SF lawmaker hits speedbump in CEQA reform 

click to enlarge Jane Kim and Supervisor Scott Wiener, above, are pitching competing environmental-review reforms to the Board of Supervisors. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Jane Kim and Supervisor Scott Wiener, above, are pitching competing environmental-review reforms to the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Scott Wiener’s effort to change how The City handles an environmental appeals process was slowed down Monday as a competing measure is being introduced today.

The proposed changes to the appeals process related to the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly called CEQA, have sparked tensions at City Hall, creating divisions among labor unions, community groups and housing advocates, and filling up supervisors’ inboxes with hundreds of emails from residents on both sides of the conflict.

Developers complain about the unpredictability and endless battles in the existing process, while neighborhood activists worry proposed changes would diminish their influence.

The proposal was under debate Monday for about four hours at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee, after which it was continued so Supervisor Jane Kim could introduce competing legislation today, which she crafted with a coalition of neighborhood advocates.

She requested time to have her proposal fully vetted. Wiener wanted to send his legislation, which was first introduced late last year, to the full board for a vote right away. Board President David Chiu compromised with Wiener and voted 2-1 to hear the legislation again April 22, not May 7, as Kim wanted.  

Under CEQA, projects that would have a significant impact on the environment must undergo an environmental review process.

Smaller projects can do other mitigation work or receive an exemption. The environmental reports, or the decision  that a report is not needed can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

Wiener’s legislation, which has undergone 40 amendments based on feedback since it was introduced, would create a strict timeline, 30 days, during which a CEQA appeal could be filed, and it would reduce the number of times a project could face such appeals.

It would allow the Board of Supervisors to combine a board hearing on a CEQA appeal with approval of any necessary legislation. While the full Board of Supervisors would still vote on the matter, it would not have to sit through public comment.

But Kim’s legislation will take aim at provisions in Weiner’s proposal being fought by a coalition of advocates, such as when the clock begins ticking on the 30-day window allowing an appeal, when there is public notification of a project and what kind of notifications are made, and the method for determining a project has not been altered significantly enough to allow for an additional opportunity to appeal.

“We are getting close,” Chiu said, noting that he also has concerns about Wiener’s proposal as it stands.

“I don’t want to see a long delay on this legislation,” Chiu said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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