What's that really long tome everyone says they've read but no one does? No, not Ulysses. In San Francisco government, it's often an Environmental Impact Report — and having a dusty EIR atop your cabinet doesn't impart near the sophisticated air of a few volumes of Joyce.
EIRs are studies of proposed building projects mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. They range from long to stupid long. A recently completed EIR on the Water Safety Improvement Plan was sent to its 50-plus recipients in not one but two boxes; it takes up eight strained binders, and Rick Galbreath, a legislative assistant to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, actually required SF Weekly's assistance to drag it to a far corner of Mirkarimi's office. "Will you look at that?" Galbreath says, holding a sheaf of 500 papers next to just one of the EIR's binders — which dwarfed it.
The water plan alone necessitated hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper. Considering the Planning Department publishes two dozen or more reports a year, it's conceivable that half a million — or perhaps many more — sheets of paper are consumed to sate the city's need for EIRs. Perhaps someone should commission an Environmental Impact Report examining the environmental impact of Environmental Impact Reports. "The amount of paper used enacting the California Environmental Quality Act is an ironic situation, yes," agrees Sarah Jones, a senior city environmental planner. "But it's nothing compared to when we have litigation."
Galbreath says he and others at City Hall would vastly prefer to receive reports on a simple CD; it'd save paper, and be easier to employ a word search and read an EIR's vital content. "Breathtaking amounts of paper are wasted," he says. "We don't have time to read EIRs unless issues come up."
Jones said city employees like Galbreath can get onto the "CD only, please" list by speaking with the planning department official tied to a specific EIR — dozens of times a year. Diana Sokolove, the project manager for the vast WSIP report, says her division already has a "CD only" spreadsheet.
Meanwhile, Bill Wycko, the planning department's top environmental review officer, groused that anyone who really didn't want paper reports should have just given him a call — and no one has. On the contrary, some supervisors — he refuses to name names — have ordered multiple EIRs, after losing the first copy.