Editorial: How CEQA abuse sullies even worthy requests for EIR

Under guidelines set forth by the California Environmental Quality Act, projects that could have negative effects on the environment are subject to such an “impact report.”|

How intense were the calls this week for a thorough environmental impact report for the proposed 49-unit low-income housing complex on Broadway? Intense enough to make one wonder if Train Town’s been secretly dumping hazardous byproducts from its Chattanooga Choo Choo Chairs at the 2-acre lot across the street. (At the risk of having my year pass to the “Locomotion Scrambler” rescinded, I’ll point out that Train Town runs a pristine rail line.)

More than half a dozen neighbors demanded an EIR on the project at the March 21 Sonoma City Council meeting – which was about the same number of people in the standing-room-only space who knew the council has nothing to do with requiring an environmental impact report – that’s the planning commission’s job.

And perhaps the project will require an EIR – in fact it very well may. But one hopes the many pleas for such a report are simply to ensure that developers Satellite Affordable Housing Associates mitigate any adverse environmental impacts during the realization of the project – the true intent of EIRs.

And that it’s not about what EIRs have too often become these days – a tool to stop a project completely.

Under guidelines set forth by the California Environmental Quality Act, projects that could have negative effects on the environment are subject to such an “impact report.” But the costs of the reports run into the tens of thousands of dollars – and oftentimes into the hundreds of thousands when court challenges tie them up for years in pricey legal knots in the hopes that project coordinators will simply drop the plan altogether.

Such is how CEQA is abused – to take advantage of the noble intent toward environmental protection in order to stall projects simply on the basis of personal dislike or inconvenience. To wait them out.

To be clear, there’s no reason to think community requests for an EIR on the Broadway project come with this intent. But the sad reality is that CEQA abuse is so common that eyebrows are raised with even the most reasonable calls for environmental review.

In one sublime moment at the Monday council meeting, project supporter and local activist Fred Allebach called attention to the commonality of such tactics by admitting he, himself, had schemed on playing the EIR card last year if the city furthered its intention to allow leashed dogs on the Montini Open Space Preserve. The EIR game plan is the worst-kept secret in the room.

But, hey, that’s the deal with CEQA. Who can fault folks from bending an expressed agreement to their advantage? It’s innate; it’s in our DNA.

In fact, even my own kids are doing it.

Last week, 9-year-old Sam was begging 13-year-old Jack for one of his multiple Steph Curry basketball cards, valued collectibles one would – and please excuse this paternal unpleasantness – have to pry from his cold, dead hands. But Jack cut his kid bro’ a deal nonetheless.

Jack – always wanting to play one-on-one basketball with little Sam (a sure win even on his off days) – prepared the following contract to be signed by his pre-pubescent, layup-bricking sibling:

In exchange for an “Upper Deck” Stephen Curry card, “I will play 35 games with my brother Jack. I can only say ‘no’ five times.”

And he made Sam sign on the dotted line.

Jack’s stipulation, of course, was that the third-grader had to play all 35 games before he got the card – knowing full well this could be months or years down the line, long past when the deal had all but been forgotten.

The real plan? To wait him out.

Jack’s deal, sadly, was thwarted – by both Dad and state law, which doesn’t recognize the legality of contracts signed by those under 18.

Still, it was a valuable life’s lesson about fair play, honest dealings and the importance of honoring agreements for their intentions and not as a means to an end.

And I learned something as well: Those kids are going to come in mighty handy if anyone tries to build anything high-density behind our place.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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