Case Studies

San Diego Bike Lane Sued Under CEQA

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October 22  |  Case Studies  |   user

SUMMARY: A local community group in San Diego is using CEQA to sue the City of San Diego for putting in a bike lane that was a part of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan.  The community group is claiming that using one of the three car lanes for the bike path and buffer space should be used for vehicles, even though the bike lane will allow safe travel for bicyclists and slow speeding traffic on the street. The San Diego Master Bike Plan has already gone through environmental review, and this portion of the bike lane was included in an effort to get cars off of the roads and lower GHG emissions.

The City of San Diego updated their Bicycle Master Plan in 2013 to enable more bicyclists to safely get around the area’s busiest streets, while cutting the need for car use and greenhouse gas emissions. Creating more bike lanes throughout the city is also part of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, which seeks to increase bicycle commuters 6 percent by 2020. The city’s bike plan had gone through a thorough environmental review under CEQA before it was ever approved.

The end goal of the city is to have the bike lane connect those in densely populated area of Hillcrest to downtown shopping, museums and parks.  Many restaurant and shop owners and commuters in the area of the bike lanes are fully supportive of the plan because the increased bike traffic will bring more business and safer streets.

The Bankers Hill Community Association led by a local resident filed a CEQA lawsuit in December of 2014 arguing that removal of the lane for cars on that street would divert traffic to other lanes and cause more congestion. However, in the following months since the bike lane was put in traffic has not been greatly impeded.  The lawsuit also argues that a full environmental review would be needed to remove a vehicle lane, even though the bike lane plan has already gone through that process, and would reduce emissions over the long-run.

Alternative transportation options for San Diegans is a major part of the city’s work to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2020 and 2050, and bike lanes are also convenient and safe ways for people to get around.  Using an environmental law to stop an environmentally friendly bike lane is another in a long list of CEQA abuses that actually harms the environment.

The lawsuit is still moving through the courts with court papers filed at the end of 2014. However, even if the judge rules against the plaintiffs, they will likely appeal. This lawsuit is a waste of needed taxpayer dollars, and could potentially hurt the planned future portions of this bicycle path from moving forward in the future.

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Sacramento Senior Assisted Living Project Delayed by NIMBY – Who Lives in Orange County

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October 7  |  Case Studies  |   user

SUMMARY: The development of a new senior housing community on the site of a vacant church in Sacramento was stalled by a resident of Orange County 400 miles away using CEQA, all because he didn’t want the housing complex near his vacation home. The project to bring assisted living for seniors to East Sacramento was delayed for over a year while the costly lawsuit was dragged through the courts.

An infill project to redevelop a vacant church lot in East Sacramento into a much needed 32-bed assisted living facility for seniors was yet another victim of CEQA. The dilapidated church had sat empty for over a year, and the revitalization of the unused property would bring special memory care and physical therapy for the elderly into the community.

The developers of the senior housing project went through a thorough environmental review process to ensure any impacts were mitigated.  However, an Orange County resident 400 miles away from the development site, was able to have the project stalled using CEQA. Wells filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the redevelopment project claiming that the environmental impact report failed to address the requirements of CEQA.

Yet, the lawsuit claimed that the redevelopment of the church into a senior housing project, where many of the residents wouldn’t drive, would result in an influx of congestion and traffic to the area. Therefore a full Environmental Impact Report was necessary. Such a report can cost upwards of $100,000, which would be tacked onto the developments cost – and ultimately the cost of living for the seniors.

City officials and the site developer argued that the site was an excellent location for the development – close to McKinley Park, a hospital, and mass transit. The real issue was that the site also happens to be near a multi-million dollar property owned by the plaintiffs – a property used “on occasion”, “when he is in the area” – according to the CEQA lawsuit.

The lawsuit resulted in a year-long costly delay for seniors to have access to the redevelopment. Despite the Sacramento City Council voting to approve the project in January 2014, legal battles rolled on until November when a judge turned down the legal arguments challenging the project. Yet, despite the ruling, the plaintiff vowed to “change the judges mind”, and continued the costly appeal process until the suit was finally thrown out in February 2015.

The result? Over a year of delays, costs, and litigation to block housing for seniors who need assisted living facilities.

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: South San Francisco Planned Parenthood

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April 6  |  Case Studies  |   user

Protestors Use CEQA in Attempt to Stop South San Francisco Planned Parenthood Women’s Clinic – And They Use Their Own Protests As the CEQA Complaint!

In 2013 Planned Parenthood received approval from the South San Francisco City Council to renovate an existing building to house a new health clinic in South San Francisco to meet the medical needs of women in the area, including STD testing, breast cancer screening and other reproductive care.

