Regulation

California NIMBYs Aren't Letting the COVID-19 Crisis Go to Waste

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In April, the rule-making body that oversees California's courts issued emergency rules for the COVID-19 pandemic that included a blanket extension of deadlines for filing civil actions until 90 days after the current state of emergency ends. For housing construction, alas, this new and longer statute of limitations applies to lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

CEQA requires local governments to study proposed development projects for potentially significant environmental impacts. It also gives third parties the power to sue the government for approving a construction project if they feel that a particular environmental impact wasn't looked at carefully enough. The law has become a favorite tool of NIMBY ("not in my backyard") interests to delay unwanted developments or to extract concessions from developers. Anti-gentrification activists use CEQA to stop apartment buildings because they might cast too much shadow on the surrounding area. Construction unions use the law as leverage to secure exclusive labor agreements.

Under normal circumstances, these CEQA lawsuits have to be filed within 30 or 35 days of a project receiving final approval. By extending the statute of limitations to 90 days after the end of the state's COVID-19 emergency, the Judicial Council of California has given project opponents an indefinite amount of time in which to hold up development. This could effectively sabotage any construction project that hasn't already run out the clock on CEQA's statute of limitations, says Nick Cammarota of the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).

"If I'm a builder, I can't move forward with my project until the [CEQA] statute of limitations has expired," Cammarota says. "The reason why I can't do that is because if you do move forward, courts have the authority to order you to tear down what you've built….Lenders today are unwilling to fund those loans for construction until the statute of limitations has expired."

That's bad news for a state that's already suffering from an estimated shortage of 3.5 million homes and which has given itself the goal of building 500,000 new units a year to make up for the shortfall.

It is possible the Judicial Council will carve out a CEQA exception to its emergency rules, something the CBIA and many of California's local governments have asked it to do. The California League of Cities and two associations representing county governments have requested that the Judicial Council modify its emergency rules to allow the normal CEQA statute of limitations to resume after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted. Leaving the new deadline extension in place could mean another lost year for housing construction.

NEXT: The Legal Academy, Episode 4: Danielle Citron

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  2. Government is just the things we choose to do together, and under socialism we all do absolutely everything together. You want to build an apartment complex? Better hope we all want to build an apartment complex.

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  4. California? Who cares?

    1. Actually, Koch / Reason libertarianism seeks to turn the entire country into California — high degree of racial diversity, high degree of economic inequality, single-party Democratic control.

  5. It would be pretty funny if the NIMBYs held off past the old 30-35 day limit to prepare more thorough complaints, only to find the rug had been yanked from underneath them by rescinding the extension for CEQA only.

  6. Anti-gentrification activists use CEQA to stop apartment buildings because they might cast too much shadow on the surrounding area.

    Have the pro-gentrification activists tried citing anti-Black discrimination?

    1. Protest builds?

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  8. California has been turned into a complete shithole by overdevelopment. We dont need “more housing”, we need a lot fewer people. I hope no more of anything gets built in the state ever, so anything that holds up any “projects” is fine by me.

    1. It seems like with the demand being greater than the supply and housing prices going up accordingly, CA is not overdeveloped. CA is expensive to develop because of CEQA and many other costly restrictions.

    2. California has been turned into a shithole by high rents and home prices, that is – by UNDERdevelopment. What California needs is massive upzoning and an end or limitation of CEQA. There needs to be an end to predatory R1 zoning. There needs to be highrises everywhere. One’s property rights end at one’s property line. Developers have every moral right to put in highrises in R1 neighborhoods. All the R1 homeowners need to learn to respect the property rights of the developers, renters and aspiring homeowners. There is no reasonable expectation that the character of urban neighborhoods remain single-family forever.

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