Legislation would raise the bar for appeals for city projects

Legislation introduced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting would make it harder for individual members of the public to...

Legislation introduced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting would make it harder for individual members of the public to delay city projects through the appeals process.

“Our response to the pandemic has shown that San Francisco is capable of great things when we don’t get in our own way,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement, where she said the current system is “designed to fail.”

Supervisor Matt Haney joined Breed to sponsor the legislation, describing it as “common sense” reform.

Existing law allows for an individual to appeal transportation, public works, infrastructure or environmental projects that are subject to the California Environmental Quality Act. Local application of the statewide environmental law mandates all projects be stopped in their tracks until the appeal is resolved, notwithstanding a health or safety risk.

It’s not uncommon for the appeals process to cost thousands of dollars, take up hundreds of hours of staff time and cause weeks, if not months, of delay.

Under the new legislation, appellants are free to file an appeal, but they must gather 50 signatures from San Francisco residents or from five members of the Board of Supervisors.

“The legislation allows for appeals to continue, while preventing frivolous appeals that keep our city moving forward,” Breed said in a statement.

It would also permit progress on projects that are temporary, easily reversible or related to health and safety to continue in order to avoid the kind of nearly months-long delays that have hamstrung portions of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s COVID-19 emergency response program.

The Examiner first reported on SFMTA initiatives deemed eligible for implementation without lengthy CEQA review due to their relationship to the pandemic that were appealed through complaints filed by David Pilpel, a regular at City Hall meetings and government transparency devotee, and the Coalition for Adequate Review, a small local advocacy group.

Collectively, they have filed six separate appeals since June, including challenges to Slow Streets, an initiative that closed certain residential blocks to thru-traffic in order to provide safe, socially-distanced travel corridors to essential destinations; established transit-only lanes; removed parking spaces outside food banks and testing sites to increase access; and removed one travel lane and 12 parking spaces to create a protected bike lane on Fell Street, among other projects.

The complaints were made on the grounds that The City hadn’t proven these projects were integral to the emergency response to the COVID-19, and that they opened the door to major decisions being made by officials without input by the public, among other concerns.

“While the appeal was eventually dismissed unanimously, the delay was unnecessary and resulted in hundreds of hours of staff time that could have otherwise been spent responding to other city and resident needs,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Additionally, the appeal meant countless residents in neighborhoods throughout The City did not have access to a nearby Slow Street for weeks, and in some cases months.”

SFMTA and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group that pushes for safe streets, have both expressed support for the legislation.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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