I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing the president-elect, nor do I ever expect to, unless California actually secedes. But I recently spoke with someone who has discussed land use with him.
Paul Petrovich is the developer who, as I wrote about in CP&DR this week, is suing the City of Sacramento over what he claims is an improper denial of a conditional use permit for proposed gas pumps at his entitled Curtis Park Village. National politics didn’t play directly into what is a hyper-local article, filled with some nasty rivalries. But in my interview with him, Petrovich took a moment muse on national affairs.
As a self-described fiscal conservative, Petrovich said that he was on Trump’s dance card when he visited Sacramento in June. Petrovich shared with Trump a story that California’s developers, Democrat and Republican alike, know all too well: it has taken him the better part of 15 years to pour concrete at Curtis Park Village (notwithstanding the lawsuit). In that time, he said he held over 200 neighborhood meetings and adapted his project in countless ways to satisfy neighbors. He did so in part to insulate himself against CEQA lawsuits that they surely would have filed had he failed to cross a “t" or dot an “i."
Granted, it’s a large project: 72 acres, hundreds of residences, a large retail component, and remediation of a toxic brownfield. It demands careful environmental review. But, still, Petrovich’s point was that regulations — CEQA included — and community opposition have been egregious.
Not surprisingly, Trump, himself a developer, sympathized with Petrovich’s plight. In fact, Trump was “blown away,” according to Petrovich. Petrovich said that Trump has cited, with full Trumpian incredulity, a situation like his in interviews, referring to developers who have to wait 10-plus years to win approvals and land clear of the courts.
Petrovich acknowledged that his is hardly the only tale of regulatory woe. And that’s the point: stories like his gave Trump, and other conservatives, plenty of material for anti-regulation tirades. So, like any number of the microscopic regulations and esoteric court decisions that, collectively, make CEQA a regulatory enormity, so did it pile on to all the factors, large and small, that inspired Trump voters.
CEQA was not explicitly designed to be an obstructionist law. It was designed to uphold environmental quality, a worthy goal if ever their was one. But there’s no doubt that it has, collectively, added eons to the pace of development in California, sometimes with dubious, or nonexistent, benefits to the environment. Pouring molasses on the highway are neighborhood groups — such as Petrovich’s nemeses, Councilmember Jay Schenirer and the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association — that send plans back to the drawing board, and, indeed, file suit even after entitlements are granted.
Many of these groups and many other fans of CEQA are genuine environmentalists. Often their efforts do lead to greener projects — but, with adversarial attitudes towards (and from) developers — they lead to delayed projects. Collectively, these obstructionist tendencies add a supertanker's worth of fuel to the anti-regulation fire.
This year, while NIMBY's were tittering about LULU’s, the “drill baby drill” crowd was marshaling its forces. The result: President Trump. Secretary of State Tillerson. Energy Secretary Perry.
Now the country’s environmentalist are facing what may be the most anti-environment administration since God created the Earth. Whatever localized gains California’s environmentalist groups and concerned neighborhood groups have made via CEQA are likely to be undone, and then some, by the policies and projects that Trump will promote.
Petrovich may yet get his gas pumps. And, with a pro-petroleum, climate change denier in the White House, America may yet burn.