The petition filed this week by the Laborers International Union of North America, Local 270, claims the city flouted the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to consider how Irvine Company’s proposal would impact “indoor air quality and birds.”
At its core, the landmark 1970 legislation requires public agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of developments and curb them if needed. But the law meant to protect the state’s natural resources has been used by outside groups to block even the kind of dense infill development cities need to become more sustainable.
Naturally, that can call into question stated concerns about the environment. Especially when the litigant has little to no record of environmental activism.
Local 270, for one, is no Sierra Club.
In the case against Sunnyvale and Irvine Company, the union claims the defendants should’ve conducted an environmental study of the cancer-causing effects of the composite wood typically used in home construction. Local 270 hired a certified industrial hygienist and mechanical engineer named Francis Offerman, who warned that formaldehyde-based glues in the wood could elevate the cancer risk of future residents.
Another expert hired by the union to weigh in on the project said the environmental review should have taken a closer look at the impact on birds. Wildlife biologist Shawn Smallwood identified as many as 36 special-status bird species in the vicinity while the city-authorized environmental review cited just four.
The biologist also criticized the report for neglecting to evaluate the project’s adherence to Sunnyvale’s avian-friendly design guidelines, which aim to prevent birds from hurtling into reflective windows.
“Dr. Smallwood estimated that the project would result in 509 bird deaths per year, an impact which was not discussed or analyzed in the [environmental impact report],” the lawsuit states. “To minimize the project’s impacts on birds, Dr. Smallwood suggested several feasible mitigation measures for the city to incorporate into the project.”
Irvine Company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Sunnyvale spokeswoman Jennifer Garnett said the city can’t weigh in on pending litigation.