Is This the Year California's Development-Killing Environmental Review Law Sees Serious Reform?
Land use and environmental attorney Jennifer Hernandez was quoted in a Reason article about a court's decision to stop a University of California, Berkeley, housing project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA requires government bodies to study and mitigate the environmental impacts of projects. In this case, a group of neighborhood activists brought a lawsuit to put the project on hold until studies on the potential excess noise could be completed. The court's ruling raised questions about CEQA abuse and reform, and Ms. Hernandez commented on the state Legislature's previous attempt to prevent future problems for housing.
"The Legislature came back and did a very surgical fix, and it didn't actually work," Ms. Hernandez said. "The idea that CEQA wasn't going to be a problem for housing" was obviously wrong.
She also shared research with Reason showing that between 2019 and 2021, 198 CEQA lawsuits were filed against housing projects and local government plans and agency regulations for more housing. She added that the reasons cited to deny the Berkeley project — noise impacts that are already illegal — opens the door to multiple other paths for litigation.
"Family housing, which may mean a colicky infant crying for the first three months of her life, is that a CEQA impact? How about crime rates for different kinds of housing?" Ms. Hernandez continued.
She said she believes that exempting urban apartments and bus lines from CEQA while still using the law as a climate action tool will continue to block housing. Ms. Hernandez cited the treatment of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a CEQA impact that needs to be studied and mitigated.