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Developer Compares Environmental Suits to Al-Qaeda Bombs

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The LA Times is running a primer on the California Environmental Quality Act for that small corner of the population that doesn't already know CEQA lawsuits like the back of their hands (CEQA requires developers to put projects through due environmental diligence, which can then be challenged in court). The paper's story begins with the University Gateway development near USC, which pitted developer Urban Partners against rival developer Conquest Student Housing for years. The latter used CEQA as a barrier for competitors like Urban Partners to enter the student housing market. Conquest's CEQA appeals went away when Urban Partners brought racketeering charges in federal court. In lawsuit papers, UP alleged that "a Conquest official warned another competitor that 'we should think of him and Conquest like "Al Qaeda," adding that it does not cost a lot to build a "bomb" and cause extensive damage to a development project, and that it only takes a single person to cause serious harm to real estate projects using CEQA.'"

Or as Dan Rosenfeld, formerly with Urban Partners and now with the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, puts it: "These are the laws that allow a solo bird-watcher to protect an endangered animal, but they're being used by a sophisticated real estate entity to kneecap the competition." The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Business Journal, and others have made similar complaints about CEQA in the past.

Santa Monica environmental lawyer Doug Carstens thinks the lawsuits are all fair game: "You shouldn't really be looking at motivations of petitioners...Even if it's a solely economically motivated actor, if they're promoting transparency, good government, why not?"

The Public Policy Institute of California says that less than one percent of all California projects deal with CEQA lawsuits, but "developers say they spend millions 'bulletproofing' their environmental documents to fend off a challenge." Others, of course, legislate their way around CEQA, as developers AEG and Majestic have both done for their respective NFL stadium plans. Now the state is trying to streamline things for every major player with a new bill that fast-tracks CEQA lawsuits brought against certain huge ($100 million+) projects.
· Firms turning to environmental law to combat rivals [LA Times]
· Lawsuit A Distant Memory, University Gateway Breaking Ground [Curbed LA]
· From Hollywood, Rumblings and Requests for CEQA Reform [Curbed LA]