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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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Piece by piece, a factory-made answer for a housing squeeze

Conor Dougherty, THE NEW YORK TIMES

California is in the middle of an affordable-housing crisis that cities across the state are struggling to solve. Rick Holliday, a longtime Bay Area real estate developer, thinks one answer lies in an old shipyard in Vallejo, about 40 minutes northeast of San Francisco.

Here, in a football-field-sized warehouse where workers used to make submarines, Mr. Holliday recently opened Factory OS, a factory that manufactures homes. In one end go wood, pipes, tile, sinks and toilets; out another come individual apartments that can be trucked to a construction site and bolted together in months.

“If we don’t build housing differently, then no one can have any housing,” Mr. Holliday said during a recent tour, as he passed assembly-line workstations and stacks of raw materials like windows, pipes and rolls of pink insulation.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/business/economy/modular-housing.html

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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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We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we’re drowning in it.

Laura Parker, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE

If plastic had been invented when the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, to North America—and the Mayflower had been stocked with bottled water and plastic-wrapped snacks—their plastic trash would likely still be around, four centuries later.

If the Pilgrims had been like many people today and simply tossed their empty bottles and wrappers over the side, Atlantic waves and sunlight would have worn all that plastic into tiny bits. And those bits might still be floating around the world’s oceans today, sponging up toxins to add to the ones already in them, waiting to be eaten by some hapless fish or oyster, and ultimately perhaps by one of us.

We should give thanks that the Pilgrims didn’t have plastic, I thought recently as I rode a train to Plymouth along England’s south coast. I was on my way to see a man who would help me make sense of the whole mess we’ve made with plastic, especially in the ocean.

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-pollution-trash-crisis/

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Republic Services to buy Santa Rosa trash hauler, recycling center

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Republic Services, which has operated the Sonoma County-owned Central Landfill west of Cotati since late 2010, is the nation’s second largest waste firm.

Its expansion in Sonoma County could position it for a head-to-head competition with Recology for future hauling business, according to local solid waste experts.

Republic Services, the national solid waste giant that runs Sonoma County’s landfill, is in the process of acquiring a Santa Rosa garbage contractor and its recycling center in a move that could further shake up the region’s garbage industry.

Industrial Carting, along with its Global Materials Recovery Services recycling operation, both located on Santa Rosa Avenue south of the city, is selling to the Arizona-based company, according to Lee Pierce, a consultant for Industrial Carting, and Leslye Choate, a Sonoma County government official who is handling paperwork related to the deal.

Neither company would elaborate on the acquisition or disclose the terms of the agreement.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8386238-181/republic-services-to-buy-santa

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Dozens of animal welfare activists arrested after large protest at Petaluma chicken farm

Robert Digitale and Susan Minichiello, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of the largest animal welfare demonstrations ever held at a Sonoma County farm ended Tuesday with the peaceful arrests of 40 activists on suspicion of trespassing at an egg production facility northwest of Petaluma.

An estimated 500 demonstrators rallied for more than three hours across the street from a farm on Liberty Road north of Rainsville Road. Along with egg production barns, the property houses the offices of Sunrise Farms, one of the North Bay’s largest egg producers.

Before sheriff’s deputies arrived, dozens of activists walked onto the farm and took away about 10 chickens that were sick or dying, according to organizers of the Berkeley-based group Direct Action Everywhere.

That group, also known as DXE, and affiliated organizations gathered over the past week in Berkeley for what they called their “Animal Liberation Conference.” The event, which organizers said drew 1,200 registered participants from around the U.S. and other countries, included on its website an unspecified event for Tuesday listed simply as “Action #4.”

Organizers claim the egg farm is an example of a systemic pattern of criminal animal abuse in California that isn’t being addressed by either the justice system or by state and local animal welfare agencies.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8377017-181/dozens-of-animal-welfare-activists?ref=most

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California wages war on plastic

Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

It took years of activist campaigns to turn the plastic bag into a villain, and hard-fought legislation to reduce its presence in oceans and waterways. Now, environmentalists and lawmakers are deploying similar tactics against a new generation of plastic pollutants.

There are drinking straws, which as a viral video shows can get stuck in a sea turtle’s nose. The hundreds of thousands of bottle caps that wind up on beaches. And the microfibers that wash off polyester clothes, making their way into the ocean, the stomachs of marine life and ultimately our seafood.

Each is the subject of statewide legislation under debate in Sacramento, as California again considers new environmental law that’s at once pioneering and controversial.

Their action comes as plastic takes center stage as the environmental concern du jour.

There could be more plastic by weight than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, according to a widely cited World Economic Forum report. A recent UC Davis study sampled seafood sold at local markets in Half Moon Bay and found that one-quarter of fish and one-third of shellfish contained plastic debris.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-california-plastic-pollution-20180528-story.html

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California has a recycling crisis. The only way to solve it is to stop making so much trash

Times Editorial Board, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Californians use — and then toss — a tremendous amount of paper and plastic packaging material every day: takeout coffee cups and lids, cereal boxes, wine bottles, plastic bags, clamshell food containers, and on and on.

It’s hard for even the most militant environmentalist to avoid contributing to this waste stream, given the inescapability of products wrapped in some sort of disposable material. Even fruits and vegetables that are naturally encased in durable, compostable wrapping will be trundled up in plastic bags in the produce aisle for the trip home.

Those disturbed by the amount of trash they produce have been able to assuage their guilty consciences by making sure every potential recyclable item ended up in the blue recycling bin. Surely there could be no long-term environmental toll if every empty plastic soda bottle and chipboard six-pack carrier was diverted from the landfill and remade into a cozy fleece jacket or an organic chemistry textbook.

What a lovely story. Too bad it’s about as true as a happily-ever-after fairy tale. Recycling has never been the solution to the problem posed by empty beer cans, plastic takeout containers and other single-use items, just a way to mitigate the effects enough to pretend that all this waste is not really wasteful. But reality is becoming harder to ignore now that the foreign market for our trash is collapsing. Hallelujah to that, as it might just be the impetus needed to force society to confront the disposable culture that is trashing the planet.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-recycling-crisis-20180526-story.html