Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Dumb Chronicle CEQA editorial


It's remarkable that after more than eight years there's still widespread ignorance and denial about the litigation on the Bicycle Plan and the city's illegal attempt to rush it through the process.
 
My first post on the issue was way back in February, 2005, with the text of my comment to the Planning Commission objecting to exempting the Bicycle Plan from environmental review. Okay, I understand that few people were reading my blog then, but the Chronicle should have noticed when Judge Warren issued a temporary injunction against the city and the Bicycle Plan in June, 2006. You can't get an injunction unless the judge thinks you're likely to prevail when the hearing on the merits is held. And then there was Judge Busch's decision in November of that year ordering the city to do an environmental review of the 500-page plan, keeping the injunction in effect until it did that.
 
The Bicycle Coalition noticed, and they weren't pleased. But they provided everyone with a PDF of Judge Busch's decision. The Chronicle's editorial writer seems to be frozen in time much like the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum, who shared her ignorance of CEQA with the public that year.
 
In an editorial last Sunday ("An environmental law that needs an overhaul," April 7, 2013) the SF Chronicle offered an example of that ongoing ignorance. (Interesting that there's still no link provided for the editorial[Later: Here's a link to the editorial by something called "CEQA Working Group," which seems to be mostly realtors and chambers of commerce. Of course they like it]. Maybe the editorial staff at the Chronicle belatedly realized how dumb it is.) The Bicycle Plan litigation is cited as an example of obstructionism showing the need for Scott Wiener's bogus reform: "It is outrageous that an ostensible environmental law was able to hold up San Francisco's plan to expand bike paths for four years." (Wiener originally cited the Bicycle Plan litigation as an example of CEQA abuse, but dropped it when even he apparently realized that it's really only an example of the city's misconduct.)
 
Like Shahum the editorialist is ignorant of CEQA's essence---that any project that even might have a negative impact on the environment must undergo some kind of environmental review. The Bicycle Plan clearly qualifies as a "project." CEQA's definition: “Project” means an activity which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment...
 
If you plan to take away thousands of parking spaces and dozens of traffic lanes on busy city streets to make bike lanes, it's impossible to deny that that might have an impact on the environment. But the city denied it to the bitter end, until Judge Busch told them in effect to cut the crap and do an EIR on the Plan.
 
The editorial's skewed version of the Bicycle Plan issue: "A lawsuit was filed demanding further review of the impact of removing parking spots and traffic lanes for automobiles. A judge finally gave the green light to the plan, after four years of delay."
 
These two sentences skip over several crucial years and the realities of the issue. "Further" review? In fact the city had done no environmental review at all of the Bicycle Plan, not even an initial study. It simply declared the Plan exempt from CEQA. (Reportedly City Attorney Herrera told the city it had to do an EIR, but his advice was ignored by Mayor Newsom and the Board of Supervisors.) Judge Busch only gave the "green light" to the city after it had done a massive environmental impact report (EIR) on the project that, by the way, showed what we expected: the Bicycle Plan is going to increase traffic congestion in San Francisco, including delaying a number of Muni lines.
 
We think that EIR is inadequate in a number of ways and successfully appealed Judge Busch's decision ratifying the EIR to the Court of Appeal, which the Chronicle reported inaccurately in a City Insider item in January.
 
Until Sunday's Chronicle editorial, Randy Shaw's Beyond Chron piece was the dumbest thing written about CEQA "reform" in the city.

Good op-ed in today's Examiner by Republican Quentin Kopp and the Sierra Club's Rebecca Evans: Attacks on CEQA distort the truth.
 

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