A group opposed to abortion services filed a lawsuit a few months later alleging that the clinic was not fully vetted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), even though the plan was to rehabilitate an existing building that was currently vacant. They specifically cited noise and traffic problems that the anti-abortion group’s own protests would cause, saying Planned Parenthood failed to account for that noise in their environmental review.

The anti-abortion group was able to use CEQA, an environmental protection law, to halt the clinic project based on the argument that the demonstrations this same group planned to do might cause traffic and noise. 

That lawsuit was filed in 2013 and a judge tentatively ruled that there were ZERO environmental impacts from protesting that triggered CEQA review. Thus, the judge ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood in July of last year, but the project continues to be held up because the final ruling is pending.

Planned Parenthood was still forced to spend time and money to defend themselves in a legal battle for a year, and likely longer if the group appeals, over a lawsuit that had nothing to do with the environment. The cost of litigation could have been used to upgrade and outfit the building to make it into a much-needed clinic.

Unfortunately the clinic still has not been built almost a year after the ruling and two years after its approval, leaving many low income women without access to medical services they desperately need.

Once the final ruling is made the anti-abortion group will likely appeal, which will further delay this needed women’s clinic.


  • Frivolous CEQA lawsuit delays a women’s health clinic needed for low income women.
  • CEQA lawsuit was based on the petitioners own demonstrations.
  • Nearly two years after approval, the clinic is still not open.

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Palmdale Rail Car Plant

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March 30  |  Case Studies  |   user

Palmdale Rail Car Manufacturing Plant ‘Derailed’ Using CEQA for Non-Environmental Reasons

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Los Angeles County has been working since 2012 to expand their public transportation capabilities by extending the Expo Light Rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica.  This line will reduce travel time to Downtown LA for commuters to 46 minutes, as well as take cars off of the I-10 during peak traffic hours in order to ease congestion and shorten drive times. This project is slated to be completed in summer of 2015 and operational early 2016.

Kinkisharyo, a Japanese railcar manufacturer based in El Segundo, has had a contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2012 to build railcars for the Expo line extension.  Their proposed new manufacturing plant, approved by the Palmdale city Planning Commission, would be used to build 97 of the contracted 175 rail cars for Metro as well as any orders from other U.S. customers.  The level of GHG emissions of a Kinkisharyo rail car are about 1/9 of the GHG emissions given off by a car.

This $50 million dollar manufacturing investment would provide 250 well-paid, manufacturing jobs to the Antelope Valley region with an unemployment rate ranging from 9.7%- 11.1%, well above the statewide average of 7.3%.  This job number doesn’t include the work created for the construction industry that the building process of the manufacturing plant would bring. Even given all of the environmental and economic benefits this manufacturing site would bring, the company decided not to build the new plant in Palmdale.

Groups attempting to force the rail car manufacturer to use an easier process for unions to organize their workforce filed a CEQA lawsuit as leverage in an attempt to put pressure on the company to give in to their demands. 

Fearing the uncertainty and delays from the CEQA litigation, the Kinkisharyo Company decided to expand their operations in existing facilities in LA rather than build the new manufacturing plant in Palmdale. The company also agreed to a deal with the union to allow them to organize using sign-ups.  This arrangement cost hundreds of construction jobs and robbed the Antelope Valley of desperately needed employment.

Regardless of one’s perspective on unions – and we happen to believe unions serve a purpose and can provide great value to workers – we think everyone can agree that this is a wholly inappropriate use of CEQA, an environmental planning law.


  • Hundreds of construction jobs and material sales
  • Loss of $50 million investment in a new, permanent manufacturing plant

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Tehachapi Hospital

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August 28  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Special Interest Group Uses CEQA in Attempt to Block Reconstruction of Overcrowded and Seismically-Unsafe Hospital

For more than a decade, residents of Tehachapi (Kern County) have been planning a new hospital to replace the current community hospital which is outdated and overcrowded. The current facility, constructed in 1956, was designed to serve a population of 1,600, and is now serving a community of more than 30,000. Along with being overcrowded, the structure itself does not meet current California Seismic Safety Standards and must be retrofitted or rebuilt by January 2015 to continue operating.

The Tehachapi Hospital Project is a two-part effort managed by the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District to build a new full-service hospital facility to replace the overcrowded, seismically-unsafe 57 year-old structure and repurpose the original building as an outpatient clinic. The proposed new hospital would be built two miles from the current hospital, on a 22.6 acre parcel of land donated to the Healthcare District by a local family in 2008.

