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Is CEQA the problem?

Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET
(First published October 1, 2017)

The stakes here are high. Misguided CEQA reform could undermine environmental protection throughout the state, without meaningful improvements to our housing crisis.

On Friday [September 29, 2017], the Governor signed a package of housing bills intended to help address the soaring costs of housing in many metro areas in California. Follow-up coverage of that bill package has (rightly) indicated that those bills are a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing California’s housing crisis. One theme that emerges in that coverage and also coverage of other CEQA legislation (as well as a recent op-ed by two economists) is an argument that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is a significant contributor to the housing crisis. The question is, is that really correct? The answer is fairly important if the legislature is (appropriately) going to continue looking at this issue in the next legislative session.

The main argument goes along these lines – there is a lot of regulation of housing development in California. More regulation increases the cost of supplying housing, and therefore the cost of housing. Less regulation would facilitate more housing supply, and lower costs.

It may be that overall, regulation of land-use development in California is a significant contributor to the state’s housing crisis. But CEQA is only a part of the overall regulation of California’s land-use development, as I’ve noted in an earlier post. If CEQA is a significant obstacle to housing development, then I would argue that changing CEQA in ways that minimize the loss in environmental protection and maximize the benefits in increased housing production should be our goal. But in order to determine whether changing CEQA is a prudent strategy, we need to understand in a better way how local land-use processes are affecting housing production in California.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2017/10/01/is-ceqa-the-problem/

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Op-Ed: Break down regulatory barriers before passing a tax for housing

Brian Ling, CEO of the Sonoma County Alliance, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

We all love Sonoma County, but the protections we have implemented, such as growth ordinances, urban growth boundaries, community separators, the open space district and an incredibly public and intensive approval process, have led to our housing crisis of under supply, over demand and incredibly high prices (even before the fires). Our residents need to universally support the projects that are being proposed within current general plan guidelines, particularly those within transit-oriented and other priority development areas. We (NIMBYS too!)voted in these protections to support the growth of new urbanism concepts. We need to support these projects now.

Today’s housing crisis is a product of land-use decisions made over the past three decades combined with a significant increase in unnecessary and/or duplicative rules and regulations. There is no question that the October fires put an exclamation point on the housing crisis. However, it is imperative to reverse this trend of housing barriers before the community further taxes ourselves toward a solution.

The Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council and their planning departments should be commended for implementing policies to expedite rebuilding in the fire zones and priority development areas. However, additional opportunities remain that must be applied to all development within the respective general plans, not just within the fire zones. The Sonoma County Alliance believes taking action is required to positively impact new housing opportunities.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8453619-181/close-to-home-break-down?sba=AAS

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The sword and the shield: Is CEQA to blame for the North Bay’s housing crisis?

Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The landmark California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 was intended as a shield against construction projects that imperiled the environment. But in a case of unintended consequences, critics charge that the powerful law has been wielded as a sword by labor groups, environmentalists and neighborhood groups to defeat proposed housing developments. The result, they argue, is that a well-intentioned law has driven up the cost and lowered the supply of affordable housing in the North Bay and California at large.

In a way, this is a tale of two competing points-of-view about CEQA. In one corner, CEQA critics decry the law as a leading impediment to building transit-oriented and infill housing in the state—and especially in urban regions such as Los Angeles and the greater North Bay. That’s the gist of a recent legal study by the San Francisco law firm Holland & Knight. The analysis was published in the Hastings Environmental Law Journal.

In the other corner are supporters of CEQA who say those claims are overstated, and perhaps wildly so, and that the real driver behind the region’s struggles to deal with its affordable housing crisis, or any housing for that matter, are the local agencies (zoning boards, planning commissions) that also must sign off on any proposed development.

That’s an argument advanced in another recent report published by UC Berkeley School of Law, called “Getting It Right,” which serves as a handy counterpoint to the Holland & Knight report.

This is more than an academic debate. The discussion comes at a key moment in the North Bay, which is still reeling from last year’s devastating wildfires that destroyed more than 5,000 homes in the region, making an acute housing crisis even worse.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/the-sword-and-the-shield/Content?oid=6374283

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Napa County ballot measure limiting vineyard development fails narrowly

Caleb Pershan, SF EATER

On Friday, proponents of a Napa County ballot measure intended to protect the environment admitted defeat at the polls but vowed to continue their fight. The results of Measure C, known as the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, were initially too close to call, but in a nearly final tally of votes, the measure appears to have failed by a slim margin.

