Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SB 375 Strips City Governments Of Much Of Their Control Over Local Development

We discussed some of the problems inherent in Senate Bill 375 the other day. Our conclusion was that the justification behind this bill was based on the faulty scientific conclusion that motor vehicles, rather than buildings, are the preeminent contributor of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. And we quoted from various articles that supported our assertion. Yet it would appear that SB 375 will paradoxically enable a massive new building boom in California, and all in the name of reducing greenhouse gases! And done in a way that guarantees none of us will have much say in the matter. Very odd, and very wrong.

And as a kind of review, we'll reprise a couple of these previous cites, and then compare them to statements from SB 375 itself. The first is from an article entitled Buildings Major Source Of Greenhouse Gases, Expert Says." Discussed here is the work of an architect named Connie Wallace. We'll quote a passage: The biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in this nation and around the world is the buildings in which we live and work - not gas guzzling SUVs and other widely recognized energy consumers that we hear so much about - an internationally recognized architect and authority on preventing global warming said here this weekend.

The Washington Post, in an article entitled "To Reduce Greenhouse Gases Start by Shrinking Buildings," carried the argument a step further: New Mexico architect Edward Mazria has a proposal to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. His target: buildings ... Most people do not connect the two, but in the United States, buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gases. And half of these buildings are houses.

A site called Good discussed an article in Mother Jones Magazine on this topic: But the plain fact, as Mother Jones points out, is that buildings, in the electricity they use to run and the materials they require to build, are responsible for nearly half of our nation's carbon footprint. Transportation? Twenty-seven percent.

And finally, a Green blog called Climate Feedback had this to say: "Buildings account for up to half of all energy consumption, and are the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions."

But in the "Legislative Counsel's Digest" for Senate Bill No. 375, building structures aren't even mentioned. Rather the blame for greenhouse gas and global warming falls entirely upon cars and trucks. 

Section 1 (a): The transportation sector contributes over 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the State of California; automobiles and light trucks alone contribute almost 30 percent. The transportation sector is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases of any sector.

Section 1 (d): In addition, automobiles and light trucks account for 50 percent of air pollution in California and 70 percent of its consumption of petroleum. 

So how do you account for the discrepancy between what you can read almost everywhere else, and what the politicians in Sacramento stated as a justification for passing this bill? Is their need to please the realty and building trades lobbies so strong that they would embrace junk science? In the process triggering massive change in the way our local communities are structured and maintained? And all in the name of allowing these privileged lobbies free reign to build pretty much whatever it is they want. Despite the wishes of the people who live and pay taxes in the communities affected, of course.

But what is even more disturbing is how Senate Bill 375 seems to strip away some of the basic controls Cities have had over zoning and redevelopment, something that has been a part of the social contract here in California since the state's inception. I will quote from several passages that highlight this point.

Existing law requires the housing element, among other things, to contain a program which sets forth a 5-year schedule of actions of the local government to implement the goals and objectives of the housing element. Existing law requires the program to identify actions that will be undertaken to make sites available to accommodate various housing needs, including, in certain cases, the rezoning of sites to accommodate 100% of the need for housing for very low and low-income housing.

A process we are all too familiar with. But apparently things are different now that SB 375 has been enacted. Now if a City fails to comply with all of the above it doesn't just lose a grant or two, rather it can be taken to task by a Court which will, for all intents and purposes, assume control over development within that City.

"This bill would instead require the program to set forth a schedule of actions during the planning period, as defined, and require each action to have a timetable for implementation. The bill would generally require rezoning of certain sites to accommodate certain housing needs within specified times ... and would require the local government to hold a noticed public hearing with 30 days after the deadline for compliance expires. The bill would ... prohibit a local government that fails to complete a required rezoning within the timeframe required from disapproving a housing development project, as defined, or from taking various other actions that would render the project infeasible, and would allow the project applicant or any interested person to bring action to enforce these provisions. 

(Just what Sierra Madre needs. A Sacramento created inducement to sue the City every time building plans don't get approved to someone's liking. Like we don't have enough of that already. But here is where it really gets truly ugly ...)

The bill would also allow a court to compel a local government to complete the rezoning within specified times and to impose sanctions on the local government if the court order or judgement is not carried out, and would provide that in certain cases the local government shall bear the burden of proof relative to actions brought to compel compliance with specified deadlines and requirements.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this basically strip Cities of their right to control their own destinies, and put those powers into the hands of the courts and greedy litigants, including developers? And doesn't this basically reduce City governments to rubber stamp operations compelled to perform whatever functions the local regional planning organizations deem necessary?

