New Bid to Curb Abuse of California Environmental Laws
One of the biggest impediments to affordable homebuilding in California is the unreasonable use of environmental lawsuits to block new construction.
The California Environmental Quality Act (or CEQA) was originally intended to protect our state’s incredible natural beauty. Today it is a brutally effective tool for special interests who want to stop building altogether or to hold builders hostage for concessions.
And while this doesn’t do much for the environment — these projects will already have had their environmental impact thoroughly assessed and approved — the cost and time associated with defending even a completely frivolous CEQA lawsuit has derailed countless affordable projects.
New legislation introduced at the state capitol this session aims to give affordable homebuilders some relief from the most baseless of these legal attacks. The bipartisan bill — AB2445 — would give California judges the flexibility to require litigants to post a bond in an amount reflecting the risk to the affordable housing project being challenged.
Bill author Assemblymember James Gallagher said that his legislation would require litigants to have some “skin in the game” when it comes to legal action.
“In practice we’ve seen many instances where CEQA has been used by NIMBYs to stop projects or delay projects,” he told lawmakers on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee in April.
“This reasonable reform would ensure that these affordable housing projects that we need aren’t unduly delayed or stopped because of a frivolous lawsuit.”
Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco CEO Maureen Sedonaen testified alongside Asm. Gallagher at the committee hearing in support of AB2445.
She spoke about a Habitat for Humanity development in downtown Redwood City which “for nearly 16 months was needlessly stalled while we fought a completely baseless lawsuit.”
The lawsuit was brought by a local business that had a track record of initiating CEQA litigation and doing everything they could to stop local projects. “In addition to the delay,” she added, “construction costs were forced up by over a million dollars.”
“AB2445 could level the playing field and help ensure only serious threats to our environment are brought forward and would likely deter and discourage the most frivolous lawsuits.”
The bill passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee with a unanimous 11–0 vote. It now heads to the Assembly Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
To learn more about Habitat Greater San Francisco’s advocacy on CEQA abuse in California, please read this opinion piece for the San Francisco Business Times.
And to stay in touch with our advocacy work please follow us everywhere @HabitatGSF