letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: SF Planning Dept. Avoids Environmental Review


SF Planning Department plans an end run around environmental review

If you thought that our local City government was implementing only emergency measures during the pandemic, you would be wrong. Despite the fact that the average citizen is focused on dealing with the coronavirus and social justice issues, the San Francisco Planning Department is working to push through City Hall a new policy that would limit environmental reviews for development projects. San Franciscans need to weigh in on these actions now, before we lose important rights under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

CEQA was enacted to require public agencies to document and to consider the environmental implications of their actions. The CEQA review process has evolved into a beneficial process by which the public has the right to provide input to government agencies on policies that affect not only the environment but also their communities.

The Planning Department’s proposed ordinance to ‘streamline’ the CEQA process in San Francisco is known as SER – Standard Environmental Requirements. Under the SER ordinance, projects that formerly might have needed extensive review under CEQA would be approved unilaterally by Planning Department staff if the projects met specific requirements.  This could eliminate a few months of review, but it could also eliminate public notice, public hearings, and input that could, and often does, result in a better project.  

Objections to the SER Ordinance were submitted in extensive letters to the Planning Department and Commissions by both the Sierra Club and Richard Drury, a prominent local CEQA attorney.  These objections include the following:

•          The proposed SER process will have a negative impact on transparency and public participation in the CEQA process; 

•          Once the SER ordinance has been passed by the Board of Supervisors, the definition of what projects are exempt from CEQA review will be decided solely by the Planning Department and the Planning Commission.  In other words, SER removes the Board of Supervisors from any decision-making on setting the actual standards that will be implemented for construction projects – forever;

•          Streamlining using standard conditions can preclude the possibility of a better environmental result; in fact, better alternatives to a project are often found only during a public review of the project;

SER is a long-term policy that will have an impact on your right to weigh in on planning decisions that affect all San Franciscans for many years to come.   

Protect your rights to speak out under CEQA!  PLEASE join with the Sierra Club and other organizations to ask the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors to oppose the SER Ordinance.  

Contacts are:  Commissions.Secretary@sfgov.org    


Katherine Howard, 

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