Sham Environmental Review in California

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 16: Former union organizer Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks on issues of the working poor during a UNITE HERE unionized hotel workers campaign on February 16, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The City of Los Angeles is quite wisely upzoning the Hollywood neighborhood in order to take advantage of LA’s growing Metro system, continued population growth in Southern California, and growing demand for a more urban lifestyle. Naturally this is not without controversy:

The new guidelines will make it easier for developers to build more and higher buildings around subway stations and bus stops. Supporters, which include business groups and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, say it is a visionary change that will allow Hollywood to fully realize a decade-long transformation from a seedy haven for drug dealing and prostitution into a smartly planned, cosmopolitan center of homes, jobs, entertainment and public transportation.

But critics, especially those who live in the Hollywood Hills, fear new growth could bring an onslaught of added traffic and spoil their million-dollar views. After the plan passed on a 13-0 vote,  critics vowed to sue the city for failing to conduct an adequate environmental review.

This is a splended example of a serious and growing problem in California—spurious bad faith environmental review. There’s no real environmental issue here at all except for the fact that at the margin building a denser urban form in LA will reduce pressure to sprawl outward. Landowners in an adjacent neighborhood just don’t want to allow more people to enjoy the virtues of Southern California living. It’s their perogative to be jerks about this if they want to, but it’s disastrous to have environmental regulations become a free-floating pretext for anyone to stop anything. You can’t build a greener economy without building some stuff—new sources of power, new transmission lines for the electricity, different kinds of transportation infrastructure, houses and shops near that infrastructure—but too many states’ environmental policies are just generically supportive of the status quo.