CEQA: How to mend it since you can’t end it

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It’s no coincidence that California’s housing prices began to diverge from the rest of the nation in 1970 – the very 12 months that the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) was enacted.

According to California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, “Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher.” By 2015, the widespread California residence value spherical 250% of the widespread U.S. residence.

Of course, precise property prices, constructing costs, authorities costs, permitting delays, and zoning restrictions all contribute to California’s fairly priced housing catastrophe. But CEQA moreover offers very important costs.

CEQA requires an environmental impression report (an EIR) every time a authorities firm proposes to approve a endeavor (along with housing initiatives) that can have a significant affect on the ambiance. The costs for an EIR can range from $200,000 to 1000’s and 1000’s of .

And the responsibility to assemble such a report causes delay that contributes to bigger costs. California’s Legislative Analyst estimates that California’s ten largest cities averaged 2 ½ years to approve housing initiatives that required an EIR.

Moreover, after the endeavor is permitted, endeavor opponents have used CEQA to further delay and thwart initiatives by the use of prolonged litigation that challenges purported omissions or inaccuracies inside the EIRs’ extraordinarily technical tomes.

These lawsuits add a number of of 1000’s of in attorneys’ costs to a endeavor’s value and set off multi-year delays, which, in flip, end in even bigger establishing costs than obtainable when the endeavor was initially deliberate. Worse nonetheless, financing for a endeavor is normally not accessible by the CEQA litigation.

Thus, whereas CEQA’s perform is laudable, it contributes to the extreme value of housing developments. And bigger constructing costs make fairly priced housing a lot much less worthwhile, which, in flip, makes it a lot much less partaking to develop. Significantly, between 2005 and 2014, California constructed fewer houses per explicit individual than New York and Texas.

However, there are some inexpensive reforms that might mitigate these costs with out undermining CEQA’s perform:

Eliminate the Automatic Right of Appeal for Meritless Cases

Every CEQA swimsuit features a trial and an equally extended attraction.

Substituting the suitable to attraction with a correct to writ evaluation could scale back by half the dimensions and worth of CEQA litigation, whereas reducing the burden on the courts. Under California regulation, the California courts of attraction can deny evaluation of a meritless writ petition with out the intensive briefing and argument involved in an attraction, reducing the appellate stage to only a few months.

And to defend a celebration with a official attraction, this reform could require the appeals court docket docket to grant writ evaluation, allowing for full briefing and oral argument, for any factors by which the complaining celebration has at least a 50% probability of prevailing.

Prevent Ambushes

Under CEQA, no celebration may drawback the adequacy of an EIR based mostly totally on a deficiency till that particular person topic was provided sooner than the governmental firm’s final endeavor approval. However, there are ordinarily quite a few options to elevate such claims by the executive course of, along with when the first draft of the EIR is circulated for public comment.

Unfortunately, some claimants elevate factors late inside the course of, comparable to on the final word day of the final word governmental approval, leaving no time to adequately deal with the issue with out starting part of the tactic all through.

The Legislature could scenario the suitable to litigate a problem upon its being raised by the EIR’s public comment interval and can forbid litigation of any topic that might have been raised, nevertheless was not raised, in response to an earlier draft of the EIR. This reform would encourage diligence and avoid ambushes.

EIRs deal with extraordinarily technical measurements of environmental impacts over future a few years based mostly totally on refined analytic fashions. Naturally, oversights and errors can occur in paperwork comprising 1000’s of pages.

The Legislature ought to codify a “harmless error” regular that forestalls the courts from overturning endeavor approvals the place the omitted data would in all probability not have affected the endeavor’s approval and did not significantly impact most individuals’s ability to take into account the endeavor’s common impacts.


It is time for the Legislature to take some inexpensive steps to reduce the extreme value of establishing new housing in California. The fertile self-discipline of CEQA affords some low-hanging fruit if the Legislature would solely care to pluck it.

Daniel Kolkey is a companion with Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, LLP, a former determine, and a board member of the Pacific Research Institute

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