The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a State statue established in 1970 which requires local public agencies to provide analysis and disclosure of possible environmental impacts prior to the approval of building permits.
Exemptions from analysis can be granted for minor projects, saving much time and money, but those exemptions can be appealed as can any findings of no environmental impact (a “negative declaration”), an appeal process which is ill-defined and costly, a favorite tool of both concerned citizens and NIMBYs alike.
Having spent months writing and re-writing proposed legislation to establish a set 20 day windows for filing appeals and clarifying the process, Supervisor Wiener’s proposed legislation was approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission and seemed ready for a Board of Supervisors vote. And then Supervisor Kim introduced a competing bill.
Directly from Supervisor Wiener’s office:
On March 12, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced separate, alternative CEQA legislation. The legislation was not drafted by the City Attorney nor approved as to form by the City Attorney. The Planning Department did not participate in the legislation, did not provide feedback on it, and was not aware of the legislation before it was introduced.
While Supervisor Wiener welcomes any of his colleagues to participate in this important process, unfortunately, Supervisor Kim’s legislation is exactly the opposite of Supervisor Wiener’s legislation. Instead of creating a clearer and more predictable process, it will make the CEQA process even worse than it is today: longer, more expensive, more cumbersome, more bureaucratic, and less predictable.
A few examples from Wiener’s Office with respect to the “negative changes” that would result if Supervisor Kim’s legislation is adopted:
Every project on every building 50 years or older – nearly 3/4 of San Francisco’s building stock – would no longer be eligible for a CEQA Categorical Exemption stamp (often issued over the counter in a matter of hours) for a minor change, such as changing a window, replacing a rotted out handrail, or replacing a failing roof. Instead, any and all such projects will be required to get a “Categorical Exemption Certificate,” which is a detailed report that can take 3-6 months to issue and currently costs $5,000, as opposed to several hundred dollars for a Categorical Exemption stamp.
This change would effectively mean that over the counter permits would no longer be an option for buildings 50 years or older, more than 3/4 of buildings in San Francisco.
Similarly, all projects in parks and “open space,” which is a very broad term, would require the same 3-6 month and $5,000 certificate instead of the current Categorical Exemption stamp. This would dramatically increase the time and cost associated with even small park and open space projects, like rehabilitating playground structures, adding benches, and planting trees on road medians.
In addition, under Kim’s bill every negative declaration for a park, open space, or building greater than 50 years old would be required to be considered by both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission. Currently, negative declarations are only considered by the Planning Commission and only if an appeal is filed.