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Point / Counterpoint

Should developers' role in environmental impact reports be changed? : FOR : RICHARD R. WIRTH

September 02, 1990|Interviews by LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY

BACKGROUND

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has proposed changing a controversial system that allows developers to hire the consultants to evaluate the environmental impact of their proposed projects. Under the mayor's plan, whose aim is to make EIRs more impartial, developers' projects would be handled more quickly if the city chose the consultant. But critics believe all consultants should be selected by the city.

Richard R. Wirth, 46, is executive director of the Governmental Affairs Council of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California. He is a member of the state attorney general's Housing Task Force, the Southern California Transportation Coalition and the Los Angeles Countywide Citizens Planning Council. He is single and a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades.

Q. Is the promise to reduce the average processing time for an environmental impact report from 18 to 12 months enough incentive for developers?

A. "Sure, if it goes into effect. The big killer in the building industry is time. Time is money. The only people who get wealthy on the delays at City Hall is the lending institutions, which are getting paid interest on the money."

Q. Do you think the majority of builders would choose to have the city select the consultants to get the process speeded up?

A. "It all depends. It becomes a business decision. It's another tool that may or may not be used by some people, which is why I applaud the concept. The more flexibility and the more options that we can give to people to get a job done is advantageous. It's an advantage not to the building industry but to the people who want to buy housing. The builder who can keep his costs down can put his houses on the market to a larger buying public. For every $1,000 increase in the cost of a house, you exclude half a million people from the marketplace."

Q. Are there enough governmental controls to assure that EIRs are complete and accurate?

A. "Many, many times I've had developers call me saying, 'God, I did all this work on an EIR. Ithe city's job, that's their prerogative.' "

Q. Environmentalists contend that consultants who write EIRs that cause a lot of problems for the builders won't get future business. Is that true?

A. "That's an interesting statement. We have EIRs that cause a lot of problems. We walk away from a lot of projects when we see the EIR. I have yet to see the environmentalists prove it to me. They can say all sorts of things, but nobody ever challenges them. Take a look at how many cases these people have brought against the city of Los Angeles after a project's approval that have gone to the Supreme Court of the United States. They have never won one of them."

Q. Does the city of Los Angeles require too many EIRs?

A. "Yes. In Los Angeles, the city was divided into 37 sections, and a community plan based on an environmental impact report was written for each. I am a developer, and I walk in and I have a project in an area covered by a community plan. I'm not asking for a zoning change, and yet the city requires an EIR. That's absolutely insane, asinine, ridiculous. Why the hell did we spend the money to do the community plan if we want another EIR done? I build a project, and you are proposing a project adjacent to me. I've written an EIR for my project, but they are going to make you do an EIR too. Why are we studying the same thing?"

Q. Who is hurt if unnecessary EIRs are done?

A. "The one thing that needs to be kept in mind by everyone is that, while Joe Dokes thinks there needs to be an EIR, it's going to be Mary Smith, who buys the house, who pays for the EIR. I told the building industry what you ought to do is hand new homeowners a copy of the EIR you did on some of these projects and say, 'By the way, $20,000 of the cost of your house is because of this document. Frame it.' "

Q. Environmentalists favor a system used by Ventura County and many other cities and counties that forbids the developers from choosing a consultant to prepare an EIR. How is it working in Ventura County?

A. "It doesn't make much difference. In Ventura County, all but one city has a no-growth ordinance. I could put in the best system in the world, but if I don't allow you to build, what difference does it make?"

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