January 17, 2017

Most SF environmental protections not to be gutted, after all

240x320_sf-city-hall(This is an updated version of an article published here on June 27.)

At this point it looks like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is not going to seriously weaken the city’s environmental protections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but negotiations continue over important details about empowering community members to challenge faulty environmental determinations and environmentally unsound projects. The final bill may come to the Supervisors in the next few weeks.

In October, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a bill that would have seriously interfered with the public’s ability to comment on–and appeal–environmental decisions in the city (see April Yodeler, front page), but it appears now that we are going to get almost all of the basic protections we demanded, and almost all of the bad provisions of Wiener’s original have been stripped out. There is, however, one particularly important exception: for a project deemed categorically exempt from CEQA–that is, not requiring a full Environmental Impact Report (EIRs) or negative declaration with mitigations–the time limit for any appeal will be just 30 days, and it will be triggered by the “first approval” (such as the issuance of a building permit) that the project receives, rather than the final approval.

To mitigate this provision, we are working to get trailing legislation introduced and passed as close as possible to the passage of the main bill. This trailer would apply in cases where a project is significantly modified after its initial approval. It would require clear public notification of such a modification, and enable the public to appeal to the Planning Department to seek a new environmental review due to the change in the project. Sierra Club support for the legislation has been contingent on this trailing legislation.

As an example of the importance of these rules, consider the Beach Chalet soccer-field project, where the SF Recreation and Parks Department proposed to replace grass with seven acres of synthetic turf and 60-foot night lights. This was initially deemed categorically exempt by the Recreation and Parks Department. Due at least in part to public pressure, the Planning Department decided to do a full EIR. Nonetheless this project came too close to slipping between the cracks. The EIR on this project is now being litigated with Sierra Club support (see April-May Yodeler, page 6).

All in all, the current bill is definitely not perfect, but it is massively better than Wiener’s original corporate-giveaway monstrosity, and will give us roughly the same protections as now, but with a lot of very real and strong improvements to the requirements for public notice on decisions.

Thanks to all of you who have contacted the Supervisors about this threat, and who have done the hard work of the difficult negotiations.

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