Ralph Silberstein: The way forward needs CEQA
October 16, 2017
This letter is in response to the Sept. 11 opinion piece in the issue of The Union titled, "The way forward for Nevada County" by Mary Owens.
Owens correctly states that there are many projects approved in Nevada County which are still not built. Following the great recession, most of these projects were stalled waiting for funding or for housing prices to rise enough to make them profitable to build.
All of the mentioned projects have already completed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process and have been approved, so clearly CEQA is not the reason they remain unbuilt.
However, CEQA is the favorite whipping boy of developers and Owens dedicates most of her article lambasting it.
We need to retain CEQA and certainly not weaken it if we wish to protect our future.
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A bit of reality is in order here.
Not all projects should be approved. Some projects are just a bad idea.
CEQA requires some projects to produce an Environmental Impact Report if there are potential impacts. These are usually larger projects.
Many developers don't like CEQA because it costs money, takes time, and introduces uncertainty to the development process.
No state body is empowered to enforce CEQA. Rather, by design, enforcement depends on litigation by private parties acting in the public interest, i.e. "lawsuits."
According to a recent study, the rate of litigation of non-exempt projects is really quite low, at less than 1 percent and the direct project costs of CEQA reviews is less than 0.5 percent (CEQA in the 21st Century, BAE Urban Economics, August 2016).
CEQA is not causing the housing shortage.
It is important to point out that we all benefit from CEQA in ways that far outweigh the costs. CEQA provides information about potential impacts before the projects are approved. This allows our decision makers to protect the rest of us from costly and harmful impacts such as toxic soil, air pollution, traffic congestion, landslides, flooding, noise, etc. It helps place the responsibility of preventing problems upon the developers who are creating the problems. This is much preferable to burdening the general public to pick up the tab and try to fix things after they have gone bad.
We are entering the era of limits, of resource depletion, and of over-population. California has thrived in part because of the environmental quality act and other environmental regulations. As we read about flooding, pollution, water shortages, traffic gridlock, and housing shortages, one thing is clearly evident: We need to retain CEQA and certainly not weaken it if we wish to protect our future.
Ralph Silberstein lives in Grass Valley.