CEQA can increase affordable housing in Sacramento while protecting communities

By Ralph Propper, President of the Environmental Council of Sacramento | October 19, 2021 | Sacramento News and Review

The City of Sacramento signed a deal this summer to build a U.C. Davis campus and innovation hub, bringing economic investment that will create affordable housing, jobs and transportation infrastructure. Thanks to California’s premiere social and environmental justice law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), this agreement was not just a win-win for the project developers and city, but also for the community living near the development. Without a strong CEQA, however, the deal could have had wide-ranging negative impacts for the area’s under-resourced neighborhoods.

The project, known as Aggie Square, is a case study in how CEQA works to protect public health, safeguard communities and spur more affordable housing development. When market-rate developers approach cities with plans to build housing developments, warehouses or other big projects, their main concern is to make a profit. Thanks to CEQA, communities have a chance to make their voices heard by decision-makers before permits are approved and potentially problematic projects are built. Under CEQA, public agencies must study the environmental and public health impacts of a proposed development and identify feasible ways to offset those impacts.

Originally signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA protects environmental resources and advances environmental justice and social justice goals. But this keystone law has somehow become the punching bag of for-profit developers, who wrongly blame the statute for creating a barrier to the development of affordable housing. In fact, studies show local zoning and other local factors – not CEQA – are the primary barriers to affordable housing development. While the CEQA process has at times stalled or even blocked inclusionary housing or densification—which does further chill affordable project proposals—the Aggie Square development is a case where CEQA worked as designed, providing a pathway for inclusionary affordable housing and equitable access to opportunity.

The developers of Aggie Square were planning a project that, while bringing economic gains to the city as a whole, would have driven up rents for existing residents, leading to the all-too-familiar pattern of gentrification that displaces lower-income residents. But the outcome was different. Largely as a result of a grassroots effort led by Sacramento Investment Without Displacement that leveraged CEQA to ensure that community voices were heard, the city established a Community Benefits Partnership Agreement that protects local residents from gentrification and reduces the impact of increased traffic surrounding the new development.

Moreover, the agreement goes beyond mitigating harm posed by the project — it creates real benefits for the existing community. It will ensure that a significant portion of the new jobs created by Aggie Square, from entry-level to higher-wage positions, go to local residents. And it will create affordable housing, transportation options, job training and youth education programs.

By requiring decisionmakers to take the time to receive public input, and developers to understand the impact of their proposed development, the CEQA process made this project better and brought it into alignment with state priorities, including by increasing affordable housing supplies. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is now talking about replicating the agreement elsewhere in the city, prioritizing economic equity and residents’ rights over the financial gains of big, for-profit developers. This same model could be used to bring affordable housing and economic growth to communities across California.

As we continue to look for solutions to build more affordable housing, all Californians should look past the distorted picture being presented by those who have the most to gain by weakening this 50-year-old law. CEQA may be imperfect, but we must recognize that it is an essential tool for environmental and social justice, and for housing justice.


Click here to read this article on the Sacramento News and Review website.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project Presentation to ECOS – Monday, March 8

On Monday, March 8 at 6:00 pm the ECOS Land Use Committee will host two guest speakers from the Urban Displacement Project UC Berkeley at its meeting. The Urban Displacement Project aims to understand the nature of gentrification and displacement in American cities. It focuses on creating tools to help communities identify the pressures surrounding them and take more effective action. Tim and Julia will discuss the ongoing research their team is doing in several major US cities, and how it can help guide public policy in Sacramento. We hope you will join us! 


Tim Thomas PhD, Research Director, Urban Displacement Project

Tim Thomas is a postdoctoral scholar and research director at the Urban Displacement Project specializing in urban sociology, demography, and data science. His research focuses on how neighborhood change, housing, and displacement affects household socioeconomic stratification by race and gender in the United States. Tim is also the Principal Investigator for the Evictions Study, a multi-metropolitan analysis on the neighborhood drivers of eviction using census data and text mining court records. . . In 2019, his team’s work on evictions provided empirical evidence that helped pass several tenant protection laws in Washington State.

He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Washington and was a Moore/Sloan Data Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington’s eScience Institute.


Julia Greenberg, Research Manager, Urban Displacement Project

Julia is a research manager at the Urban Displacement Project. She is interested in using geospatial and data analysis to understand the impacts of land use, housing policy, and climate change on housing vulnerability and displacement. Julia is committed to collaborating with community-based organizations, governments, and other stakeholders to promote strategies that increase equitable access to affordable housing.

Julia graduated from George Washington University with her Master’s in Public Policy and has a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University.


To join the meeting

Link to join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/543524123

To phone in: 1 669 900 6833 – Meeting ID: 543 524 123

Click here to learn more about the Land Use Committee.


Pushed Out: Displacement Today and Lasting Impacts

Community Education – Tenants’ Rights and Food Stamps

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened many problems throughout our community and created a litany of new ones. It is important to show our most vulnerable brothers and sisters that they need not face these challenges alone.

Each year, the UC Davis School of Law organizes a day of service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With a reputation for public service and racial justice, the King Hall community is eager to help during this time of unprecedented crisis. On January 18th, students will work alongside LSNC to offer webinars & clinics through Zoom. The schedule consists of two LSNC-led webinars focusing on government benefits that provide vital aid to the Davis and Sacramento communities. Each webinar will be followed by a clinic led by students. These clinics will be conducted through Zoom break-out rooms so that individual questions may receive tailored answers. The Zoom links for each webinar & clinic are provided below. All times listed are in Pacific time.

The first webinar will begin at 10 a.m. and will provide instruction on how to apply for CalFresh. The second webinar will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will focus on eviction and tenant’s rights. The webinars are scheduled to last an hour and the student clinics will begin shortly after each webinar ends.


Happening January 18, 2021

Happening January 18, 2021

CalFresh (Food Stamps) during the COVID-19 Emergency

10:00am Webinar

(clinic to follow immediately after)

Please click the link below to join the webinar:
https://zoom.us/j/97271660688?pwd=M3dnTDl4YTlxT0MxK2hIckZEQlRWdz09
Passcode: 477360
Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,97271660688# or +12532158782,,97271660688#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 929 205 6099
Webinar ID: 972 7166 0688

11:00am Clinic

[Audio and/or Video]
1) Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://ucdavislaw.zoom.us/j/96669765614

2) Android and iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,96669765614# or +12532158782,,96669765614#

[Audio only]
3) Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923 or +1 301 715 8592
Meeting ID: 966 6976 5614
International numbers available: https://ucdavislaw.zoom.us/u/acvqmeWrSQ


Tenant Rights in Evictions during the COVID-19 Emergency

5:30pm Webinar

(clinic to follow immediately after)

Please click the link below to join the webinar:
https://zoom.us/j/93367481038?pwd=NVV1YnN0NHRTaURHTE9zRHNEQk1LUT09
Passcode: 756552
Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,93367481038# or +12532158782,,93367481038#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 929 205 6099 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799
Webinar ID: 933 6748 1038

6:30pm Clinic

[Audio and/or Video]
1) Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://ucdavislaw.zoom.us/j/95330020970
2) Android and iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,95330020970# or +12532158782,,95330020970#
[Audio only]
3) Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923 or +1 301 715 8592
Meeting ID: 953 3002 0970
International numbers available: https://ucdavislaw.zoom.us/u/ausfdK4qm