State bill to exempt Downtown SF projects from CEQA dies in committee

Author Scott Weiner says housing in city would help environment, but coalition opposed it

State Bill to Exempt Downtown SF Projects From CEQA Dies
State Sen. Scott Weiner (Facebook/ScottWeiner2, Getty)

A bill by State Sen. Scott Weiner to exempt development projects in Downtown San Francisco from lengthy environmental review has gone belly up.

Senate Bill 1227, introduced by Weiner in February, was killed after it failed to move out of a Senate Appropriations Committee, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

Weiner, D-San Francisco, said his bill would have allowed developers in Downtown to bypass California Environmental Quality Act review, which can take years, in order to spur housing development.

The bill wouldn’t have exempted projects that would damage historic buildings, demolish affordable or rent-controlled housing, or be built on hazardous waste sites.

It would have exempted nearly all other development and remodeling projects in Downtown until 2032.

Critics allege CEQA is cited too broadly by special interest groups to kneecap new developments, sometimes creating insurmountable barriers to new housing, according to the San Francisco Standard

The bill was backed by Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Mayor London Breed. It was opposed by a dozen groups, mostly environmentalists.

A letter from coalition opponents argued that “weakening CEQA is not the way to restore Downtown, but a gift to developers who have long sought a free pass from any environmental regulation.”

Weiner disagreed, saying more Downtown development would actually help the environment by bringing more people close to jobs and public transportation, which means fewer car trips and less emissions. 

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Wiener told the Business Times he wasn’t sure why the bill had died.

“Every year on suspense, I lose a few bills, and usually there’s no particular reason why,” Wiener said, adding that he was disappointed the bill failed. “It’s not a transparent process, and you don’t get a rationale for why a bill stalled.”

Jeff Cretan, spokesman for Breed, lamented the bill’s demise.

“The mayor strongly supported this effort and it was incredibly disappointing that it did not move forward,” Cretan wrote in a statement to the Business Times. “SB 1227 would have been another important tool in attracting bold initiatives and supporting housing Downtown.”

Wiener said he has not yet decided whether he will reintroduce the bill next year.

A companion bill by Weiner, SB 969, would allow cities to create “entertainment zones” where pedestrians can drink alcohol on streets and sidewalks. The bill, sponsored by the City of San Francisco, was approved by the Senate and is now making its way through the Assembly. 

On June 25, San Francisco passed an ordinance to create the city’s first entertainment zone on Front Street. 

— Dana Bartholomew

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