Measure C would have set a 795-acre limit on oak forests that could be cut to plant vines on land zoned as agricultural watershed, among other environmental restrictions. But the result of its passage, according to opponents, would have placed punishing restrictions on hillside vineyard development, one of the few areas of plantable land left in the county.

“While we’re obviously disappointed by the outcome, we’re as committed as ever to taking the steps needed to keep our local water supplies clean and reliable,” said Mike Hackett, co-chair of the Yes on C committee, according to a statement from the committee.

From https://sf.eater.com/2018/6/18/17473828/napa-ballot-measure-c-fails-slim-marin

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Developer expands proposal for Rohnert Park downtown district at former State Farm campus

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans for RP development

The developer pitching an extensive redevelopment project in central Rohnert Park is seeking to both expand and accelerate its aspirations to create a vibrant downtown hub along the city’s commuter rail station.

Station Avenue, formerly called Rohnert Station, envisions a mixed-use development that would include homes, offices, retail shops and a hotel on a 32-acre campus just south of Rohnert Park Expressway. The sprawling, 320,000-square-foot facility was previously occupied by State Farm Insurance but has sat vacant since the company left in 2011.

Laulima Development, the San Francisco-based developer who bought it for $13.5 million last December, intends to submit its final development application to the city in the coming weeks.

It seeks to increase the combined amount of office and retail space to 250,000 square feet — a more than 40 percent expansion from an initial proposal — at least partly in response to high levels of interest from prospective tenants.

“For us, if we really want to create a meaningful downtown — that sense of place — we need that critical mass,” said David Bouquillon, managing partner of Laulima. “Early on, it was light. We’re always try to balance for that perfect ratio.”

The new downtown district, located next to the city’s existing SMART train commuter platform, also would include 415 units of market-rate housing spread across 150 for-sale homes and the remaining number in above-office rental lofts and apartments. While that total is unchanged from the earlier plans, the new layout also makes room for a new 156-room hotel to be built by a partner developer.

“We’ve been getting a lot of demands for hotels, and it piqued our interest,” Bouquillon said. “We found a way to make it work and it adds to the urban downtown, so we put that in the application.”

As part of the announcement last week, the company unveiled a new website with design renderings, a site plan, as well as a countdown to completion.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8413938-181/developer-expands-proposal-for-rohnert

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Friends rally for Santa Rosa’s open-space heart, Trione-Annadel State Park

Gaye LeBaron, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Parks like this need friends, which is why, three years ago, an organization that calls itself just that, Friends of Trione-Annadel, was organized. Its membership represents the spectrum of usage — hikers and horsemen, runners, mountain bikers — everyone from the casual stroller to the dedicated botanist and naturalist on the prowl to catalog a new plant.

Today we’re talking about Trione-Annadel State Park, that magnificent stretch of hills and dales where, if a runner, hiker, horseman or mountain biker starts in Howarth and enters through Spring Lake, he or she can do at least 15 miles on pathways before emerging in Kenwood.

(Of course, as armchair jockeys are quick to point out, then they have to get home.)

I am aware I am preaching to the choir here because most of you already know what an asset this is to our area. It is the most-used park in this part of Northern California, closing in on 150,000 visits a year to its 5,500 acres.

All that love comes with some problems, as Supervising Ranger Neill Fogarty points out. One, of course, is abuse — physical abuse to the fields and forests by those who would “make new trails,” daredevils who sometimes fail to abide by the old rules of kindergarten to “play nicely with others,” and financial abuse from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people each year who don’t pay the toll.

The appreciative ones, according to Fogarty, pay up at the Channel Drive entrance, and many park visitors have annual park passes, but there are the inevitable freeloaders, their mission made easier by the fact the park can entered from so many populated areas — not only Santa Rosa, Kenwood and Bennett Ridge but all borders in between. Many nearby homeowners can walk into the park from their neighborhood.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8402436-181/gaye-lebaron-friends-rally-for

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North Coast’s ‘Great Redwood Trail’ wins approval in California Senate, but lacks funding

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Imagine a 300-mile trail from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay taking hikers, bicycle and horseback riders through a stunning North Coast river canyon and old growth redwood forests.

