Chronicle's zombie CEQA editorial
Yesterday's editorial in the Chronicle on CEQA "abuse" is full of what Paul Krugman calls zombie ideas ("beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die"). On the litigation on the Bicycle Plan:
In a most egregious twist, CEQA lawsuits have even been used to slow or stop environmentally friendly projects, such as the four-year legal battle against a San Francisco plan to add 34 miles of bike lanes.
Editorial writers at the Chronicle have never shown any understanding of what the California Environmental Quality Act is about---requiring environmental review of any project that even might have an impact on the environment. A declaration of good intentions doesn't excuse projects from following this common sense law ("But your honor, we shouldn't have to do any environmental review, because our project is 'environmentally friendly' and will only make the world a better place!")
Instead of taking a close look at CEQA and the Bicycle Plan---which will eliminate 50 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 street parking spaces on busy city streets---the Chronicle simply buys the "progressive" party line, that we were nothing but obstructionists (here and here).
And why did the Bicycle Plan litigation take so long? Only because of the City Attorney's tactics, which for political reasons dragged out the litigation way beyond what was reasonable. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has admitted that he advised City Hall way back in 2005 that the city would have to do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan.
Even after Judge Busch ordered the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan---and while the city was conducting that review---the city tried three times to get him to lift the injunction and allow it to do whatever it wanted on city streets. Hence, the city not only had to pay our lawyer for our original victory, it will now have to pay her for defeating those three city motions to lift the injunction.
Like the two Grand Jury reports on bikes (here and here) in the city, the Chronicle refuses to examine City Hall's politically motivated---and costly to city taxpayers---legal strategy on the Bicycle Plan litigation.
The Chronicle thinks the latest attempt to reform CEQA
fails to require forthright disclosure of the real interests behind CEQA lawsuits. The public, elected representatives and the courts deserve to know when there might be an ulterior motive behind a lawsuit brought on environmental grounds.
Of course litigants often have "ulterior motives" that aren't made explicit in their legal briefs. We, for example, thought---and still think---that the Bicycle Plan is terrible public policy, but our original legal complaint was that the 500-page plan to redesign city streets was legally required to undergo environmental review before it was implemented on the streets of the city. Judge Busch wasn't required---or even allowed---to examine our motives for filing suit; he was only required to deal with our legal argument.
Similarly, the states that are now passing voter suppression laws are not required to tell courts about their "ulterior motive" for introducing these laws. They are only required to present legal arguments in their defense when they are challenged in court, and that's the way it should be.
The bill includes requirements that could lead to new avenues for CEQA litigation, such as a requirement that government agencies prepare an annual report on a project's compliance with mitigation measures.
Why is it unreasonable to actually monitor court-ordered mitigation measures to see that they're doing what they're supposed to do? If CEQA is going to be more than a paper exercise, some kind of follow-up is reasonable and necessary.
Still, Steinberg is a leader, and one of the Capitol's premier problem solvers, and he should get everyone back at the table---including the business groups, which have been feeling shut out---to find the elusive middle ground that can serve the economic and environmental objectives that are being undermined by CEQA abuses.
Like Steinberg "solved" the high-speed rail problem last year? I'd like to hear about other problems he's supposedly solved.