CEQA plans sent to full Board of Supervisors

After months of proposals, counter-offers and tentative deals, not one but two versions of legislation on California Environmental Quality Act appeals were kicked up Monday from a Board of Supervisors committee to the full board.

Those who want to appeal City decisions about building projects would have a choice to:

  • File an appeal within 30 days of the project’s first approval by the Planning Commission, as legislation proposed by Supervisor’s Scott Wiener and conditionally supported by Board President David Chiu would enact, or
  • File an appeal later if the project changes significantly, as Supervisor Jane Kim has proposed with her legislation, which is supported by supervisors Campos, Avalos, Mar and Yee.

All three members of the Land Use and Economic Development committee  — Chiu, Kim and Wiener — agreed it was time to send legislation on how The City should handle appeals to decisions made under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) up to the full Board for a vote, but with certain reservations and conditions.

Chiu’s conditions consisted of 13 amendments to Wiener’s legislation, including some very similar to Kim’s ideas, like stipulating that modifications to a project after its first approval might trigger a new environmental review and thus allow for the possibility of another appeal to be filed.

Chiu also suggested creating a subscription-based email system to more efficiently notify interested parties:

“I intend to make those amendments at the full Board vis-a-vis Supervisor Wiener’s legislation, and assuming that those are made I do plan to support his legislation and will likely add my name as a co-sponsor.”

Kim had reservations:

“I just would like us to define ‘modification. … I think that’s incredibly important for both sides. I think it helps both our developers, builders and helps members of the public understand what a modification to a project is and there would be a lot less debate and contention about that issue.”

Kim was also reluctant about sending legislation with murky details to the full Board:

“My process preference is, of course, that we have amendments ready and that we vote on them at Land Use Committee before we send them out to the full Board. … I think that we invite our colleagues to kind of enter into the fray at that point, versus sending out one legislation that all three of us agree upon.”

Wiener agreed that what constitutes a significant modification is an important point:

“We base it on the final approval today. … My sense is that there’s a consensus that when there is some sort of significant change to the project, where it effectively becomes a different project. … You shouldn’t be able to get one project approved and then pull a fast one, intentionally or unintentionally, by changing the project.”

Wiener also indicated Chiu’s amendments include some items he could support incorporating into his legislation:

“With one exception, which I still have some questions about, I think that these appear to be reasonable amendments that by and large are very consistent with what I’ve been trying to do for the last seven months with this legislation. …  Really the heart of the legislation is to set a deadline for CEQA appeals and then to have that deadline actually have teeth to it…”

Wiener’s ordinance, introduced last year, would revise the procedures for how The City handles CEQA appeals. He says it will put a clear process in place, so that people will know when and how to file an appeal.

Wiener said the renovation of Dolores Park was brought to a halt because one person filed a last-minute appeal against a CEQA decision:

“Under our current rules that appeal can occur when the project is already in construction. … That appellant who filed the Dolores Park appeal, as with other appellants, has every right to file that appeal but we should at least have clear rules and deadlines in place.”

What some describe as an extremely complicated 2008 memo from the City Attorney’s office is now serving as a guide to the appeals process. Chiu has stated that this memo has led to 23 percent of these types of appeals not being filed on time.

Supporters of the current method for dealing with appeals point out that recent negotiations for a new California Pacific Medical Center on Cathedral Hill benefited from multiple CEQA appeals, because they forced developers to consider the community more and make significant changes to the project.

When Steve Keighran of the Residential Builders Association spoke before the committee during public comment, he underscored the importance of determining just what kind of changes to a building project should trigger the possibility for another appeal:

“Supervisor Wiener you gave a very obvious example about someone comes in with a one-story addition and it becomes a two-story addition. … But perhaps we need some sort of minimum threshold because what happens when you have a building and you decide just to add an elevator? … We need some form of a reasonable, minimum threshold.”