Monday, April 22, 2013

Scott Wiener's lie about the Bicycle Plan

Since Supervisor Wiener has repeated the falsehood about CEQA and the Bicycle Plan, it's fair to call him a liar. He first made the claim in a Chronicle story (below in italics) last October that the Bicycle Plan litigation was a good example of the city's dysfunctional CEQA system. I blogged about that falsehood at the time. Since he didn't repeat it in the intervening months, I assumed he had second thoughts about using it as an example.

He's using it again in an op-ed in the current issue of the Bay Guardian:

We support CEQA and support the right to appeal projects. What we cannot support is having no firm deadline to file those appeals. We've seen excellent projects, with broad public support, get delayed and have dramatically increased costs because of our bad process. A small group abused CEQA to fight the North Beach Library for years. After the Dolores Park renovation underwent dozens of community meetings and attained broad community support, a single person appealed the project, arguing that the dog areas of the park would lead to childhood obesity. San Francisco's bike plan was delayed for years, costing millions of tax dollars.

That the Bicycle Plan "was delayed for years" was due entirely to the politically-motivated misconduct by the City of San Francisco, not because of any flaw in how the city handles CEQA cases. Dennis Herrera has even belatedly admitted that he told the city---Mayor Newsom? The Board of Supervisors?---that they would have to do an EIR on the ambitious, 500-page Bicycle Plan, but his advice was rejected.

There was nothing wrong with the process we went through in appealing the city's exemption of the ambitious Bicycle Plan from any environmental review. The people making the politically motivated decisions were the primary flaw in the process.

The Planning Commission unanimously okayed making the first volume of the Plan---the Framework Document---part of the General Plan with little discussion and no debate (The city tried to hide the second volume over at the SFCTA).

We then appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors, which also passed it unanimously with little discussion and no debate.

There was no issue/problem with either deadlines or "last-minute" appeals. The process played out over a period of months. We were only shocked at how little thought or discussion by the Planning Commission or the supervisors took place on what was clearly a major project that would remove dozens of traffic lanes and thousands of parking spaces on busy city streets to make bike lanes.

And, seldom mentioned in the ongoing CEQA discussion: appellants have to exhaust their "administrative remedies"---that is, appeal the decision to the supervisors, which is the last part of the administrative process---before they can take it to court. Our attorney was aware of that and told us that, given what happened at the Planning Commission hearing, it was likely that eventually we either would have to litigate or give up on the issue.

During that final hearing before the supervisors, representatives from both the Planning Dept. and the City Attorney's office lied to the Board of Supervisors about the legal issues for political reasons. City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition simply thought they could get away with not complying with the most important environmental law in the State of California.

Once Judge Warren issued the original injunction against the city and the Bicycle Plan, the City Attorney knew he was fighting a losing legal battle. You can't get an injunction against a project unless the judge is convinced that you're going to prevail when the hearing is held. The City Attorney acknowledges this reality in its chronology on the litigation:

June 20, 2006: Judge James L. Warren grants petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction to prohibit the City from implementing projects contained in the Bicycle Plan, finding that they would likely prevail in their argument that the City was required to prepare an EIR for the plan.

Judge Busch not only kept the injunction in place, but he then ruled entirely in our favor after the hearing on the merits was held.

Instead of simply obeying the law and doing the environmental review Judge Busch ordered, the city continued to try to get the injunction lifted even as it was working on the EIR! Judge Busch was a little exasperated at this, as the city filed three unsuccessful motions to lift the injunction before the EIR was finished.

The city acted this way---in the process wasting a lot of taxpayers' money---for purely political reasons. City Attorney Dennis Herrera was already planning to run for mayor, and he didn't want to antagonize the Bicycle Coalition, which was holding rallies in front of City Hall accusing the city of dragging its feet on the EIR.

If a lawyer in private practice had involved a client in all this unnecessary litigation, he would be guilty of malpractice. But the City Attorney doesn't have to worry about that, since the city's taxpayers were the only losers in this charade, as they had to pay our lawyer for her time spent on the litigation.

All the Bicycle Plan litigation shows is that our "progressive" City Hall is willing to ignore the law for political reasons, not that the CEQA process is flawed or commonly used by obstructionists to delay good projects.

Stall tactic: In San Francisco, it's surprising if new construction projects aren't delayed for years by endless appeals, frivolous or legitimate.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation Tuesday that would prevent last-minute appeals of projects undergoing a California Environmental Quality Act Review (CEQA). He said that currently CEQA decisions are being appealed months and years after the Planning Department issues its decision, which leads to more delays and cost increases.

Wiener cited the North Beach Library project and the city's bicycle plan as two popular projects that have been subject to long delays by late appeals involving environmental review.