Bond funding for this project was approved twice by voters in 2004 and 2009, and is supplemented by charitable donations from the community.

In 2011, a comprehensive CEQA environmental review of the project was completed, finding no significant environmental impacts. On October 19, 2011, the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District Board unanimously approved the environmental document, a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND).

The project was expected to break ground in November 2011. But only four weeks after project approval, an opposition group filed a CEQA lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental review. The group claimed a full EIR was necessary and that the project violated CEQA on the basis of aesthetics, among other things. The opposition group didn’t want a hospital in the planned location, even though the land was donated by the landowner and it was close to the former hospital site.

The following year, on September 21, 2012, Judge Kenneth Twisselman of the Kern County Superior Court denied the

opponents’ lawsuit and upheld the approved environmental review document. In his ruling, the judge said, “The rules regulating the environment must not be subverted to an instrument for the oppression and delay of social, economic or recreational development and advancement.”

The litigation set back construction of the hospital for a year and added $10 million to the project cost. This increase in cost has caused the project to go over the original budget, leaving the Healthcare District unable to complete the obstetrics unit until future funds are available – depriving the community of important women and children’s services for an indefinite period of time.

Construction began on March 28, 2013 with a groundbreaking event that welcomed the entire community to join in festivities. The construction is scheduled to be completed in 2015.


  • CEQA lawsuit delays seismically-unsafe hospital retrofit project by one year
  • $10 million in increased project costs caused by litigation
  • Delay causes budget shortfall and elimination of new obstetrics unit at hospital

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CEQA MISUSE CASE STUDY: Placer County Continuing Care Retirement Community

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August 7  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Continuing Care Senior Housing Community Delayed Many Years Due to Frivolous NIMBY CEQA Lawsuit 

By 2030, the California senior population is projected to double to approximately nine (9) million.  The County of Placer’s General Plan and related planning documents recognize that there is a growing need for reliable quality senior housing in the County.  On January 30, 2008, in response to this need, a project proponent proposed an 858-unit continuing care retirement community and mixed-use commercial project on an infill site identified in a County Community Plan as “probably the best opportunity in north Auburn” to develop a mixed-use project of this nature.  The Project is designed to easily enable residents to utilize the public bus and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to travel to appointments and shopping areas surrounding the infill site. 

Over an approximately two-year process, the County’s consultants prepared the Draft EIR for the Project. The 2,000 page Draft EIR was released on November 10, 2010 for public review.  On March 16, 2011, the County released a Final EIR responding to comments received during the public comment period on the Draft EIR.  On August 9, 2011, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Project.

Despite the detailed environmental review spanning over three years, the County land use plans encouraging this type of development on the site, and unanimous support by the Board of Supervisors, a couple of neighboring residents (who called themselves the “Ad-Hoc Committee”) filed a lawsuit challenging the County’s approval of the Project pursuant to CEQA.  At trial, Ad-Hoc Committee raised one claim:  that the EIR should have evaluated the potential environmental impacts that may be caused by Ad-Hoc’s concern that the project proponent could go bankrupt before the Project was completed.

The trial court quickly rejected Ad-Hoc Committee’s claim, explaining that the Ad-Hoc Committee’s challenge was based on a number of baseless assertions. The trial court found the baseless accusations “especially troubling when put forward in a formal legal document by a licensed attorney and counselor at law.”

Notwithstanding this resounding defeat at trial, the Ad-Hoc Committee attempted to further delay the Project by filing an appeal from the trial court’s decision.  Ad-Hoc’s opening brief on appeal completely ignored the trial court’s Decision and advanced the same arguments the trial court had dismissed.  Placer County and the project proponent filed a Motion to Dismiss the Appeal and Motion for Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal.   Facing monetary sanctions, Ad-Hoc Committee dismissed the appeal and agreed not to reinstitute a lawsuit challenging the Project in the future.

While the litigation resulted in no changes to the Project, it resulted in significant costs and delays for the County and project proponent.  Approximately 5 ½ years after the Project application was filed and after approximately twenty (20) months of litigation and substantial legal expenses, project proponents are now able to complete the continuing care retirement community and mixed-used project to address the County’s growing senior population.


  • Frivolous CEQA lawsuit delays transit-oriented continuing care senior housing community
  • Litigation resulted in no changes to project, and added significant costs and approximately 7 years to project timeline

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, San Francisco

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June 26  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Neighbors Use CEQA in Attempt to Block Expansion of Community Center for Underserved Youth

In 2006, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing to replace its 1952, 12,600 square foot building with a new, larger community center and affordable housing. The Center has been providing job training, after school programs and other services to underserved communities in San Francisco, particularly the African-American community, since 1919. The Center is on Presidio Avenue just north of Geary Boulevard, one of the City’s best-served transit corridors.  Center supporters have raised over $30 million for the project.

