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Environmental laws can frustrate California developers

California is a beautiful state in which to live, in no small part due to the temperate climate and rugged and pristine natural landscapes. But these same desirable elements can make a commercial real estate developer's plans challenging to achieve.

Many developers' plans are stymied by the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

How this law can affect you

The law was passed to reduce the environmental impacts of residential and commercial development in the state. That's a noble goal, but some developers allege the law allows opponents of pending projects to mount dubious legal challenges that grind these projects to an immediate halt.

One industry insider complains that enforcement of the law has contributed to the lack of affordable housing options all over the state. She said, "Without CEQA approvals, no new housing can be built in California, so it's very integral to everything we do." During the woman's dozen-year stint as a managing director and executive vice president for an apartment complex, she claims that no fewer than six projects were delayed due to CEQA challenges.

You can lose — even if you win

Many challenges come after approval for the projects had already been given. Even though not every challenge was successful, delayed projects cost developers big money. Even if the developers emerge victorious after the court challenges and inevitable appeals two or three years hence, the momentum of the project may never be regained and funding can easily be depleted.

What's a developer to do?

Opposition to commercial and residential building projects may come with the territory. But that doesn't mean that developers are without recourse in these matters. It is vital to exercise due diligence at all phases of the planning process when you are initially trying to get your project off the ground. This is an area where your real estate law attorney can use their knowledge to forestall any environmental oppositions that could derail lucrative developments.

Still, some problems only manifest once a project is well off the ground and on its way to fruition. Regardless of timing issues, it may still be possible to thwart your opposition with a well-timed legal response.

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