“California policy makers are seemingly getting serious about solving the state’s housing crisis by passing a bevy of laws that ease restrictions on new development. But the benefits of this deregulation are often undone by environmental lawsuits, and there’s evidence that the problem is getting worse.
In 2020, almost 48,000 new housing units were targeted with lawsuits, according to a new report from the law firm Holland & Knight. That’s roughly 50 percent of the 110,784 annual housing units the state has built on average over the past six years.
Two-thirds of these anti-housing lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) allege that new residential development violates state targets on reducing greenhouse gases and vehicle miles traveled.
“CEQA has indeed become a population control (aka reduction) statute,” writes the report’s author Jennifer Hernandez. “California is losing people, and the people being expelled are our families, our kids and grandkids, our favorite young teacher, our most compassionate nurse, our lifeline electricians and carpenters, our first responders, and our future caregivers.”
CEQA, passed in 1970, requires that governments study and mitigate the environmental impacts of new developments they have discretion over. The law also gives third parties the ability to sue governments for approving projects without allegedly studying them enough or requiring sufficient mitigation of their environmental effects.
That setup has made the law a go-to tool for anti-development Not in my Backyard (NIMBY) activists, who can hold up new projects for years with (often very flimsy) CEQA lawsuits. Despite its original purpose of protecting the environment, CEQA enables reams of litigations targeting everything from new apartments to new solar panels.”
“The report notes that the impact of CEQA lawsuits on new housing is probably greater than the mere 47,999 that have been explicitly challenged. These legal challenges also target upzoning measures that would allow developers to propose more housing.
That’s helped to keep California’s housing production numbers flat over the past few years, despite the passage of nearly 80 laws aimed at boosting housing production or bringing housing costs down.”