Save or tear down? CEQA works for question of historic buildings

150 150 Ed Coghlan

The Chinese Hospital Medical Administration Building in San Francisco is considered historical for CEQA purposes.
(Photo: Flickr)

When people think of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it tends to be characterized as a debate between developers and environmentalists. But as the Legislature prepares for an apparent rigorous review of the 42-year-old law, we are learning the debate is much more nuanced.

For instance, there’s a recent news story in the Inland Daily Bulletin reporting that a preservation group may use CEQA compliance part of its strategy to save what it believes is the last remaining Rancho Cucamonga structure of a Chinatown in the Inland Empire.

Turns out this is not a rare occurrence.

Sonoma County attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley specializes in these types of legal actions around the state. She said that often a group will call with the idea of trying to save a neighborhood movie theater or a community garden that might otherwise be eliminated in a new development.

She uses CEQA to make the case. It’s called “adaptive use” and as Brandt-Hawley pointed out it is often better for the environment when a structure can be saved.

Brandt-Hawley thinks CEQA earns an undeserved reputation, based on misinformation. She said that CEQA has been partly blamed for the slowdown in the economy and flatly says she believes the statistics and data just don’t support that criticism.

CEQA modernization was one of seven Signature Initiatives recommended by the California Economic Summit. We are following events in Sacramento and around the state as the Legislature prepares to act on the 42-year-old state environmental law.

CEQA in the 21st Century — a series of news stories and individual perspectives designed to educate and spark dialogue on CEQA as the California Legislature revisits the role the environmental law will play in the future of our economy.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan