In summary

CEQA’s deleterious consequences on building in California remains a substantial roadblock to the elimination of the housing crisis.

By Donald P. Wagner, Orange County

Donald P. Wagner is an Orange County Supervisor. He is a former Assembly member and vice chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Re “Housing justice relies on a strong CEQA”; Commentary, Sept. 30, 2021

In this commentary, we are told that “less than 1% of projects subject to environmental review” end up in litigation. The statistic is meaningless. It ignores the number of projects that are threatened with CEQA litigation and adversely changed or delayed. It ignores the number of proposed new affordable housing units reduced because of CEQA concerns or those projects that never get started because of CEQA challenges. That number is far above 1% and likely impacting closer to 100% of construction projects in California. 

The pernicious effect of CEQA is well known in the construction industry. More importantly, that effect is well known in Sacramento. More than once during my six years serving in the Legislature, we considered a bill sponsored by Democrats to waive or limit CEQA on a particular project. Why? Because the project was a political favorite of the Democrats, and they knew CEQA stood in its way. 

I voted for those bills every time. Why? Doing so opened me and other supporters of these bills to the charge of playing favorites. But I looked at it as an admission by Sacramento’s ruling party of the fact that CEQA abuse is a real thing, with very bad real world effects on development in California. 

By bringing relief for favored projects, those legislative leaders were admitting the arguments as to CEQA’s deleterious consequences on building in California. Unfortunately, they would not follow those arguments to their logical conclusion: the need for genuine, substantive CEQA reform. The special interest attorneys would always stand firmly in opposition to that much needed reform. 

Beyond doubt, environmental impacts must be considered and remediated within reason on California building projects. The environment is important. But CEQA today is not merely “strong,” as Ashley Werner contends. It is a hulking behemoth warping the construction industry statewide. As currently interpreted, CEQA remains a substantial roadblock to the elimination of California’s housing crisis. 

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