CEQA Abuse 'Choking' Good Development, Study Finds

A study of CEQA litigation revealed widespread abuse that experts say undermines California's environmental sustainability goals.

December 27, 2015, 9:00 AM PST

By Elana Eden


In August, law firm Holland & Knight released an updated comprehensive study of lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act from 2010-2012.

The report’s authors say their findings debunk the common wisdom that CEQA litigation is advanced primarily by environmentalists, or even that it serves primarily environmental purposes. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Some of the discoveries supporting this conclusion may be surprising:

  • Among infrastructure projects, transit—not highways or roads—is most frequently challenged.
  • Renewable energy projects are the most often challenged utility/industrial projects.
  • And in the private sector, higher-density housing is most contested. Infill projects in general appear to attract challenges far more often than “greenfield” development, or sprawl.

Report co-author Jennifer Hernandez summarizes the takeaway in The Planning Report:

“CEQA litigation is not a battle between ‘business’ and ‘enviros’ … [It] is primarily the domain of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opponents and special interests such as competitors and labor unions seeking non-environmental outcomes.”

If CEQA is generally regarded as the province of environmentalism, then calls for CEQA reform are sometimes seen as threatening progressive goals. But Hernandez argues that moderate reforms aimed at transparency and consistency would advance sustainability and equity in the state by curbing abuse of the well-intentioned statute.

Hernandez summarized the report and her proposals in The Planning Report.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 in The Planning Report

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