NIMBYs create the perfect wildfire storm using CEQA to bludgeon housing projects


There is a major factor contributing to the threat of California wildfires that seems to destroy more and more homes year after year that everyone seems to ignore.

This is called the California Environmental Quality Act.

Or more precisely in what the CEQA is transformed.

Since its enactment in 1970 when enacted by then Governor Ronald Reagan, CEQA has been hijacked to delay, block and extract concessions from developers attempting to build housing, especially in urbanized areas.

As a result, CEQA blocked, delayed or significantly increased the cost of housing construction. Even in parts of the state that are somewhat more conducive to housing development, away from the heavily urbanized coastline, it often takes at least five years for a project to go from conception to inauguration.

This leads to five years of debt, repetitive valuation studies, and further cost increases that add to California’s housing shortage that the state estimates at around 3 million units.

High density projects such as apartments are even riskier. Not because the initial time to get approval is longer than for multi-plot homes, but because of the way they are funded. It often takes another seven years after apartment complexes are built to start designing for a developer. There are very few positioned developers who can afford to play this kind of long game, which is why apartments are in dire shortage in many areas.

For this reason, the easiest place to build housing that more Californians can afford to buy is in areas remote from cities such as San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento River, where most of the jobs are located.

That’s why it’s no surprise that the nonprofit think tank Next 10 and the Center for Community Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley released a study last week showing that one in two homes in California is being built in areas described as “the edge of the wilderness.”

This not only includes forests, but hills, expanses of open fields and even the desert where forest fires can be just as devastating in many areas as in the Sierra foothills.

The idea behind CEQA in 1970 was to require state and local agencies to conduct a protocol for the analysis and public disclosure of a project’s environmental impacts, even if it is simply a matter of adding a cycle path as the city of Manteca did 18 months ago when it carried out rehabilitation works. on Yosemite Avenue from Cottage Avenue to Main Street.

It went a step further, however, than the National Environmental Policy Act. This requires the adoption of all possible measures to mitigate these impacts.

Not only is “doable” a word open to constant interpretation and subject to situational ethics, it is an effective hammer that those in the “not in my backyard” crowd or NIMBYs can use to club projects. to death or – if their target survives – dramatically increase the cost of development.

NIMBYs simply don’t want more people or development where they are. It doesn’t matter that they moved into homes that when built created the same impacts that they oppose. It also doesn’t concern them that forcing homes away from cities arguably creates even more human-caused negative environmental impacts due to things like a longer commute which adds to air quality issues. and congestion to increase the risk of destructive forest fires.

Highlighting this point is a study that shows that 85 percent of CEQA lawsuits filed are not by environmental groups. Just over 80 percent of CEQA’s prosecutions involve infill projects.

CEQA – in too many cases – is not used to protect birds, water, air quality or forests. Instead, it’s used to try and keep development – read this more housing – outside of urbanized areas. In doing so, it reinforces the scarcity of houses, increases the value of NIMBY houses and forces others to seek accommodation in forest fire areas.

The end result of CEQA’s hijacking as an anti-growth weapon is that we now have 10 million Californians whose lives and homes are threatened by wildfires.

Do not mistake yourself. CEQA has enabled California to protect many natural resources and natural treasures. But it also played a key role in creating the need for super travel that led to the sprawl of the suburbs.

Resistance to higher density infill projects that would allow housing to be built in cities where the shortage is most acute and the infrastructure already in place has been greatly enhanced by the CEQA process.

Trying to find common ground is dangerous at best.

Repeated efforts by the California legislature to force cities to allow housing construction are fought tooth and nail by affluent “mature” towns along the coast and in neighboring areas such as the Inner Bay region and Silicon. Valley.

Meanwhile, efforts by the legislature to make construction in wildfire areas more difficult were opposed in 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom. His reasoning was simple. He rightly feared that such regulations would only worsen California’s housing crisis and accelerate the homelessness crisis.

This led to the reality that California now faces – about 50 percent of all new homes are built in wildfire areas.

And while it’s cheaper and easier to build in the cities and remote areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose, it drives up the cost of living in wildfire areas.

Expensive travel is now joined by the boom in fire insurance.

It is becoming common for people living in fire zones to have their insurance canceled due to extremely high risk exposure and forced to purchase policies with insurance pools where annual premiums range from $ 3,000 to $ 5,000 per year. Typically, this is triple what the same house would pay for coverage in a city.

California is rapidly approaching a crossroads.

Either we control the main factors contributing to rising housing costs such as the CEQA process, or we will be subject to even more massive forest fires and even more homelessness.

It’s not just hyperbole. Fifty years ago, putting out forest fires was the top priority of California firefighters. Now he evacuates people and protects property, then stops the forest fires.

As for the homeless, we are fast approaching the day when it is perhaps not uncommon for some living on the streets to have a regular income of $ 31,200.

In case someone in Sacramento thought that raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour would solve all of California’s problems, $ 31,200 is what a Californian will earn if they work 40 hours at 3 p.m. $ per hour.

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