I went on a CEQA tour Wednesday morning. I must be crazy.
CEQA stands for California Environmental Quality Act. The law and all its angles are monumentally complicated to me. Based on my limited CEQA experience in the courts, the law is monumentally complicated to so-called CEQA experts, as well.
Actually, Wednesday’s tour was fascinating. I’m not any wiser on CEQA’s nuances, but I’m glad I went.
There were three stops: The new Clovis Crossing regional shopping center on Herndon Avenue, a bit east of Clovis Avenue; the stopped-in-its-tracks Crichton Place townhouse project at L and San Joaquin streets in Fresno’s Uptown neighborhood; The Bee’s editorial conference room.
The tour’s key players: Clovis Planning Director Dwight Kroll and Clovis Economic Development Director Tina Sumner at Clovis Crossing; Granville Homes President Darius Assemi and Granville Vice President Jeff Roberts at L Street; State Senator Michael Rubio (via speaker phone) at The Bee editorial conference room.
The tour’s gist: CEQA is too complicated and must be reformed for the good of everyone concerned — the environment, the economy, the people yearning for justice.
That’s a tall order.
The Clovis Crossing message: This huge shopping center, just now getting its first tenants, took 11 years to go from drawing board to bricks and mortar. A lawsuit based on CEQA was the big hurdle. Reporters were told the lawsuit added seven years of litigation to the project.
Water was one of the plaintiff’s concerns. Another was urban decay — what’s good for Clovis Crossing’s merchants may be a disaster for established merchants elsewhere in the city (as well as neighbors who don’t want empty “big boxes”).
Kroll said studies early in the game showed there was plenty of water.
As to the “urban decay” issue, well, isn’t competition the name of the game in America?
The Clovis Crossing center is stunning. It’s located next to Highway 168. It’ll be quite a lure for homebuyers.
A frivolous CEQA lawsuit nearly ruined everything, reporters were told.
The Crichton Place message: Granville Homes has been trying for nearly two years to build an apartment complex (originally some 80 units, now redrawn to 28 townhouses) on the northeast corner of L and San Joaquin. A group of preservationists sued. The whole thing is complicated. It’s sufficient to note that the project’s future remains in limbo.
Uptown is part of the original Fresno. Its roots go back to the 19th century. City officials have talked for 60 years about downtown revitalization. Darn little has happened. Uptown (the north end of downtown) is different. Granville Homes has single-handedly changed that (well, actually with the considerable help of the old Fresno Redevelopment Agency).
If you don’t believe me, check out Granville’s latest Uptown housing project — 1612 Fulton — on Fulton Street between San Joaquin and Calaveras. It’s nearly done and appears most impressive.
Crichton Place could deliver similar magic to another corner of Uptown but a frivolous CEQA lawsuit is holding things up, reporters were told.
The Bee editorial conference room message: Assemi and Roberts joined myself, Executive Editor Jim Boren and Editorial Page Editor Bill McEwen at the big table. Rubio was supposed to be there, but got bit by the flu bug. He joined us by telephone.
Rubio said he’ll introduce legislation by Friday to stop foolish CEQA lawsuits while retaining CEQA’s important environmental protections and communitarian virtues. McEwen asked: Senator, give us a sneak peak. Rubio answered: Can’t do that, Bill. We’re still working on details.
I thought to myself: What possible CEQA reform is possible in light of California’s political climate?
Rubio must have been reading my mind.
“I’ve got to at least try,” came the voice from the speaker phone.