CEQA ABUSES?

Business leaders who want to reform the 43-year-old California Environmental Quality Act cite cases like these:

The city of Berkeley in 2001 wanted to convert a lot with an abandoned storefront into affordable housing for seniors. Environmental studies showed that the site, a former gas station, had no hazardous remnants. After eight public meetings and six design overhauls to address the concerns of residents, the City Council voted to move the project forward. But a local neighborhood group filed a CEQA lawsuit seeking a more extensive environmental review, arguing that the project was not compatible with its surroundings. The group's claims were rejected twice by courts. The lawsuit caused a two-year delay, and the city spent nearly $2 million fighting the challenges. The delay also increased costs of the project by $3 million. The project was completed in 2006.

Twenty-seven years after filmmaker George Lucas submitted a plan to expand his Marin County studios, underwent environmental review and secured final approval by the county's planning commission, Lucas appears to be out of patience. The Skywalker Properties' project, scaled down from original designs, was a 190,485-square-foot digital studio in a three-story building over an underground parking area. The project included fire roads and tanks, as well as $50 million to $70 million in restoration and enhancements for the creeks and tributaries on the property. The studio would have added 350 high-paying technical full-time jobs at the studio, as well as another 460 jobs for the two-year construction phase.


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But on the last day of the EIR review, a local group of homeowners filed an appeal with the Marin County Board of Supervisors alleging CEQA violations. One concern raised was that the project would ruin the bucolic setting. The Board of Supervisors voted to delay the project until more environmental impact studies could be done. Skywalker Properties withdrew its application. More than 800 jobs, tens of millions of tax dollars and $50 million to $70 million in environmental restoration were lost.

The Los Gatos Business Park and Netflix teamed up to plan the redevelopment of an old business park across from the Netflix campus, which would have created 800 jobs and added up to 168 senior homes and a half-million square feet of office space on a 21-acre site. Considered an ideal "smart growth" development, it was close to a planned light-rail extension and bordered Highway 85. Neighbors opposed the project, complaining that the building would be too tall and would harm the affluent community's aesthetics and filed a CEQA lawsuit to block the expansion, seeking a complete EIR. The delay has forced Netflix to push back its target date to hire new workers, scale back its plans and eliminate the senior housing.

Source: CEQA Working Group