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Saturday, June 19, 2021

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News + PoliticsBill to limit environmental appeals in SF is dead for now

Bill to limit environmental appeals in SF is dead for now

Supes committee rejects attempt to allow some projects to go forward without full CEQA review


A measure aimed at discouraging environmental appeals of some public projects is apparently dead for the moment.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 2-1 Monday to table the bill – which means unless six supes vote to call it out of committee, it’s not going anywhere.

Sup. Matt Haney sought changes in the city’s CEQA policies but the measure is dead.

Sups. Aaron Peskin and Dean Preston voted to table. Sup. Myrna Melgar voted against that move.

The bill, by Mayor London Breed and Sup. Matt Haney, was not a profound or far-reaching proposal. It would have allowed some public-sector projects to move forward while environmental appeals were pending, and would have required the signatures of 50 SF residents to file an appeal.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, anyone who believes a projects needs further review can file and appeal to the supes.

At issue, mostly, are what the laws calls “negative declarations” and “categorical exemptions.” Those are rulings by the Planning Department that a project “could not have a significant environmental impact” – which means no environmental impact report is required.

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Developers and project sponsors love negative declarations at categorical exemptions, because they avoid the time and expense of an EIR.

But the Planning Department sometimes seems to hand them out like candy, even when a project has potentially serious environmental issues.

The Haney bill only would apply to city projects, which at times have been slowed down by one individual.

At the hearing, Haney noted, “too many public projects can be caught in costly and sometimes fruitless delays. … this is a very narrow common-sense reform.”

But as Peskin pointed out at the hearing, those appeals are rare – and right now, the supes are able to address them within four to six weeks. So it’s not a huge delay anyway – and in most cases, the appeals are denied or withdrawn:

I think fundamentally, this is a solution looking for a problem. And, if you look at the data that the planning department gave us and I’ll drill down into that, I believe it proves that, if you look at a 5-year period of the total universe of the projects that were subject to analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, over 20,000, there were less than 100 in that five-year period that were appealed through the Board of Supervisors.

More important, he said, CEQA has been a target for developers for years:

 I understand that Supervisor Haney believes this is narrowly crafted. But CEQA has been under assault by the same developers and capital interest in Sacramento year after year and it’s a shame to see that same assault at the local level for what is truly not a problem.

Haney told me today that he’s not pursuing the measure any further at this point. “I think it’s dead,” he said. “I’m focused on the budget.”

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. We learned during the Bicycle Plan Update of 2005 that well intentioned otherwise environmentally worthy projects can indeed produce significant environmental impacts.

    SF must view Muni surface runtimes as a scarce, valuable capital asset to be defended.

    This legislation would treat delays in Muni surface runtimes due to the impacts of projects as not worthy of study.

    With TNCs, parking is no longer the major driver of VMT.

    EIRs are viewed as onerous because SF has chosen to outsource EIRs to consultants, and that entails process delays and costs.

    How about SF devise its own transportation network model so that it can do the transit delay tests for a project in-house and in real-time? They should have that ready around 2038.

  2. Multiple Sunshine requests to the MTA revealed that there is no record of how much the appeals cost or how the figures were arrived at. This was a red herring for trying to limit the public’s ability to weigh in on environmental issues and to get more information on projects that the City has been trying to ram through during COVID.

  3. Let’s remember that the Commuter Shuttle Bus Pilot and Program (or whatever it was called back in 2014 through 2016/2017 when it became permanent) was a city program — and it was handed a categorical exemption. Same with the creation of transit-only red lanes that permit private bus access (in violation of state and local laws) — no EIR, city programs that have been handed a categorical exemptions. Let’s not go here and let’s get this stopped..

  4. Considering the large number of disaster that have gone through the current process of CEQA reviews, it is not a good idea to cut back on the process now. We are grateful to the Supervisors who stopped this and the many citizens who opposed the relation of environmental standards we still have left. They are being eaten away by our state reps. We need more citizen involvement, not less.

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