CEQA reform: Bills take on barriers to new housing

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To help address California’s ongoing housing shortage,  lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have turned their attention to the California Environmental Quality Act.

While the landmark land-use law is intended to protect the environment, CEQA often hinders the development of housing. CEQA also has become a favorite tool of no-growth advocates, who  frequently file lawsuits under CEQA simply to delay or stop housing projects.

Sen. Steven Glazer

A pair of bills by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, would help protect housing projects from such  frivolous legal challenges.

Under Glazer’s SB 1340, courts would have 270 days to rule on lawsuits that challenge housing projects. Such a deadline would speed up the judicial process and get much-needed housing development underway sooner.

Another bill by Glazer,  SB 1341, would bring greater transparency to CEQA-based litigation. At present, plaintiffs can file CEQA lawsuits anonymously. Under SB 1341, parties would have to disclose their identities. The bill would also prohibit duplicative CEQA lawsuits, protecting individual projects from being litigated against multiple times.

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Riverside, also is seeking to reform the way CEQA lawsuits are handled. Under Melendez’s AB 2856, a judge hearing a CEQA challenge could only halt construction on a housing project when certain criteria are met. The bill would limit such work stoppages to situations that pose an immanent threat to public health and safety, or when the work jeopardizes important archaeological material, such as Native American artifacts.

Assemblyman Marc Berman

Another bill, AB 1804 by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, would expand an existing categorical infill exemption within CEQA. At present, CEQA has an exemption for infill development projects in cities. With AB 1804, those exemptions could also apply to residential or mixed-use housing projects in unincorporated areas, so long as they meet city-exemption criteria.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez

AB 3027 by Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, takes aim at plaintiffs who file frivolous CEQA challenges in pursuit of monetary gain.

Over the years, some plaintiffs have held up the CEQA process solely in pursuit of a financial windfall, an abuse that’s led to costly delays. To remove the financial incentive and discourage this abuse of CEQA, AB 3027 would limit eligibility for attorneys’ fees to a select group of prevailing plaintiffs and petitioners, such as nonprofit environmental groups and property owners in close vicinity to the project.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis

A sixth CEQA-related bill comes from Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia. AB 2341 would streamline the refurbishment of abandoned or dilapidated buildings. Under his bill, requirements for environmental impact reports could be waived for projects consisting of aesthetic upgrades that have no significant impact on the environment.

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