It would cost untold millions of dollars and won’t come soon, but the idea for what’s called the Great Redwood Trail is embodied in state Sen. Mike McGuire’s bill, which would also abolish a debt-ridden public agency and put commuter train operator Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit in charge of railroad freight service in its two counties.

The buzz is all about a trail along railroad tracks through some territory most people have never seen and which advocates are likening to the 210-mile John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevada.

“It’s an amazing prospect,” said Alisha O’Loughlin, executive director of the 1,000-member Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. “Something we’re very enthusiastic about.”

The trail, affording “gorgeous recreational opportunities,” would draw cyclists and equestrians from far and wide, she said.

The coalition’s only concern is that work on the trail not take priority over completion of pathways along the 70-mile SMART corridor in Sonoma and Marin counties. Just 16 miles of pathways have been built to date in segments from Healdsburg to San Rafael.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8406036-181/north-coasts-great-redwood-trail

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Deal reached in Petaluma luxury home development

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A controversial luxury home project in the hills of west Petaluma is set to move forward after the developer and an environmental group opposed to the project struck a deal that could scale back the size of the development and preserve sensitive habitat as parkland.

The Kelly Creek Protection Project reached the agreement with East Bay developer Davidon Homes this week. It would protect at least 75 percent of the environmentally-sensitive lands surrounding Scott Ranch in west Petaluma while allowing construction of up to 28 homes.

Since 2004, Davidon Homes has been attempting to develop housing on the 58-acre property next to Helen Putnam Regional Park, initially proposing 93 luxury homes. But environmental groups and numerous residents mobilized against the project, often spilling out of the council chambers at various city meetings.

KCPP director Greg Colvin, who has been on the frontlines of that fight, watched the developer’s proposal shrink with each environmental review that came before city council.

On Monday, Davidon Homes signed a purchase and sale agreement with KCPP, promising to sell 44 of the most vital acres on the property if the nonprofit can raise $4.1 million by Sept. 1. Under the deal, KCPP will not oppose Davidon’s bid to construct up to 28 homes on the north side of the property, away from the Kelly Creek watershed and red-legged frog habitat.

Davidon will sell the entire property to KCPP if the nonprofit can raise $11 million by Dec. 1.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8402528-181/deal-reached-in-petaluma-luxury

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Petaluma housing development moves forward despite concerns

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The 14-year-old Sid Commons, one of the largest proposed residential projects in Petaluma, continued its slow crawl toward approval thanks to a split city council vote on the development’s preliminary environmental report after a lengthy meeting Monday night at City Hall.

Residents near the project site, located on 15 acres at the terminus of Graylawn Avenue between the train tracks and Oak Creek Apartments and just south of the Petaluma River, trumpeted trepidations for a draft environmental impact study they felt came up short on traffic analysis and mitigating the potential harm to the area’s hard-fought flood protections.

The council echoed those concerns to the developer, J. Cyril Johnson Investment Corp., and city staff. On a 3-2 vote, with council members Gabe Kearney and Chris Albertson absent, the council allowed preparation of the final environmental impact report to begin contingent on an updated traffic study of Payran Street, which has steadily become a main thoroughfare, connecting Petaluma Boulevard North and East Washington Street.

“People use it to avoid East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and they use it to get to the north end of the boulevard,” said councilwoman Kathy Miller. “There’s quite a bit of traffic there … you sit for a long time.”

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8354231-181/petaluma-housing-development-moves-forward

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Santa Rosa narrows permit streamlining to areas near transit

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa City Council Tuesday narrowed the scope of its latest effort to streamline its permitting process in areas where it has prioritized housing.

The move was a reversal of a council vote earlier this month to cut the red tape for housing projects throughout the city, and was cast as a sign of the city’s renewed commitment to downtown development.

The council faced pressure to limit the streamlining effort to only those areas of the city known as “priority development areas,” which include Roseland and areas near transit, including downtown.

Groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance had argued that the city should do everything it can to incentivize housing closer to the infrastructure best able to handle it, such as Highway 101 and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line.

Mayor Chris Coursey, who voted for the more expansive version earlier this month, praised narrowing it Tuesday.

He said the change would help preserve a rare alliance between environmental and business concerns who agree on the importance of focusing development near downtown.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8349877-181/santa-rosa-narrows-permit-streamlining