SB 1451 (Hill), as amended April 11, 2014, would substantially decrease the occurrence of an increasingly used tactic known as “document dumping.”
Over the past decade, project opponents—including individual businesses, unions, environmental groups and others—have sought to intentionally delay project approvals by submitting lengthy, detailed comment letters and extensive documentation on the day the project is scheduled to be approved. Document dumping is used by would-be litigants for all types of project approvals, including public works projects, renewable energy facilities, hospital construction and upgrades, affordable housing developments, and others.
Document dumping presents two distinct problems: (1) It is nearly impossible to address late comments during the hearing, which typically must be delayed weeks or months after the late comments are received; (2) Late comments may typically be used as a basis for a subsequent legal challenge on the project, even though the comments are presented for the first time on the day of the hearing and could have otherwise been presented earlier in the environmental review process.
SB 1451 would reduce the use of the document dumping tactic by placing modest limitations on when certain issues may be raised during the environmental review process in order to sue on those issues in litigation following project approval. Specifically, the bill would require all comments to be presented during the designated public comment period provided under CEQA, unless the comments could not have been presented during the public comment period. Examples of comments that could not have been presented during the public comment period include developments that occur after the close of the public comment period, including, but not limited to, a change in the scope of the project, the identification of a new environmental impact, or the adoption of a new mitigation measure Under SB 1451, comments pertaining to such issues may be presented until the day of the hearing and serve as a basis for a subsequent lawsuit because comments of this type could not, of course, have been presented during the designated public comment period.
Importantly, nothing in SB 1451 prevents interested parties from making comments or raising issues to the lead agency at any time during the environmental review process. All parties remain empowered to petition decision makers and make their concerns heard at hearings, in writing or otherwise at any time. This bill simply requires a would-be litigant to raise his or her issues as early in the environmental review process as possible in order to give the lead agency adequate time and opportunity to address those issues.
Please join us in supporting SB 1451 by calling your State Senator Ellen Corbett 510-577-2310 to express your support of this very important bill.