CEQA Court Case Could Be Unmitigated Disaster for California’s Housing Crisis

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The stakes could not be higher for addressing California’s historic housing shortage and affordability crisis than the outcome of a court case highlighting both the role of judicial activism in expanding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) over the past 50 years and the multi-headed gorgon that CEQA has become. A California appellate court yesterday (Jan. 12) heard oral arguments in a case in which Berkeley anti-housing activists (aka NIMBYs) are challenging a plan by UC Berkeley to build affordable housing for students, faculty and homeless residents. The hearing yesterday followed a preliminary ruling by the court in December that favored the NIMBYs.

The significance of the case cannot be understated. The case revolves around the specious argument by NIMBYs that the environmental review of the UC Berkeley project did not account for noise that students might make, effectively categorizing students as pollution similar to smoke pouring from an industrial plant. This outrageous interpretation of CEQA has potentially far-reaching implications that would label all types of direct and indirect human behavior subject to environmental review.

Even more troubling, it could open the door to challenging all types of housing and other projects based on perceived racial and other characteristics and biases, even if done so without directly stating them. Judges on the First District Court of Appeal seemed to acknowledge the dangerous civil rights implications of going down this path, but they didn’t clearly indicate where any final ruling might come down. The court must issue a final ruling within 90 days or call for additional briefings.

In a Los Angeles Times story this week, Council Senior Vice President Matt Regan talked about the devastating impacts that a ruling siding with the NIMBY opposition could have on housing development statewide. Read the story>>

The Bay Area Council has long highlighted how abuse of CEQA in cases like this has undermined California’s ability to build new housing, exacerbating a crisis that is forcing droves of residents and businesses to leave the state, giving California the nation’s highest poverty rate and sabotaging our own efforts to address the impacts of climate change. While we support CEQA’s original intent to protect to the environment, the law has metastasized beyond any reasonable function. Regardless of any final decision in this latest court case, the Council implores Gov. Newsom and the Legislature to undertake comprehensive reform and bring CEQA into the 21st century. To engage in the Council’s housing policy work, please email Vice President of Housing Policy Louis Mirante or Senior Vice President Matt Regan.

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