May 23, 2016

Plan Bay Area argument set for May 31

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

Next Tuesday, May 31, the California Court of Appeal will hear argument over the legality of Plan Bay Area — the plan to restrict future development in all but a tiny fraction of the already incredibly expensive Bay Area. The Court will consider whether regional agencies were free to ignore the plan’s significant environmental consequences and the wishes of the citizens subject to it.

PLF argues, on behalf of non-profit Bay Area Citizens, that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not permit the agencies to avoid justifying their actions. CEQA requires all state agencies to document the environmental consequences of public projects and either modify the projects or, if the environmental impacts are unavoidable, explain why the project should go forward. Plan Bay Area pushes most future residential and commercial development into a few areas and significantly expands light and heavy rail to those areas. The required rail expansion will cause dozens of significant environmental impacts.

Yet the agencies refused to consider these impacts, much less try to justify them, arguing that they had no choice but to move forward with the plan in order to comply with California’s S.B. 375. That bill requires regional governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet targets set by a state agency. The targets are relatively straightforward. The Bay Area must reduce its total emissions by 7% from 2005 levels.

The agencies were dissatisfied with these conservative targets and chose to interpret them as requiring the agencies to ignore the impacts of statewide mandates on vehicle efficiency and fuel standards. By doing so, they stacked the deck in favor of stringent development restrictions and additional rail and transit. This allowed the agencies to claim that they had no choice but to accept the Plan’s significant environmental consequences, since any more modest alternative would not achieve their inflated interpretation of the targets.

The agencies’ argument is legally invalid. S.B. 375 doesn’t require the interpretation that the agencies are adopting. And CEQA doesn’t permit the agencies to sidestep the proper environmental analysis by relying on incorrect statutory interpretations.

Oral argument will take place May 31 at 9:30 am in the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District. The court is at 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco.

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