California has, since the ’70s, had some of the strictest environmental laws in the country, but urbanists have recently been frustrated by what are known as CEQA lawsuits, named after the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act that serves as the basis of the challenges. CEQA battles have certainly hindered their fair share of highway and road projects, but they also affect transit and urban infill development, perhaps a perversion of the law’s pro-environmental intent.
Skirmishes over the law have yielded mixed results – transit projects were made more vulnerable by a recent ruling, while affordable housing projects are now less prone to CEQA challenges – but there has recently been talk of more major CEQA reform. State Sen. Alex Padilla was the drafter of recently enacted legislation expediting CEQA lawsuits for entertainment conglomerate AEG Live’s proposed downtown LA Farmers Field NFL stadium, and he also said that the new procedure could help the Westside Subway Extension project. The subway project is being opposed by Beverly Hills School District, partly on the grounds that tunneling will prevent it from building underground parking at Beverly Hills High, and a district spokesman hinted to Streetsblog that it would fight an expedited review for the project.
Sen. Alex Padilla’s statement should give transit and urban infill advocates hope that CEQA may be reined in, though as Robert Cruickshank notes, it’s not at all clear that any transit project, whether it’s the Westside Subway Extension or California’s larger high-speed rail project, will actually benefit from recently passed legislation. Cruickshank does, however, claim that “a precedent has been set,” and he seems optimistic that transit will soon get expedited CEQA reviews.
Richard Mlynarik, a “technical” transit advocate who’s had some less-than-satisfactory experiences with California transit planners, is, as always, less sanguine. In a comment on Robert’s post he writes, in his characteristically colorful style:
Good God you people are making this complicated. This is a way for politically juiced stadium and strip mall developers to get what they want sooner and more profitably. […]
But feel free to believe this has anything to do with [transit-oriented development] and choo choos and Overturning the Oil Paradigm. Your overlords thank you (not in any concrete fashion, but it’s the thought that counts, right?) for your work on their bulldozing shopping malling behalves.
On the one hand, Sen. Padilla’s comments are hopeful. But then again, the bill was clearly intended primarily to support AEG’s stadium project – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a football, not a model train. It wouldn’t be the first time that a law written for one purpose was used for another, but it remains to be seen if this will be anything more than a special interest handout to a politically connected developer.