The Center’s immediately adjacent uses are single- and multi-family homes, although the neighborhood includes a Muni yard for bus storage and maintenance, retail (Target and Trader Joe’s), and storage.

The project’s original configuration was 8-stories, and included 42,000 square feet of affordable housing (half of which would be dedicated for transitioning foster youth) and 20,000 square feet of community center space.  During the community outreach and City review process, the project was reduced to 5 stories and only 50 residential homes.

As the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) came up for approval in June of 2010, neighborhood groups such as the Presidio Heights Association of Neighbors and Neighbors for Fair Planning opposed the project based on the size and aesthetics of the building, and parking. The neighborhood associations insisted that there was no opposition to affordable housing or foster youths, though in press reports some neighbors discussed concerns with increased “loitering”.

The most frequent neighborhood complaint was that the project did not fit in with the residential buildings and character of their neighborhood, and that the 22-space underground parking garage was inadequate.

The City responded that residents and recreational users typically did not have cars, and that the Center was in a highly urbanized area with excellent existing transit services less than two blocks away. The City also disagreed that the neighborhood character was exclusively residential, based on neighborhood uses such as Target and Trader Joe’s.  After an appeal, the Board of Supervisors approved the project on a 9-2 vote, finding the project was consistent with the General Plan and supportive of the city’s stated goal of creating 500 units of transitional youth housing by 2016.

The neighborhood groups sued, and the suit was dismissed by the Superior Court in mid 2011. Neighborhood groups promptly filed an appeal and in May 2013, two years later, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the Center, upholding the project EIR. Although a full EIR was done, because of frivolous CEQA lawsuits, the project has dragged on for over 6 years, denying vital services for youth in need and drastically driving up costs for this critical project.


  • NIMBY CEQA lawsuit delays vital youth services for over 6 years
  • Delay in creation of transit-oriented affordable homes for foster youth
  • Considerable attorneys’ fees and costs associated with lawsuit and litigation

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Perris Valley Line Metrolink Extension, Riverside County

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June 19  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

NIMBY Group Uses CEQA Lawsuit in Attempt to Derail Major Public Transit Extension Project

The Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension project would extend an existing LA Metrolink line 24 miles from north of the City of Riverside to Perris. It would serve an expected 4,000 riders every day and take enough cars off of the road to eliminate 34 million road miles traveled per year.

It is part of the Southern California Association of Government’s (SCAG) 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, the long-range plan that improves regional mobility and greenhouse gas emission reduction standards required in AB 32 and SB 375. The project has qualified for a $75 million federal transportation grant.

Planning for this project began in 2002.  This extension would utilize tracks that have served the area since 1888, occasionally used by slow-moving freight trains. The project enjoys broad support from local community groups, local government and the business community. Beyond providing environmental benefits, construction of the project would create over 618 direct jobs and would pay an estimated $35.2 million in wages – with $25.5 million of those wages going to union workers. Throughout the planning process, there have been over 48 public meetings to address public concerns and gather input and feedback from the community.

In 2008, an extensive CEQA environmental review was conducted and a Mitigated Negative Declaration was circulated for public review. After receiving and responding to all public comments, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) decided to complete a more rigorous and costly environmental document for the project: a full blown Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The EIR was circulated for public comment in April 2010 and approved in July 2011.

Shortly after the EIR was approved, a neighborhood group filed a CEQA lawsuit challenging the project. The NIMBY group claimed there were inadequacies in the EIR, including the assertion that RCTC must analyze and mitigate for the safety of illegal trespassers that walk across the tracks.

In May 2013, a court judge’s ruling overturned the entire 3,000-page EIR over a few discrete issues – prohibiting RCTC from moving forward with construction. This has caused an indefinite delay of the project.  Faced with budget and timing constraints, the project could be in jeopardy of being killed altogether.

Since the project is a part of SCAG’s 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, another project will have to be conceived and put into place that delivers the same GHG reduction benefits, within the same time frame if this project is unable to move forward. Otherwise, their plan could be out of compliance with federal clean air standards, in addition to the GHG targets set under SB 375 and AB 32. This project is vital not only to the Riverside area, but Southern California as a region.

So far the litigation has cost RCTC over $600,000 in taxpayer dollars and has indefinitely delayed the creation of over 600 jobs for the area.

