June 9, 2024 - The Ascent

Concrete walkway with landscaping, decorative tiles, and picnic tables in a Los Angeles County park.

Wish Granted: Former Brownfield Transformed to New Park

Wishing Tree Park in West Carson, California officially opened last month, replacing a brownfield site with a much-needed green space for recreation and respite.

June 14 - Urbanize LA

"No right turn on red" and "Turning vehicles yield to pedestrians" sign.

The Tide is Turning on Right Turns on Red

The policy, which stems from the gas embargo of the 1970s, makes intersections more dangerous for pedestrians.

June 14 - NPR

Thick green forest on edge of lake in Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville Begins Process to Clean Superfund Site

A public forest is home to dozens of barrels that have been leaking toxic materials for decades.

June 14 - Inside Climate News

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.