S1E20. Moira O'Neill on Housing and Environmental Review
Play • 1 hr 5 min
On this episode of Free Range, Mike Livermore speaks with Moira O’Neill, a professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia who also has a joint appointment at UVA Law. Her work covers land use, climate change, equity, and resilience. A specific area of her research is land use law and its relationship to housing affordability, integration, and environmental impacts in California. O’Neill discusses the motivation for her recent study on the regulatory choices that restrict the development of different kinds of housing. (1:39 - 4:17). O’Neill describes the biggest highlight of the study: there’s incredible variability in how jurisdictions apply both state environmental review and their own law. (4:18 - 6:16) There is also a vast amount of local discretion. Most approval processes are discretionary rather than through a faster ministerial pathway that is contemplated by state law. (6:19 - 13:24) O’Neill points out that environmental impact reports were quite uncommon in most of the observations because there is a large amount of environmental review happening at the planning level. Theoretically, this in-depth environmental review will explore the potential of environmental impacts associated with the jurisdiction’s developmental desires to facilitate their respective policy goals. (13:25 - 17:50) Livermore and O’Neill discuss the exemptions which the state has created for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for classes of development that the political process has determined are important for facilitating climate policy. (17:51 - 21:45) O’Neill explains the risks associated with longer time frames in the development process. The lengthened process in San Francisco invites important questions about the role of politics. (21:46 - 25:18) O’Neill mentions a San Francisco law that allows neighbors to request a discretionary public hearing for any new development. This provision can be triggered by a neighbor or an interested party, creating uncertainties for developers, especially of affordable housing. (24:19 - 33:10) Livermore asks: What is the nature of the politics that are in play here? O’Neill responds that there are certain processes that seem to open the door for political disputes or opposition to development. (33:11 - 37:34) Livermore and O’Neill discuss whether this involvement of politics is necessarily an intrusion, or an appropriate deliberative process. O’Neill attempts to contextualize the answer in terms of California’s law on how land use operates, answering that the challenge is finding the right balance. She also mentions the risk of NIMBYism. (37:35 - 48:49) O’Neill discusses some of the differences between jurisdictions in California, providing an example in which participants in interviews that worked in both San Francisco and Redwood City described both processes as complex, but Redwood city as more predictable and straightforward. (48:50 - 54:21) Livermore asks O’Neill a bigger picture question: How much of this issue is a technical problem with technical fixes? How much of this is reflecting underlying political and economic realities about conflict? O’Neill answers that there is no question in her mind that there are underlying factors that manifest in how the law is applied. However, while there’s not a simple legislative or regulatory fix, that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t do more on the regulatory and technical sides. (54:22 - 1:01:26) Livermore and O’Neill end the episode by covering the concept of good politics. O’Neill highlights that she thinks there can be a disconnect between what people think is happening in a jurisdiction and what is actually happening, which is problematic for policy making. O’Neill concludes that good information is valuable for good politics and good deliberation. (1:01:27 - 1:04:46)
More episodes
Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu