Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act.
The new state policy targets the rampant spread of suburbia and agriculture across California’s watery landscapes, areas that have become increasingly sparse yet remain important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife.
The regulation, to the chagrin of many industry groups, establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property.
While the policy has been in the works for more than a decade, its adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board puts it in front of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of the Clean Water Act, ensuring that California is largely insulated from any new latitude that Washington provides for watershed development.
Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-adopts-new-wetland-protections-as-13736056.php
California became the first state in the nation to require homes built in 2020 and later be solar powered, following a vote by the Building Standards Commission.
The unanimous action on Wednesday finalizes a previous vote by the Energy Commission and fulfills a decade-old goal to make the state reliant on cleaner energy.
“These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said Kent Sasaki, a structural engineer and one of six building standards commissioners. “(It’s) the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.”
California moves to require solar panels on all new homes
While nobody spoke Wednesday in opposition, the commission received about 300 letters opposing the mandate because of the added cost, the Orange County Register reported.
Energy officials estimated the provisions will add $10,000 to the cost of building a single-family home — about $8,400 from adding solar and about $1,500 for making homes more energy-efficient. But those costs would be offset by lower utility bills over the 30-year lifespan of the solar panels, officials said.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9041250-181/california-first-state-to-mandate
Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET
(First published October 1, 2017)
The stakes here are high. Misguided CEQA reform could undermine environmental protection throughout the state, without meaningful improvements to our housing crisis.
On Friday [September 29, 2017], the Governor signed a package of housing bills intended to help address the soaring costs of housing in many metro areas in California. Follow-up coverage of that bill package has (rightly) indicated that those bills are a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing California’s housing crisis. One theme that emerges in that coverage and also coverage of other CEQA legislation (as well as a recent op-ed by two economists) is an argument that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is a significant contributor to the housing crisis. The question is, is that really correct? The answer is fairly important if the legislature is (appropriately) going to continue looking at this issue in the next legislative session.
The main argument goes along these lines – there is a lot of regulation of housing development in California. More regulation increases the cost of supplying housing, and therefore the cost of housing. Less regulation would facilitate more housing supply, and lower costs.
It may be that overall, regulation of land-use development in California is a significant contributor to the state’s housing crisis. But CEQA is only a part of the overall regulation of California’s land-use development, as I’ve noted in an earlier post. If CEQA is a significant obstacle to housing development, then I would argue that changing CEQA in ways that minimize the loss in environmental protection and maximize the benefits in increased housing production should be our goal. But in order to determine whether changing CEQA is a prudent strategy, we need to understand in a better way how local land-use processes are affecting housing production in California.
Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2017/10/01/is-ceqa-the-problem/
Brian Ling, CEO of the Sonoma County Alliance, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
We all love Sonoma County, but the protections we have implemented, such as growth ordinances, urban growth boundaries, community separators, the open space district and an incredibly public and intensive approval process, have led to our housing crisis of under supply, over demand and incredibly high prices (even before the fires). Our residents need to universally support the projects that are being proposed within current general plan guidelines, particularly those within transit-oriented and other priority development areas. We (NIMBYS too!)voted in these protections to support the growth of new urbanism concepts. We need to support these projects now.
Today’s housing crisis is a product of land-use decisions made over the past three decades combined with a significant increase in unnecessary and/or duplicative rules and regulations. There is no question that the October fires put an exclamation point on the housing crisis. However, it is imperative to reverse this trend of housing barriers before the community further taxes ourselves toward a solution.
The Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council and their planning departments should be commended for implementing policies to expedite rebuilding in the fire zones and priority development areas. However, additional opportunities remain that must be applied to all development within the respective general plans, not just within the fire zones. The Sonoma County Alliance believes taking action is required to positively impact new housing opportunities.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8453619-181/close-to-home-break-down?sba=AAS
Steven Weissman, LEGAL PLANET
The California Energy Commission’s new mandate receives mixed reviews.
The recent decision of the California Energy Commission to require the inclusion of rooftop solar photovoltaics on most new homes has engendered praise from some quarters, and criticism from others. Some see this new policy as a positive force, helping to reduce the cost of solar and contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Others despair policy makers’ tendency to choose technology winners and losers, and argue that the least cost choices are usually the best.
There is no disputing that the state’s new policy is a landmark event that may or may not set the stage for broader solar adoption across the country. Regardless of where you might find yourselves in the cheering section, allow me to offer several red flags to watch for, when considering critical perspectives on the topic of requiring rooftop solar:
1. When someone argues that rooftop solar is foolish because central station solar is cheaper, they are ignoring, or at least minimizing the import of, the difficulty in siting central station solar, the decade-long process of making such a project happen, the direct land use impacts of that technology, the need for more transmission lines and all of the related land-use impacts, the reduced reliability resulting from concentrating so much solar generation in one area as clouds roll by and nighttime falls, the potential of local grid benefits from local generation, and the way onsite generation can contribute to a broader strategy to make the use of energy more efficient and less impactful.
Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2018/05/18/californias-new-rooftop-solar-mandate/
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa reached a settlement with a litigious local environmental group that threatened to sue over the city’s management of land that may be habitat for endangered tiger salamanders.
The city recently agreed to pay $25,000 to Sebastopol-based California River Watch, which has been pressuring government agencies for decades to comply with environmental regulations such as the federal Clean Water Act.
In this case, the group alleged the city may have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, improperly managing its agricultural properties in the Santa Rosa Plain near the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
The city denied any wrongdoing. But it agreed to settle after concluding it would likely pay more to challenge the group in court, said Mike Prinz, a deputy director of Santa Rosa Water.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8362344-181/santa-rosa-settles-salamander-dispute
Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jumping out ahead of the rest of the country, California on Wednesday moved to require solar panels on all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings starting in 2020.
The new building standard — unanimously approved by the five-member California Energy Commission — would be the first such statewide mandate in the nation. It represents the state’s latest step to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, called it a “quantum leap.”
“You can bet every other of the 49 states will be watching closely to see what happens,” he said.
The commission endorsed the requirement after representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers voiced support. It needs final approval from California’s Building Standards Commission, which typically adopts the energy panel’s recommendations when updating the state’s building codes.
The requirement would apply only to newly constructed homes, although many homeowners are choosing to install rooftop solar panels with the help of rebate programs.
Read more at https://apnews.com/afa0978eff8443af9e5d7c77a3c285bf
Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The E.P.A.’s abrupt new direction on legacy chemicals is part of a broad initiative by the Trump administration to change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals, making it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.
For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.
The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.
So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.
The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.
Read more at: Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots – The New York Times
Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Yes it’s true, sharks are everywhere along the California coast this summer. But by all appearances, a far bigger threat to your enjoyment of the state’s fabulous beaches has been contained for now.
It’s a new day at the California Coastal Commission.
You remember the drama last year, right?
I don’t get to take up an entire section of the newspaper, so I can only touch on the many ways in which the coast was imperiled by conflicts of interest, the clout of pro-development forces, the undermining of staff experts and a head-smacking lack of professionalism among certain members of the Coastal Commission.
In February 2016, commissioners — appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders — stunned and angered hundreds of spectators when they summarily dismissed the agency’s respected executive director. Charles Lester had staunchly defended his staff’s independence from outside influence while adhering to the letter of the law on coastal preservation, and he made a dramatic appeal to keep his job, to no avail.
But in an unintended way, the firing was a blessing.
“They got away with getting rid of Charles,” said former Commissioner Sara Wan, “but they didn’t get away with the public response.”
In fact, the fall of Lester has led to the toppling of a hyperactive commission that seemed at times to have forgotten its duty to the Coastal Act, and to the guiding principle that the unsurpassed 1,100-mile coast is not anybody’s — it’s everybody’s.
Read more at: After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up – LA Times
Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new regulation aimed at improving the water quality of two tributaries that run into San Pablo Bay means vineyard owners in those watersheds will have to obtain new permits under more rigorous guidelines for their storm water runoff.
In approving the new rule last month, members of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board said they were concerned that vineyards could be discharging sediment and pesticides into the watershed that would, among other things, trigger erosion and threaten fish habitat.
Under the rule, land owners in the Sonoma Creek and the Napa River watersheds will be under three different levels of monitoring, from those who are largely adhering to the best environmental practices that have been certified by a third-party organization to those that will fall under more stringent oversight because they would have to make significant changes to management of their property.
The board did not say how many vineyard owners would be affected, but the rule would cover about 40 percent of the total land in both watersheds, representing about 59,000 planted acres. Those with fewer than 5 acres of vineyards would be exempted.
The wine industry was largely rebuffed in its push for major changes from a proposed draft issued by the board last year. Vintners estimate that it could cost from $5,000 to $7,000 to develop a farm plan to obtain the new permit, and the total could significantly rise to much more if they are ordered to make changes to their properties, such as retrofitting an unpaved road or monitoring water quality.
Read more at: Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA