California’s Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, was signed into law in 1970. It made local governments evaluate and disclose any environmental impacts a new development or change in land use might have. The law was created following a wave of environmental activism in the 1970s that saw the creation of the EPA and other environmentally focused agencies. (Bloomberg.com, 2022)
The CEQA serves as an important safeguard in helping to promote equitable environmental outcomes and avoid harmful construction in disadvantaged communities. However, many are now saying that the CEQA is being abused in order to stop the development of much-needed affordable housing in California. Those critical of CEQA point out that the process has a detrimental amount of red tape, and is being used by Not In My Backyarders, or NIMBYs, to delay the development of many projects across the state.
In Berkeley, a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods sued UC Berkeley to stop the development of a student housing complex, saying that there were too many students moving to the city, which was leading to increased rents and homelessness. They also called upon CEQA, noting that the increased numbers of students was having a detrimental effect on the environment. (sfist.com, 2022)
Those in favor of more affordable housing are saying that CEQA should be amended to address how it has been abused in order to stop development of any kind. However, others point out that CEQA is not the biggest problem. One researcher studying 2,000 new housing developments across the state found that just 3% were under CEQA review. (Bloomberg.com, 2022)