Holland & Knight Partner Jennifer Hernandez has released her third study of all state court lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The study, "In the Name of the Environment Part III: CEQA, Housing, and the Rule of Law," examines lawsuits filed statewide over three years, between 2019 and 2021. Several of Ms. Hernandez's colleagues from Holland & Knight's West Coast Land Use and Environmental Group and the firm's Real Estate Practice contributed to the study of CEQA lawsuits evaluated in the latest report, which was published in the Chapman Law Review produced by Chapman University Fowler School of Law.

All three studies have identified housing as the top target of CEQA lawsuits challenging agency approvals of private projects. California's housing crisis has caused the state to have the worst housing-adjusted poverty rate in the United States. California also continues to have the highest rate, and highest number, of unsheltered homeless residents.

According to the study, there's one common reason for these shocking humanitarian failures by the fourth-largest economy on the planet: State policies block housing that's affordable to its residents, with leaders and advocates defending state policies in the name of the environment (and now climate), even when they expressly acknowledge the exclusionary harms their policy choices inflict on younger families, communities of color and middle-income (including union) workers.

Part III of the "In the Name of the Environment" series provides further evidence of California's anti-housing environmental/climate agenda. Just seven of the 514 lawsuits in this study's dataset sought to block 1,079,347 planned housing units (half to one-third of California's estimated housing shortfall). Lawsuits filed in 2020 sought to block nearly 48,000 approved housing units (the equivalent of just under half of California's total annual housing production). The entrenched strength of these environmental/climate anti-housing stakeholders is all the more remarkable given Gov. Gavin Newsom's conclusion that the state has 3.5 million fewer housing units than it needs, and given the scores of new laws enacted by the legislature and signed by the current and former governor to spur increased housing production.

"CEQA remains a revered cornerstone of California's environmental laws, even as all three 'In the Name of the Environment' CEQA studies confirm that CEQA lawsuits are most often aimed at blocking housing and climate priorities purportedly supported by the state's elected leaders," said Ms. Hernandez, the head of Holland & Knight's West Coast Land Use and Environmental Group. "More academic researchers, including once-ardent CEQA status quo defenders, have independently confirmed the accuracy of the data in our studies – and increasingly have also acknowledged its use as an anti-housing exclusionary tool by wealthier communities."

Read the full study online.