Saturday, January 14, 2017

Can CEQA Bring Down Trump's Wall?

The Los Angeles Times has reported that California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has suggested that the Golden State resist Donald Trump's plans for a border wall through environmental laws such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

I have really mixed feelings on this.  On the one hand, I'm not a fan of Trump's plans to crack down on undocumented immigrants and build a wall at the Mexican border (although California's southern border already is walled in some places).  On the other hand, I'm not a huge fan of CEQA and the way that it has been used to block infill developments that are actually better for the environment, often at the behest of NIMBYs pushing an extremely parochial agenda.

Granted, Trump's wall certainly isn't an infill development that will prevent sprawl while creating badly-needed housing opportunities close to job centers.  It does raise the specter of fragmenting wildlife habitat.  Aesthetically, it would be unsightly and block views.  It would generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions in the construction phase.  Its construction could also imperil historical and archaeological resources.  Its impacts on the environment do appear to be significant and subject to CEQA.  If Trump really wanted to blow California's mind, he'd propose a border wall with solar panels on top.  We'd be so torn!  So good for global warming, but so bad for social justice!

Not all NIMBYism is bad.  Jane Jacobs fought misguided plans to ram freeways through lower Manhattan.  So Trump, take your wall and shove it.  Not in my back yard!  If there's one thing California knows how to do, it's kill projects through vague laws with voluminous procedural requirements that leave project proponents vulnerable to years of litigation!  We see your wall, and raise you a Kafkaesque death spiral of bureaucracy :)

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