And then it gets worse. In what is probably one of the great acts of unintended irony ever, Sacramento, through SB 375, has now suspended the right Cities have traditionally enjoyed to an environmental review of many construction projects within their borders. All in the name of saving the world from greenhouse gases, global warming, and a degraded ecology. Here is how SB 375 rolls it out:

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires a lead agency to prepare, or cause to be prepared, and certify the completion of, an environmental impact report (EIR) on a project that it proposes to carry out or approve that may have a significant effect on the environment ... 

Which is how things have been for a while. Local governments having the right to bring a halt to those projects that would harm the environment, thus assuring the continued health and well-being of the people living there. But SB 375, a bill that is supposed to help fix the environment, doesn't seem to care about that. Instead it strips this valuable tool from the hands of local government in any case that involves the issues covered in this bill.

This bill would exempt from CEQA a transit priority project, as defined, that meets certain requirements and that is declared by the legislative body of a local jurisdiction to be a sustainable communities project. The transit priority project would need to be consistent with a metropolitan planning organization's (SCAG) sustainable communities strategy or an alternative planning strategy that has been determined by the State Air Resources Board to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions target. The bill would provide for limited CEQA review of various other transit priority projects.

In other words, your friendly local SCAG representatives (or those like them), will now have the right to decide whether your City has any say about which projects are healthy for you and your kids, or not. And should your piddling concerns get in the way of building, let's say, a Titan-style transit village? Well, there are Courts empowered to deal with the likes of you.

In one of the more memorable comments left on this board, Dr. Staccato said the following: "I have read two alarming facts that California is truly going off the rails. 1) the notion that you can build your way to lower greenhouse emissions and 2) that there's been a successful move by the BIA/CAR industrial complex to remove environmental review of transit development from CEQA. Personally, I am outraged by the whole thing. Sierra Madre ought to get out of SCAG but it won't change the voodoo that's going on in Sacramento."

SB 375 has left California a far less free place. Under the New SB 375 Order the State will inform the "regional governments" (SCAG) what it expects, and they in turn will command now powerless City Councils what it is they must do. All to be rigidly enforced by the Courts. Totalitarianism with a smiley button for a face. One that strips municipalities of the right to control their own affairs and opens them up to plundering for little more than profit.

No wonder people are fleeing the state in droves. And once the ramifications of SB 375 really start to sink in, that rush to the border could very well become a tsunami.

25 comments:

  1. Well, you raised the term a couple of days ago, Sir Eric: GREENWASH. This is a perfect example of exactly that. It's meant to look like something is happening to benefit the environment and that so-called "benefit" is used (by dev interests) to justify removal of barriers to development such as CEQA protections. Pretty slick? Well, California has one of the best legislatures money can buy--maybe second only to Congress, I better watch myself. Anyway, the only solace I can find in this morass is that the criteria are so specific and of such a scale that it's unlikely that we'll ever see something like this blowing through Sierra Madre. I just don't see how one of our little bus stops qualifies as a transit hub, but even so, thank God for Measure V. This bill is a travesty, though, and is a prime example of how slick development interests smarm their way through the legislature.

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  2. I don't know, Doc. The way Joe Mosca was licking his weasel lips at a recent City Council meeting about this bill, you couldn't help wondering if he didn't think this was the second coming of Christ. In that "polly wanna cracker" voice he gets from time to time, he kept parroting, "It's the law! SB 375 is the law!" He hates this town so much I'm sure there is no role he would relish more than playing the SCAG enforcer cracking down on Sierra Madre over zoning and housing permits. It really does seem to be bringing out the apparatchik in him.

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  3. It was interesting to watch Joe last night try to defend SCAG...after Councilmember Zimmerman wanted us to hold off payment to them - very clear who's interests Joe supports.

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  4. When does our pulling the plug on payments to SCAG hit the
    agenda? Is that next meeting?

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  5. Joe and John were in vile moods last night at the council meeting......the vibes were so bad in there, I chose to leave early.
    They must have been reading the Tattler all day.

    Curly,
    you got it right when you say Joe hates this town. He has a dread of MacGillivray and Zimmerman he can't hide.

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  6. Looks like the Iranians are not the only ones who need a revolution...How dare the state of California pander so shamelessly to the development and realty businesses and ignore the CEQA process? Are we evolving as a species or not???? There are good developers, but the majority are jerks who don't care if they ruin parts of the world because they will be moving elsewhere. They don't seem to realize that their crimes against people and environments will go with them.

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  7. So Sacramento wants to take our property taxes, and they want to take our rights to function as real cities ... so what's left? Abolish towns and cities altogether and go to numbered districts? All governed by regional councils?

