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Why You Should Secretly Care About: CEQA Reform

Scott Lucas | July 18, 2013 | Story Politics

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed a far-reaching set of changes to the way that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is handled here in San Francisco. We are well aware that most of you just fell asleep upon reading that sentence. Let’s face it—unless you're an urban planning wonk or a grumpy Bay Guardian gadfly, it's pretty tough to work up a lather over CEQA reform. But you should care—and here are five reasons why:

1. It’s A Huge Victory For Scott Wiener: As we’ve reported before, the District 8 Supervisor has been angling to be the moderate standard-bearer across the city. A celebratory press release quickly came from his office, saying that “Supervisor Wiener is the fourth Supervisor over the past decade to attempt to legislate clear and predictable procedures for CEQA appeals […] Previous attempts never even made it to the full Board.” It’s easy to see language like that making it into campaign speeches for higher offices. On top of that, expect pro-development interests to be exceedingly generous with their checkbooks for his future races. Okay, we're just going to say it: Scott Wiener just became downtown's pick as Ed Lee's heir apparent.

2. It’s A Pretty Big Win for David Chiu Too: At the beginning of his third term as President of the Board, it was hard to know if Chiu’s public commitment to consensus was substantive or just talk. Part of the verdict is in. Chiu worked hard to incorporate much of Supervisor Jane Kim’s competing CEQA proposal into the final version. Passing any major legislation by a unanimous vote is hard, especially in a policy area as fraught as this one. Points to Chiu for getting it done.

3. It’s A Loss for Jane Kim and for the Anti-Development Crowd: Though much of what was in her competing measure—which was supported by many neighborhood, environmental, labor, and social-justice groups—made it into the final bill, at the end of the day, it was Wiener’s approach and not Kim’s that won. It’s yet another sign of the relative weakening of the San Francisco progressive left.

4. It Will Speed Up Building Projects Already in the Pipeline: Let a thousand cranes bloom. By requiring any objections to a building project to be lodged within 30 days of the plan’s initial approval, this reform should drastically diminish the time between blueprint and completion. There will still be time to lodge environmental objections, but now the process is more transparent and predictable.

5. It Will Lead to More Future Development: The old CEQA process created pretty stiff disincentives for builders. The new one is still a hurdle that has to be cleared, but it’s a little easier. That blur you just saw outside your window—it was a developer racing to the bank to line up financing.

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