report published by the law firm Holland and Knight is getting a lot of media attention with its claim that the California Environmental Quality Act actually harms the environment by making it harder for the state to meet its climate goals.  I recently criticized this report, demonstrating that its data don’t support its claims.  Last week, Sacramento lobbyist and former California Senate leader Don Perata published a post on Fox and Hounds Daily, responding to me.  Mr. Perata’s response misses the mark.  He doesn’t refute any of my points, but instead misrepresents my views.

Holland and Knight found that most CEQA litigation challenges “infill” projects, and concluded that this means CEQA disproportionately harms environmentally-friendly development.  But the law firm did that by defining “infill” to include literally every project located within the geographic boundaries of any municipality, as well as certain other projects. I pointed out the obvious: the fact that most CEQA litigation is about projects within the boundaries of cities (many of which are actually suburbs and sprawling communities) is unsurprising, and simply has nothing to do with whether CEQA harms environmentally-friendly development.  For example, Chandler Ranch, a new development in the suburban city of Rolling Hills Estates that includes 114 single-family luxury homes plus a new golf course and clubhouse for the Rolling Hills Country Club, is “infill” under this definition.  

Mr. Perata fails to address this, though.  Instead, he says that I “argue that ‘infill’ should be defined not as a location but as a type of project, such as transit-oriented development.”  But I never said this, and it’s not relevant to the point I made.  Even based purely on location, not all projects within the geographical boundaries of cities are properly termed “infill.”   Neither the US Green Building Council nor the California Legislature – nor anybody else I’m aware of – uses a definition anything like Holland and Knight’s.  For example, CEQA defines infill as being within “urbanized areas” and requires a specific nexus to “qualified urban uses,” a phrase defined by the Legislature.   Moreover, other state laws, including SB 226, specifically reference proximity to transit in defining the type of infill that is actually helpful to the environment.  My critique stands: the report does not prove anything at all about CEQA litigation and infill, much less demonstrate that CEQA litigation harms the environment.

And it gets even worse in Mr. Perata’s discussion of CEQA and transit projects.  I said that I believe the report doesn’t make the case that CEQA has seriously impeded public transit in California.  He responds by bizarrely attributing a statement to me that I never made, and then “correcting” it.  Mr. Perata says:

Hecht next concludes that since ‘only four or five’ transit projects were challenged during the study period, the report does not make the case that climate-critical transit projects were a notable target of CEQA lawsuits.  In fact, the report shows that … twelve transit projects were targeted by CEQA lawsuits…” (Emphasis added, quotation in original.)

But here’s what I actually said:

Based on the published data contained in the report (in Appendix A), just twelve transit project approvals – at most – were challenged over the three-year period. (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Perata apparently just made up a quotation and attributed to me.  This misquotation provides his entire defense of the report’s conclusions about CEQA and transit.  He doesn’t respond to the actual analysis in my original post, which cites other reasons for delays in transit adoption and demonstrates that transit in Los Angeles is booming now anyway.

Mr. Perata doesn’t respond to my critique of the way the report handles renewable energy either.  As I noted, the “report’s published data do not support the conclusion that CEQA litigation is frequently filed against renewable energy projects, nor that it is preventing the state from meeting its renewable energy goals.”  I pointed out that “Holland and Knight’s published dataset … indicates that over the three-year study period, just five solar projects and two wind projects were challenged under CEQA.”  I also cited other evidence that the state is meeting its renewable energy goals.  His response is to ignore my critique, and instead accuse me of dismissing “the relevance of CEQA lawsuits filed by competing unions seeking to control jobs.”

Finally, Mr. Perata accuses me of “hammering the table” instead of engaging in “thoughtful dialogue.”  Readers are smart enough to judge this for themselves, by reading my post.  My views on CEQA litigation are nuanced: I think it does a lot of good in some cases, and is counterproductive in others.  Unfortunately, this report, and Mr. Perata’s attacks, don’t shed any light on the topic at all.  They certainly don’t make the case that CEQA litigation, on the whole, harms the environment.