Leaked Settlement Shows the Dirty Underbelly of NIMBYism

In case anyone thought that developers were the only bad actors seeking to profit off of contentious projects, confidential settlement terms leaked to Curbed show how local groups abuse the California Environmental Quality Act for dubious gains.

2 minute read

January 5, 2013, 7:00 AM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Idiot brigade

protohiro / Flickr

In a scathing article, James Brasuell uses a confidential settlement agreement between a developer and a local homeowners' group in Los Angeles to demonstrate "a practice sometimes called 'greenmail,' in which businesses and homeowners groups use the threat of CEQA-based lawsuits to generate cash from developers for things that have nothing to do with the environment."

The settlement, which was leaked to Brasuell by an anonymous source in City Hall, discloses how the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association was able to wrestle $90,000 for "La Mirada's costs, and attorney's fees and costs" and "a monitoring payment" of $250,000 "to be used as La Mirada sees fit," from an unnamed developer in exchange for promises not to oppose a project.

"The document provides hard evidence for this common practice," says Brasuell. "'We absolutely don't know what happens with the money. Typically in a settlement, there is no limit on how much money or what the money can be used for,' says Jennifer Hernandez, partner at the firm Holland & Knight....Hernandez describes the lawyers who seek financial sums unrelated to the laws that they are suing under as 'bounty hunters.'"

"The greenmail problem, Hernandez notes, is unique to California's backwards use of a statute like CEQA: 'In other states and under NEPA [a federal law similar to CEQA], if your interests are primarily economic, you cannot sue under an environmental statute ... California has gone in a remarkably different direction."'

Friday, January 4, 2013 in Curbed LA

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Archer Aviation Midnight eVTOL aircraft on display at Dubai Airshow November 13th 2023, dark colors, bright background, indoors. Electric aircraft, electric helicopter.

FAA Approves Air Taxis

Two Bay Area companies are planning to develop autonomous commuter flight services between San Francisco and local cities.

June 24 - Smart Cities Dive

Two wood-frame houses under construction.

Commentary: When Neighborhood Change is Inevitable

Changes in the size and type of housing can accommodate different living arrangements and offer opportunities for multigenerational living and aging in place.

June 24 - Strong Towns

Close-up of mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, California.

Cougar Death Highlights Urgent Need for Wildlife Crossing

A mountain lion was found dead on the 101 Freeway, less than half a mile from the steel and concrete endoskeleton of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.

June 24 - The Acorn

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner Supervisor

Department of Housing and Community Development

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.