Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Councilmember Jack Weiss Proposes Important Change In Way Environmental Impact Reports Are Prepared in the City of Los Angeles.

Councilmember Jack Weiss has proposed an important change in the way Environmental Impact Reports are prepared in the City of Los Angeles. This proposed change would make the City, as the Lead Agency, the contracting party who pays the EIR consultant who compiles and writes the EIR. The developer will reimburse the City for the full cost of the EIR preparation but the City will exercise ultimate control over the quality of the EIR work and the payment of the EIR consultant.

This would reverse years of developer-driven EIRs where the developer is allowed to retain the EIR consultant and directly pay the consultant. Such a contractual relationship gives developers such control over EIRs that they have seemed more like advocacy documents for the project instead of neutral evaluation of possible environmental effects.

The Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance applauds the proposal and calls upon Councilmembers Reyes and Huizar to endorse in concept this long-overdue reform of the City's environmental review processes.

Daniel Wright, President
Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance

Text of Weiss's press release follows:

Planning Department would oversee firms conducting EIRs.


May 15, 2007

LOS ANGELES – To increase public confidence in the environmental review process for development projects, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jack Weiss today introduced a measure to explore giving the Planning Department hiring authority over consultants who would be paid by developers but report to city officials.

"My district has seen some very complicated development proposals in recent years, and residents have felt the EIR process is biased toward developers who choose their own consultants and pay for the environmental analysis," said Weiss. "I want to explore changing the equation to ensure that community members can trust the results of EIRs and know that the process has been fair and complete."

"This is an important step in creating a level playing field for responsible development. Communities are looking for accuracy not advocacy in an environmental review," said Laura Lake, PhD, President of Lake and Lake Consulting and a longtime Westside community activist.

"Jack Weiss is to be commended. This is a big step forward because it will separate the developer from the consultant and will bring about more honest environmental assessments that accurately reflect traffic and density issues. We are grateful that he is taking the lead to make the environmental review process more accountable to the public rather than developers," said Gerald A. Silver, President of Homeowners of Encino.

"The city’s planners, traffic engineers and other officials can only do their jobs based on the quality of information they are given. The credibility of the planning process rests upon the availability of objective planning data. Jack Weiss’ motion begins a long awaited process to ensure that planning decisions are less likely to be influenced by a developer’s wishes. Our homeowners association looks forward to working with him and the Council to craft a policy that will remove influence or the appearance of undue influence from the planning process," said Barbara Broide, President of Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Association.

The Planning Department is responsible for reviewing an ever-growing number of land use projects, including extensive analyses of Environmental Impact Reports submitted by the project applicants and prepared by their private consultants.

To provide more transparency and consistency in the environmental review process, the City should explore different approaches to the selection of environmental consultants, such as contracting directly with environmental consultants, rather than relying on the selections of applicants. In many other jurisdictions, a list of eligible environmental consultants, selected via a Request for Proposals (RFP), is developed and applicants choose from the list and reimburse the City for the costs of the environmental consultants.

The measure will be discussed by the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management(PLUM) Committee later this year.


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