"CEQA serves many important purposes, but at times it goes beyond its intended purpose and has become a tool to disrupt, delay and at times significantly increase the cost of projects, including very important public projects," he said.

His legislation would require appeals to be filed with the Board of Supervisors within 15 to 30 days of the first project approval, instead of the final project approval. He also said more robust public notice of CEQA decisions would occur under his legislation.
- Neal J. Riley

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At 1:17 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

If all you cared about was improving the bike plan and making sure it had a legitimate EIR, there were much more productive methods than filing a lawsuit at the latest moment allowed by law.

Face it, you didn't care one which about the environmental impact of the bike plan. Stop lying.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

As usual you're completely wrong about everything, Murph. You at least get points for consistency.

Of course I wasn't at all interested in "improving" the Bicycle Plan. I've made it clear from the beginning, way back in 2005, that I thought it was bad pubic policy. I hoped that while the city was doing the legally required EIR the political community and the neighborhoods would wake up and put a stop to it. That seems to be happening on Polk Street now---and here in my hood without success on the Panhandle bike lane project---but I admit that I've been disappointed at the public's acceptance of these dumb projects that only benefit your obnoxious minority of cyclists.

"Latest moment allowed by law"? Not clear what you're referring to here. As I remember it, we had 30 days to file an appeal after the BOS okayed the project, which we duly did. That "last minute" claim is just part of Scott Wiener's phony CEQA "reform" campaign; it's just bullshit, like almost everything else he does.

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

Always great to hear the opinion of someone who's "Holier" than the rest of us. The "journalist" Paul Skilbeck wrote "merchants along Polk Street are said to have admitted that they stacked that meeting with friends and family from out of town, according to sources close to the CLA." and sf.streetsblog repeated this moronic babble.

Yet neither mentioned the murphstahoe blog claim, "I am not sure if I have ever ridden on Polk" which prefaced his promise, "I'll be there [the Polk St meeting] Tuesday night. And I'll be buying beers afterwards NOT from any bar on Polk Street who opposes the project, and sending a scan of the receipt to David Chiu and every bar on Polk that opposes the project. As should you!"

So it's OK for someone who's probably never even been to Polk St to bribe people with promises of free beer yet the same kind can make up something totally untrue & have it passed along as "fact."

These kind (Wiener, murphs, etc) take advantage of the laissez faire good nature of the long time San Franciscans, sneaking behind their backs, and only now are the long time San Franciscans responding. Theses kind need to be stopped.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Right there Rob - you admit it and still say you aren't. You made sure the city did the EIR - legally required - not because you were actually worried about the environmental impact, you hoped that this would draw out the process long enough to find a way to stop it for unrelated reasons.

CEQA is supposed to prevent projects from having an environmental impact. Scott's proposal keeps that in place, while limiting the ability for people who want a project stopped for NON-environmental reason to do so using CEQA. You had plenty of chances to debate the policy and you didn't win on the merits, so you used an argument that had nothing to do about the merits in the hope you'd get another shot from a policy angle.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"only now are the long time San Franciscans responding"

Really? Who led the freeway revolt? The newbies?

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"You made sure the city did the EIR---legally required---not because you were actually worried about the environmental impact, you hoped that this would draw out the process long enough to find a way to stop it for unrelated reasons."

No, you have it backwards. Of course I assumed that the Bicycle Plan would have an impact on the city's environment. Taking away thousands of parking spaces and traffic lanes on busy city streets of course was going to have an impact in a densely-populated city in a small geographic area. That would make traffic worse for everyone, increase traffic congestion and air pollution, not to mention creating a massive inconvenience for everyone who had to drive in SF.

Not surprisingly---at least it didn't surprise us---this is exactly what the EIR on the Bicycle Plan found: "significant unavoidable impacts" on a number of city streets.

I've done more than 100 posts on the Bicycle Plan over the years and the associated litigation making this clear to everyone but people like you, Murph, with reading disorders, often due to an adherence to BikeThink, the ideology that hinders and limits your cognitive function.

The problem was that very few people outside of the bike community and their enablers in City Hall had any idea about what was actually in the Bicycle Plan. We were hoping that the injunction, the litigation process, and the EIR would galvanize the neighborhoods in opposition to the Plan.

And there has been resistance to the Bicycle Plan in the neighborhoods on Second Street, 17th Street, Ocean Avenue, Market Street, and now Polk Gulch. The whole process is still unfolding, but it's safe to say one thing: the city's bike people---and their lobbying organization, the Bicycle Coalition---are not the most popular special interest group in San Francisco.

If these projects were on the ballot, you folks would lose, which is why City Hall and the Coalition will ensure that the Plan---or any of its projects---never gets on the ballot.

The city made that mistake back in 2004, when it allowed the people who live on Page Street to vote on the dumb, dangerous traffic circles, which were resoundingly rejected by the neighborhood.


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