October 28, 2013

A thinly-veiled case of CEQA abuse?

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

It should surprise no one that a government-licensed cartel would pitch a fit if it was challenged by competition. But the means they use to try to prevent competition can be mind-boggling. Taxi cartels across the country are increasingly losing out to cheaper and more efficient services like ride-share apps Uber and Lyft. The L.A. cab-tel and its political allies have indicated that they will try to stop the spread of these popular services by abusing the California Environmental Quality Act.

Anti-competitive CEQA abuse is nothing new in California. For years, businesses have shamelessly used this statute to delay or block the construction of competing businesses. Recently, a gas station owner had the cojones to bring a CEQA lawsuit challenging the installation of a new pump at the gas station across the street. Unions, too, abuse this law. They treat the delays and expense that come with defending a CEQA lawsuit as leverage to extort concessions from big box retailers like Wal-Mart. That this is all a ruse can be seen from how often these bootleggers settle on grounds having nothing to do with the environment.

While all these abuses are condemnable, they at least have some plausible claim that the challenged action will have an effect on the environment—they involve the construction or modification of a commercial building. But the taxi cartel can’t point to anything like this. Rather, its ally, LA City Councilman Paul Koretz, argues that the government must:

“consider the wider environmental, economic and road safety impacts through the addition of thousands of for-hire vehicles that could increase congestion and pollution.” [Adding] “These environmental impacts were not analyzed and no opportunity for public input was provided, which violates the California Environmental Quality Act.”

But, as an article in the LA Times explains, increased use of ride-sharing apps will actually have the opposite effects. Councilman Koretz’ analysis ignores the fact that Uber and similar services substitute for taxis. Both congestion and pollution will go down because, although empty taxis roam the streets looking for fares, ride-share cars only come to customers that request them. So the result is less traffic, not more. Obviously the cartel’s real concern isn’t how many cars are on the street, but which—its members’ taxis or the customer-preferred competition.

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