JMBM’s land use attorneys partnered with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, including its developer members, to draft amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) (Public Resources Code, Division 13, Sections 21000 et al) that will provide developers more certainty and protection from frivolous lawsuits that have threatened Hollywood development in a time of economic turmoil. Hollywood Chamber president, Leron Gubler, stated that thousands of construction and permanent jobs were lost in Hollywood, because CEQA lawsuits against eight key projects delayed the developments for one year to eighteen months. As a result, owners decided to put their projects on hold or abandon construction, because either the project lost financing backing or the onset of the recession eliminated the anticipated market. JMBM and the Hollywood Chamber met with State Senator Curren Price in January 2011 to discuss the serious implications of the lawsuits that threaten Hollywood’s growth, even when the developer ultimately prevails. Senator Price lauded these amendments as changes that would strengthen CEQA, and agreed to sponsor the bill in the 2011 Senate term.
CEQA is the foundation for environmental law in California, and its primary objective is to require disclosure of any significant environmental effects of proposed projects and mitigation of these effects to the extent feasible. CEQA also provides strict timelines and expedited litigation schedules for cases involving a challenge to such environmental reviews. However, the law allows for lenient extensions by judges, and the one-year time limit to proceed to hearing is often extended to over two years. In recent years the State legislature considered numerous amendments to CEQA to further expedite the litigation schedule and eliminate frivolous claims to allow more certainty for owners and developers in the process. However, the amendments did not ultimately provide a timely resolution of pending lawsuits. As a result, owners decided to put their projects on hold or abandon construction, because either the project lost financing backing or the onset of the recession eliminated the anticipated market.
The amendments suggested by JMBM and the Hollywood Chamber provide three key objectives. First, the proposed language creates a strict schedule for the public agency to complete the administrative record in a timely manner by eliminating lenient extensions of the 60-day limit that often exceed six months. Second, the proposed language reduces the time for a case to proceed to a hearing from one year to nine months, and limits extensions of time periods for tasks prior to the hearing to ensure that this time frame is feasible. Finally, the proposed language allows the real-party-in-interest, who is often the property owner or developer, to participate in the mediation process, and to terminate mediation and proceed to litigation if the mediation is not producing timely results. The existing language allows the local agency or petitioner to continue mediation without results indefinitely. These amendments are currently under consideration by the State Senate in Senate Bill Number 735.