Thursday, October 25, 2007

More KQED Commentary on the "San Jose Process", and a response by Mayor Reed

KQED's Forum program yesterday followed up Tuesday's Perspectives piece on how San Jose shouldn't give developers control over intial aspects of environmental review.

You can listen to the Forum program here. Our issue comes up in the second half of the show.

When I heard yesterday morning that Mayor Reed would be on the show, I emailed the following question:

Yesterday’s KQED Perspectives commentary at criticized “The San Jose Process” for environmental review because unlike other cities, private developers create and control the initial, administrative draft versions of environmental impact reports. The Perspective said that process is a legacy of the previous city administration, but will you commit to at least investigating whether this system should be changed to meet the standards found in other Bay Area cities, where the cities and not the developers select the consultants who prepare the reports?

(Full disclosure: I was the person who gave yesterday’s Perspective.)

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills

When asked, Mayor Reed responded as follows (after some preliminary comments):

The environmental reports we do are the City’s environmental reports, and we rely on our professional staff to make sure that the work done by the consultants is correct and eventually if people disagree with that we have to defend it in court .... we have to prepare for that so we have to do it right, and I don’t think it matters where it starts as much as where it ends up. I can’t make a personal commitment to Brian that we’ll change that. I understand his comment, I understand the perception, but we have a really good environmental staff that makes these things work, and I’m confident we’re doing it correctly and defensibly.

My reaction:

The Mayor said he can't commit on the spot to change the system. I understood that, and had only asked for a commitment to investigate it. That's an easy thing to miss in the middle of live radio, so hopefully he will still consider investigating alternatives.

Mayor Reed says it's the end result that counts the most, and I agree with that, but throwing in a barrier to a good end result in the form of a biased starting point just makes it harder for the City's professional staff. If they can get a good result with this handicapped start, then they'll do even better with an unbiased start. I would add though that in CGF's opinion we do have a problem with some of the end results, as seen with Coyote Valley.

Finally, the City's professional staff can't go out and redo shoddy fieldwork by consultant experts. They might not even know if the fieldwork was shoddy or the subjective judgment was out of line with standard expert opinion. The vast majority of environmental reviews never get challenged in court, especially Initial Studies for smaller projects, so a court-challenge safeguard is inadequate and not the way to do quality control, in any event.


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