It saddens many tree huggers that the once heralded California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is being so abused by NIMBY groups that simple justice, common sense and economic progress demands its reform.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is helping lead the charge to change and they have plenty of friends supporting their efforts. Labor, economic development interests, affordable housing advocates, transportation leaders, local land use planners and, yes, even environmentalists have called for change in the process of the law because delay has become denial for many good projects.
In short, what was supposed to be a law to ensure transparency and protect the environment has become a tool for obstruction. Project delays include BART to San Jose, California High Speed Rail, affordable housing projects, power plant construction, business expansion and road construction.
Make no mistake the CEQA abusers are costing taxpayers plenty. Ironically, the people who complain the most about government public relations budgets are the same people who claim they never get enough information and there hasn’t been enough transparency. The public relations folks are hired, in part, to ensure the record for public participation is adequate to survive a CEQA lawsuit.
The poster child for delay is a Senior Housing Project sponsored by the Santa Clara Methodist—Retirement Foundation—across the street from Valley Fair mall. That project, which would have been built by Charities Housing Developers, could have provided 162 units of needed housing for a population that needs an affordable alternative to market rate in Silicon Valley. (Disclosure: Kathy Robinson, wife of author, is a salaried employee of Charities Housing Developers. She has no personal financial interest in the disposition of the property.)
By all rights and common sense, Charities Housing should have been able to complete the project by now. They produced a substantial Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the Santa Clara City Council approved the project, local NIMBYs forced a referendum, voters then overwhelmingly rejected the NIMBY arguments and approved the project. Then, having lost at the City Council and the ballot box, the opposition sued under CEQA, using the pretense the EIR was inadequate. The suit was rejected by the courts, but the entire process, including the court challenge, delayed the project for 10 years. Now the funding sources for construction are in jeopardy and the cost of the project has risen. By simply delaying the project, the opposition may accomplish its nefarious goal
There are many other horror stories of delay and denial, not because of an environmental issue, but simply the cost of money over time. That’s why the Silicon Valley Leadership Group is leading the charge for reform in the state legislature.
Let’s hope it takes less than 10 years to achieve.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.