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Monday, May 23, 2022

CEQA Keeps State Out of the Danger Zones

Charles Crumpley should be careful not to imbibe too much of that anti-CEQA Kool-Aid, as expressed in his Comment column (“Not Suited for Development,” April 11). Next thing we know, he’ll be calling for eliminating all pollution controls … yikes!

While there is some evidence of abuse, the California Environmental Quality Act provides so many more benefits than it does damage.

The one specific project example he cited in his column, the Sunset-Gordon project in Hollywood, is not a by-right development. In other words, it does not conform to zoning. The applicant was seeking entitlements for a much larger project, so there necessarily should have been a higher level of impact analysis. If a by-right project had been proposed, it would have been smooth sailing.

That’s the point of CEQA, really, to be a check against unmanaged, poorly planned growth. CEQA isn’t the problem here. There are three other culprits at work in the city of Los Angeles:

• Out-of-date community plans.

Community plans establish zoning, and provide a comprehensive framework to ensure the integrity of communities and, where it would be beneficial and can be supported by infrastructure, a framework for growth. The Hollywood Community Plan area (in which the Sunset-Gordon project is located) is one of many plans across the city that are more than a generation old. These plans should be updated on a 10-year cycle, with everyone who shapes the plan (neighbors and developers) required to live within the plans.

• An antiquated zoning code.

The city’s zoning code is an oftentimes redundant, sometimes contradictory and in many cases a very confusing mishmash of legalese. The city is in the midst of simplifying the code, with the potential to produce beneficial effects for developers and homeowners. To the extent my organization, LA Neighbors United, has challenged the code overhaul, it has been to highlight proposed code changes that would weaken existing plan protections, or produce potentially significant negative impacts resulting from growth or lower planning standards. Our view is that the zoning code should by and large be growth neutral. The place to deal with growth is in community plans.

• Byzantine development-approval processes.

The Business Journal has chronicled stories of the red tape that applicants must cut through to secure approvals. The city first attempted to streamline the process through the 12-to-2 initiative, which was a proposal to reduce the number of departments that applicants must deal with. Currently, the first deputy mayor is leading a development reform effort that we’ve dubbed “Son of 12-to-2.”

If Los Angeles can address these three issues, the climate for sound planning and development across the city will be much improved.

Cary Brazeman is the founder of LA Neighbors United, a group that works for planned, managed growth and development in Los Angeles.

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