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  8. Every law has some loopholes...we must find them.

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  9. Old K, Mayor MacGillivray's efforts to bring some fiscal accountability and successful change to the city is a Herculean task to be sure. J & J are fighting tooth to nail for their past failed policies. Remember, the citizens had to get out & vote to stop the DSP. No amount of reason and discussion reached J & J - it had to go to a city-wide vote! J & J just do not get it. Very funny how often the Mayor has to correct Councilman Mosca, who has that unfortunate habit of saying the opposite of what he means.
    Let me ask this again: how did he get through law school?

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  10. Maybe Flipper Joe went to the same law school as Harriet Poole?

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  11. Big Lie politics at work. And you can only wonder where the outrage is.

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  12. Happier every day not to be a dem or repJune 24, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    I don't understand how SB375 came to pass with a Republican governator. I thought Republicans strove for less centralized government, more individual decisions made by towns themselves. Is this an example of the great meshing of Republican and Democratic principles? This surprises me but I'm going to borrow a phrase from the tobacco kids - the Nanny State. But our Nanny is very rough & careless, & will ruin the air and the water.

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  13. Democrats and Republicans have now become Realdevs.

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  14. The days of Bart Doyle's lobby group, the dirts, really needs to just end now.
    We stopped their damn DSP and we will stop this new attack/outrage.
    Support Mayor MacGillivray, support Mayor Pro-tem Don Watts, support Councilman/former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman.
    Guarding the resident's assets is their agenda.
    Their first and foremost priority is to make sure your tax dollars are used for YOUR benefit, not Bart Doyle's BIA and the greedy realtors CAR special interest group.
    And please support Sir Eric's blog!
    The Tattler doesn't want your money, we just want you to learn the truth and spread the word.

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  15. Sierra Madre business ownerJune 24, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    Dr. S., thank God for measure V is right, and thank you for your ongoing assistance.
    It just goes to show that taking a stand against corruption can yield success, and can protect us against the greedy in the future.
    I'll feel better when our General plan committee is at work, too.

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  16. Sierra Madre business ownerJune 24, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    Old K, I'd say let's get busy on distributing copies of Sir Eric's articles. I know someone who prints out beautiful copies, complete with graphics. Maybe we could borrow those and get busy.

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  17. So Tattler, do I understand correctly that the state will force any city it wants to force, say Sierra Madre, to build buildings for people to live in, and those buildings will increase the greenhouse gases far more than if those people were driving cars, living in the buildings that now exist, and the builders of the new greenhouse generating buildings can wiggle out of environmental impact reviews and other CEQA requirements? Is that a fair summation?

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  18. You've got it, Day. Buildings emit far more greenhouse gases than cars, but what SB 375 dictates is a massive campaign of building as a way of curbing greenhouse gases. Al Gore talked about "An Inconvenient Truth." With SB 375 what Sacramento has given to the people of California is An Inconvenient Lie. Who would ever have thought Arnold Scwarzenegger would make Gray Davis look like a Libertarian?

    I've received some e-mails today from some very interesting people. They liked the article. I'm going to share some of that tomorrow. Not as scintillating as the John Leung/Titan scandal maybe, but to my mind far more important. There is the beginning of a movement to fight SB 375. They definitely have my ear.

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  19. Sir Eric,
    this is good news!
    I was hoping there would be certain groups who would want to share information with you and perhaps start a resistance movement.
    What the heck, let's kick the state bureaucrats while their down, they've sure been doing it to the folks long enough.

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  20. You know when Joe Mosca gets excited about something it has to be bad news. And Mosca has been positively giddy over SB 375.

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  21. SB 375 needs to be overturned, and Mr. Mosca grabs on to any idea that he can because he doesn't have any of his own.

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  22. That's great news that there is a movement to oppose SB 375. The development community has run rough shod over too many people in too many places, and maybe, finally, the anger of the people will put a stop to it.

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  23. As far as a grass roots effort to overturn SB375 wouldn't it behoove us to look at who drafted that bill and get some background on who they support and who supports tham?

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  24. Here is the link to supporter and opposition
    Same old names

    http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/sen/sb_0351-0400/sb_375_cfa_20080818_153416_asm_comm.html

    Some supporters

    Association of BAy Area Govt (like SCAG )
    Californai Building Industry Assoc
    League of California Cities
    Non profit Housing Association of Northern CA
    SEMPRA Energy (Joe's Employeer)

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  25. Sounds like its the same old gang dressed up in a shiny new green clown suit.

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