CEQA Litigation: Harmful for Housing?

Litigation abuse under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) undermines Californiaʹs environmental, social equity, and economic priorities, according to a Holland & Knight report, the first comprehensive study of lawsuits filed under CEQA. Analyzing all CEQA lawsuits filed from 2010 to 2012, the report systematically documents widespread abuse of CEQA litigation.

 

The study says that 49% of all CEQA lawsuits targeted taxpayer-funded projects with no business or other private sector sponsors. Projects designed to advance California’s environmental policy objectives – transit, renewable energy, and housing -- are the most frequent targets of CEQA lawsuits. Infill projects are the overwhelming target of CEQA lawsuits. CEQA litigation is overwhelmingly used in cities, targeting core urban services such as parks, schools, libraries, and even senior housing. 64% of those filing CEQA lawsuits are individuals or local “associations,” primarily the domain of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opponents and special interests.

According to the report, ending CEQA litigation abuse is the most cost-effective way to restore the state's middle-class job base, make housing more affordable, ensure that taxpayer funds are spent on projects, and improve the future of the nearly nine million Californians living in poverty. The authors recommend three moderate reforms to curtail the abuse:

  1. Require those filing CEQA lawsuits to disclose their identity and interests.

  2. Eliminate duplicative lawsuits aimed at derailing plans and projects that have already completed the CEQA process.

  3. Preserve CEQA’s existing environmental review and public comment requirements, as well as access to litigation remedies for environmental purposes, but restrict judicial invalidation to projects that would harm public health, destroy irreplaceable tribal resources, or threaten the ecology.

Written by Dima Galkin, an Associate at RSG