RCTC is evaluating all legal options to save this project from yet another misuse of CEQA.


  • Years’ long delay of vital mass transit project that will reduce emissions
  • Over $600,000 in litigation costs for taxpayers thus far
  • Loss of 600 union and private sector construction jobs
  • Potential loss of $75 million in federal funding

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: North Beach Library, San Francisco

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May 23  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Special Interest Group uses CEQA in Attempt to Kill Replacement of Seismically Unsafe and Non-ADA Compliant Library Building

The San Francisco North Beach Public Library was the last of the City’s 24 library branches slated to be repaired or rebuilt under a series of library bond measures passed by San Francisco voters in the 2000’s.

The original library building, which sits in Joe Di Maggio Park, was built in 1959 and is not seismically safe or ADA compliant. In 2008, as part of the city’s Branch Library Improvement Program, the City and County of San Francisco began making plans to create a more functional and safe library that better suits the needs of the neighborhood.

The master plan for the North Beach Public Library included demolishing the current branch to make room for an enlarged DiMaggio Playground and constructing a new library building on a triangular lot across the street.

Previously, the city explored plans to rehabilitate and expand the existing building, but the community objected because it would be extremely costly and expanding the library on its current site would reduce the size of the park.

Over the next two and a half years, an exhaustive environmental review was conducted and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was prepared to mitigate all potential environmental impacts. After all public comments were heard and integrated into the EIR, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approved the Final EIR.

In July 2011, only a month after the EIR was certified, a group filed a CEQA lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court contending, among other complaints, that the renovated  playground would “demean the memory of Joe DiMaggio”. They also claimed that the building qualified as a historic landmark as defined by CEQA, despite the fact that the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to deny granting landmark status to the seismically unsafe and non-ADA compliant building.

One year later, a Superior Court judge threw out the opponents’ lawsuit. After spending over $800,000 of scarce city funds on consultants and legal fees, the city was finally able to win approval of replacing the outdated North Beach Library.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said, “We have a highly popular, beautifully designed project to replace an outdated and inaccessible structure with a beautiful, usable and accessible new library; to create additional, much-needed open space in a densely populated neighborhood.  Any community would embrace and celebrate this project. Instead, a small group of opponents has stymied the broad community every step of the way.”

The library finally broke ground in November 2012 and, barring any further litigation, is expected to open in 2014.


  • CEQA lawsuit caused over a year of delay for vital library retrofit
  • Litigation cost the city $800,000 in attorney’s fees and legal costs, borne by taxpayers

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CEQA Misuse Case Study: Waste Management Fleet Clean Fuel Retrofit, Oceanside

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May 16  |  Case Studies  |   afrew

Individual Uses CEQA in Attempt to Stop Retrofit of Waste Management Trucks to Cleaner Burning Fuel 

As part of a contract approved in 2010 between the City of Oceanside and the sanitation company Waste Management, the company agreed to replace 42 of its diesel fueled trucks with cleaner running natural gas powered trucks. These natural gas burning trucks will reduce air pollution equivalent to removing 3,100 cars from the roads, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Further, since natural gas is much less expensive than diesel fuel, the trucks will cost only half as much to fuel.

As part of the retrofit, Waste Management received clearance to build a natural gas fueling station at its existing Oceanside truck maintenance yard to fuel the new trucks.

An exhaustive CEQA environmental review was conducted, and in January of 2013, plans to purchase the trucks and install natural gas pumps in the maintenance yard were approved by the Oceanside Planning Commission. A few weeks after the project approval, an individual appealed the project approval and environmental study, alleging the CEQA review was inadequate, citing concerns about noise from the fueling station.

However, the review of the project found that the conversion from diesel to natural gas would actually lower the noise levels of the existing maintenance yard and make for a more compatible operation next to residential homes. The new trucks would have quieter engines and would be fueled overnight while the engines were turned off, unlike the current diesel trucks that must go to and from the gas station many times throughout the week and idle with the engine on while fueling.

In March of 2013, the city council rejected the individual’s appeal. It is yet to be determined if this individual will file a CEQA lawsuit in a continued attempt to stall this project.

This CEQA challenge is a clear case of CEQA being used to the detriment of the environment.  The conversion of Waste Management’s fleet from diesel to natural gas trucks will decrease greenhouse emissions and air pollution and promote public health in the city and neighborhoods that are serviced by the trucks.


  • Individual uses CEQA to stop conversion of diesel trucks to natural gas.
  • Conversion will remove equivalent of 3,100 cars from the road and reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution.
  • Threat of CEQA litigation cause delays and uncertainty.

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