CEQA Opponents Incorrectly Point to Expo Lawsuit as Reason to Weaken CEQA

Progress continues on the Expo Phase II bridge over Venice Boulevard....or Does It? Photo: Gökhan Esirgen

Over the past week, I’ve been studying CEQA and the politics behind the various reform efforts to better report on what’s happening in Sacramento as Senator Darrell Steinberg’s SB 731 moves through the legislature. I’ve stumbled on some amazing arguments over that time, but none are quite as amazing as the one made by economist John Husing of Economics and Politics Inc. on behalf of the pro-business CEQA Working Group.

To make his case that CEQA lawsuits are bad for business and jobs, Husing goes through the brief history of Expo Phase II’s long environmental process, and the ultimately unsuccessful CEQA lawsuit brought by Neighbors for Smart Rail. Then Husing laments the job creation delayed while the lawsuit played out.

For this group of occupations, the  NIMBY lawsuit led to the equivalent of 679 prevailing wage workers not having jobs for 3½  years. The overall impact has been as follows (Exhibit 1):

  • $51.53 is the weighted average of the median hourly wage & benefit levels of the six  categories of prevailing wage jobs that were delayed.
  • Nearly all of the workers will earn from $50-$60 in wages & benefits except laborers  ($47.39).
  • The “other” category was the average of median hourly wages and benefits ($51.49) of  teamsters, sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipe fitters.
  • 1,358,335 hours of work will eventually be created at the prevailing wage & benefit rates  of the various occupations.
  • 679 full time equivalent jobs have been delayed. That is 1,358,335 hours of work spread = across 40 hours a day or 33,958 full time weeks of work. For a 50 week year, that means  679 full time equivalent jobs have been affected. The most were 281 laborers, 155  operating engineers, 66 carpenters and 62 iron workers The least was the equivalent of 55 
  • full time cement workers.
  • The weighted average wage & benefit earnings of the workers whose jobs were held up  will be $103,067 over the period of construction.

This is a completely compelling argument, or rather it would be if it were true. Somehow, Husing missed that no court ever issued a stay of construction on Expo Phase II and work has continued since design was completed. In other words, all the statistics presented above are completely wrong in every possible way.

While Husing’s mistake is lamentable, it gets even more outrageous when repeated by an editor for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

At the “news” website Fox and Hounds, Charles Crumpley, the Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal repeats Husing’s claim about job loss on the Westside . Apparently the Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal both had no idea that a major construction project was underway in the city he covers as Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal and doesn’t bother checking facts before publishing.

I’m not perfect. Anyone that reads Streetsblog L.A. knows I make my share of typos and I’ve missed a story or two over the years. However, I’ve never left a story unchanged a full day after someone has shown me I’m wrong on the facts. It’s just amazing to me that the Fox and Hounds story hasn’t been edited by now either by Crumpley or the editors.

If you read through the Fox and Hounds story, you’ll note there’s a comment from me at the bottom pointing out this rather egregious factual error. I’ve also emailed Crumpley and asked him to edit the story.

After the Reason Foundation’s laughable “report” on Desert XPress convinced several faux Libertarian Members of Congress to oppose a loan to the project, I’ve become painfully aware that it doesn’t always matter if someone is completely incorrect. If they have the right title, people will believe them. In the case of XPress, Reason was guilty of some rather far-fetched conclusions. In this case, Crumpley and Husing are guilty of gross incompetence.

  • Anonymous

    There’s an strong element of ‘the chickens coming home to roost’ in all of this. Whether you agree or disagree with their views NFSR had every right to make the suit they did. That’s what living in this country is all about. When rail proponents start screaming NIMBY! at the top of thier lungs and paint every disagreement or challenge to any project about or related to the line, as backwards, before you know it most everybody is hating most everybody else who may have a reason to protect what they percieve as the interests of thier neighborhood. (For the record, I am all for the Expo line and I disagreed with the NFSR crowd but will defend their right of dissent). Is it any wonder that there are groups out there using the ant–NIMBY sentiment as cover in a effort to dismantle enviornmental review policies?

  • Anonymous

    The problem with the NSFR suit and many other CEQA lawsuits is that they distort the actual intent of the law, environmental protection, and use it to block projects they don’t like for reasons utterly unrelated to environmental impacts. CEQA needs to be reformed to stick to its original purpose so that neighbors with legitimate concerns have to bring up those concerns directly, not camouflage them as environmental issues.

  • Wanderer

    It doesn’t matter if the jobs argument is wrong. Even a completely unsuccessful lawsuit means the project sponsor–in this case Metro–has to spend time and money defending against the lawsuit. Public discussion gets hijacked from the project to the lawsuit. It’s a distraction from the job of the agency. The opponents of Expo lost consistently in public processes, including the vote of the people, so they went to court instead.

    CEQA should be a tool for critically evaluating projects that genuinely raise environmental issues–highway expansions, sprawl subdivisions, projects compromising wilderness areas. Instead it has become a club against transit extensions and infill housing. That’s why CEQA reform is needed, to get it back to its original purposes.

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