Piling On: New Study Highlights CEQA’s Role in Housing Crisis

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A new study by Bay Area Council member Holland & Knight reveals that housing remains the top target of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuits that challenge state agency approvals of private projects. The study, “In the Name of the Environment Part III: CEQA, Housing, and the Rule of Law,” examines CEQA lawsuits filed in state courts over a period of three years, between 2019-21. It was published by the Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy and is available here.

In 2020 alone, the study found, CEQA lawsuits sought to block approximately 48,000 approved housing units statewide — just under half of the state’s total housing production. Overall, CEQA lawsuits filed during the study period challenged agency housing plans that allowed for more than one million new housing units. In addition, non-housing projects that accommodate housing and population growth, such as transportation and water infrastructure, are also a major target of CEQA lawsuits.

“After many years of our comprehensive study of CEQA lawsuits, it is impossible to explain CEQA litigation patterns without highlighting the role the judiciary has and continues to play in
expansively and creatively applying CEQA to identify new analytical and other requirements that are not expressly written into CEQA, the CEQA Guidelines, or any prior published case comprising CEQA jurisprudence,” said Jennifer Hernandez, the head of Holland & Knight’s West Coast Land Use and Environment Group and author of the study. “We urgently need the state’s elected leaders and our distinguished judiciary to restore CEQA to ordinary administrative law jurisprudence, and allow critically needed housing, climate-resilient infrastructure, water supplies, and public services to be built in full compliance with the thousands of environmental protection statutes and regulations adopted since 1970.” 

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