Wednesday, September 05, 2012

NY Times: When smart people are dumb 2

I read the NY Times for its coverage of national and international issues. Occasionally it has something of local interest, like the story in today's edition on the movement to "reform" the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Famous for its reporting, the Times shows both ignorance and bias in this story:

In San Francisco, the city’s plan to paint bicycle lanes, one of the main goals of environmentalists, was delayed for four years by a lawsuit filed by a local resident who claimed that the lanes could cause pollution...[Republican Assemblyman] Nestande said, “Striping bike lanes on a road can’t even be done without an environmental analysis. That’s the level of insanity this has gotten to.”

There are three falsehoods here: the city's Bicycle Plan involved a lot more than painting bicycle lanes---it will remove more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 parking spaces on busy city streets to make bike lanes. The "delayed" usage suggests that an obviously beneficial project was gratuitously postponed, and that our complaint claimed that bike lanes cause pollution. Obviously, if you take away traffic lanes and thousands of parking spaces on busy streets you could make traffic congestion worse, thus causing air pollution, not to mention massive inconvenience to most people using city streets.

Under CEQA a developer and/or jurisdication must evaluate---and propose mitigations---for such impacts before it implements a project. Seems like a reasonable law to me. Of course bicycles and anti-carism are now all the rage in "progressive" circles. How can a vehicle that doesn't burn fossil fuel be bad for the environment? The answer is obvious.

Judge Busch agreed with our complaint and ordered the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. That review concluded that, yes, the Bicycle Plan will in fact make traffic worse in the city, including delaying a number of Muni lines.

The City of San Francisco even admitted in its last brief that cyclists will be the primary beneficiaries of the Bicycle Plan---as opposed to the overwhelming majority who use city streets---but they are going to implement it anyway, based on the unsupported "mode shift" theory, that doing so will encourage a lot more people to ride bicycles in the city.

The original litigation was only about making the city conduct an environmental review of the ambitious, 500-page Bicycle Plan. The city knew it was violating the most important environmental law in California, but City Hall figured it could get away with it. We asked the court for an injunction---which it granted---before the hearing on our complaint, since the city was busily implementing the Plan and ignoring our suit. You can't get an injunction unless you convince the judge that you're likely to prevail when the hearing is held.

The Bicycle Coalition and other misguided progressives are now joining Republicans---and their developer constituents---in a movement to "reform" CEQA to death based on the myth that many worthy projects are delayed by obstructionist litigation:

“It wasn’t reform: it was gutting the law,” said David Pettit, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The California Environmental Quality Act as we’ve known it for many years protecting the environment would go away in favor of a checklist approach.” Mr. Pettit acknowledged that the law has led to some abusive litigation, but he insisted that those cases were rare. Less than 1 percent of all projects in the state face lawsuits under the environmental act, according to a 2005 study by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The NY Times also showed its bias when covering high-speed rail, another pet progressive project: See this and this.

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