Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Planetizen tries to rewrite city history


From Planetizen, a PC "Smart Growth" site:

LOS[level of service] is not just an esoteric traffic engineering or legal standard that fills the pages of lengthy environmental documents. It has major implications for the level of traffic analysis required for potentially every major project a city wants to undertake. Even seemingly uncontroversial projects—at least from an environmental perspective—can be waylaid by years of high level analysis and millions of dollars in additional costs. In 2005, for example, San Francisco's extensive proposed bicycle plan was challenged on the grounds that the city's environmental impact assessments under CEQA insufficiently addressed LOS effects.

For a project so clearly aimed at reducing air pollution by increasing bike-ability and getting cars off the road, it's comical that the hold-up came in the form of an environmental challenge. San Francisco's bike plan failed its CEQA technical obligations precisely because of its benefits to the environment: increased bike and pedestrian friendliness, less car reliance, and reduced pollution. Only after a decade of litigation, resulting in a practical moratorium on all bike policy development in the city, did San Francisco produce an environmental impact statement that could satisfy the required LOS traffic analysis.

Regardless of the merits of the movement to "reform" CEQA, there's no excuse for this kind of ignorance more than ten years after our litigation against the city's Bicycle Plan. The bike people and the anti-car movement---essentially one and the same---displayed this kind of ignorance soon after we got an injunction against the city in 2006 (a few samples from 2006 here and heremore recent samples here and here).

My response below---with some links added---was the only comment to a story packed with misinformation:

This is preposterous. If traffic congestion is not an environmental impact, what is?

As a party to the litigation against San Francisco's attempt to illegally sneak the 500-page Bicycle Plan through the process, I can say that this is what really happened: The city did no environmental review of the ambitious Plan!

Judge Busch's decision was an easy one for him to make. It didn't hinge on LOS but only on the fact that the city had done no environmental review of the Plan, which was clearly against CEQA's fundamental mandate requiring that any project that even might have an impact on the environment must undergo an environmental study before it's implemented. Is that requirement even controversial?

"For a project so clearly aimed at reducing air pollution by increasing bike-ability and getting cars off the road, it's comical that the hold-up came in the form of an environmental challenge."

But good intentions are not enough under CEQA---at least they haven't been until now. Every jurisdiction and developer can claim that their projects will make the world a better place. 

The reality here: If a project---as the Bicycle Plan does---proposes taking away more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 parking spaces on busy city streets to make bike lanes, obviously that will have an impact on the city's physical environment, not to mention traffic congestion, air quality, etc.

"San Francisco's bike plan failed its CEQA technical obligations precisely because of its benefits to the environment: increased bike and pedestrian friendliness, less car reliance, and reduced pollution. Only after a decade of litigation, resulting in a practical moratorium on all bike policy development in the city, did San Francisco produce an environmental impact statement that could satisfy the required LOS traffic analysis."

This is completely wrong on the facts about San Francisco and our litigation. There was nothing "technical" at all in Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. All he had to decide is whether the most important environmental law in the state---that is, CEQA---required that the city do an environmental review of some kind before it began redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority of cyclists (only 3.4% of all trips in the city are by bicycle). He didn't even specify that the city had to do an EIR on the Plan, though that was clearly what was required and what the city did.

The city could have saved a lot of time and money---it had to pay our lawyer after the judge's decision---if it had simply followed the law in the first place. The city just thought it could get away with not obeying the law, that no one would challenge their attempted coup on behalf of the bike lobby. Wrong!

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