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Focus: the application/reach of CEQA in urban infill projects

The Golden 1 Center -- a so-called urban "infill" real estate project in the San Francisco area -- has long had its detractors, who have sought to bar the project's development by various means.

One of their strategies has been the invocation of the California Environmental Quality Act, a widely encompassing statutory enactment passed decades ago. The CEQA legislation imposes a number of conditions and restrictions on would-be land developers that relate to environmental factors.

Critics of Golden 1 Center might reasonably have learned a lesson relating to reliance upon CEQA to contest infill projects from a recent California Supreme Court ruling.

That outcome was prefaced years ago when, back in 2004, Center foes brought a lawsuit contesting the project on the grounds that future condominium residents would suffer from existing noise and urban disruptions. A state judge ruled against that argument.

The state's highest court acted similarly in a ruling rendered earlier this month that limited the reach and application of CEQA in cases involving environmental impact reports (EIRs). The court held that project principals did not need to consider the effect of existing conditions on the project. Rather, an EIR is properly concerned with a potential project's impact on the environment.

An article on the matter stated that the court result was greatly encouraging to developers, who fear that an expansive CEQA application in development cases could make new projects that are beneficial to the public prohibitively expensive.

An infill project focuses upon urban development that occurs in already built-up areas. As such, infill growth can serve as an antidote to urban sprawl.

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