Helping Our Peninsula's Environment


How Do I Stop a Harmful Project?

(c) Copyright 2001-2009 David Dilworth

In my experience, at least half of all governmental decisions can be stopped or significantly improved by the following methods. The more money that is involved (the bigger the project) - the more supporters you may need on your side. However, you should feel encouraged that there are many cases of a single person stopping a huge project.

Most people never properly object to a project they don't want. So this is a step by step guide to doing so.


* Who's Approving It?

First, find out which Governmental Agencies have to approve the project or activity you are concerned about. (Such as a City, County, Water District, Coastal Commission and so forth.) There can be more than one agency approval needed. Get all their phone numbers. You will also need their address or fax or email address.

If you can't easily find out - call local elected officials, City Council people, your County Supervisor or even your California State Assemblyman.

You might try our Who's-Who Government-Agency Web page.

(For extra credit, find out the name and direct phone number of the person writing the staff report.) 


* Your "I Object" Letter -- Now !

Second - as fast as possible (fax or email in the next 30 minutes are fastest) send that agency a simple "I object" letter.

All the letter has to contain is a single sentence saying -

"I object to (the name or description of the project)"

and your name. It does not need to include any reasons, facts or law (you can do that with a second letter if you still have time). Although your address is optional you should include it if possible. Send it in NOW. Email & fax are best because they are the quickest, but mail is fine ONLY if you have time.

This letter does several important things.

a) Most importantly, it gives you legal rights. You now have legal "Standing" to sue.

If you do not object before a project is approved, you generally cannot sue to stop it unless you own property as a neighbor and the government failed to notify you of the project.

The agencies and the developers know that and they are often counting on you not finding out about the project before the deadline for objections. The deadline you should use is the day before the approval. Technically you can object as late as the date of a hearing, but if you have car trouble or some other distraction keeping you from objecting - you're out of the game.

b) Your letter lets the agency know that at least one person has concerns about it. The agency or its staff may have their own concerns, but typically will not go out on a limb to uphold the laws and oppose development without some public support.


* Fill in Reasons, Facts & Law

Third, now that you have grabbed legal Standing with your "I object letter," and assuming there are still a few minutes (better yet hours) before the agency makes a final decision, you can write a second letter which can dramatically improve your chances of winning.


1. Find out when the next (if any) public hearing or deadline will be held. (You may be startled to learn that neither CEQA or NEPA require a public hearing. Thank goodness most other permits normally need a hearing.)

2. Find out if some other government agency is opposing it or has concerns about it.

You can find their letters in the "administrative record" at the agency doing the approval. If an Environmental Impact Report exists other agency letters will be in the "Responses to Comments." Often the letters near the front are the ones the Lead agency takes most seriously.

3. Write a second (or third) and longer letter with more details (facts and reasons) about your concerns. It doesn't hurt to support the concerns of agencies.

4. Find out who else might help you. Who are the neighbors living next door? Are any public interest groups working on it?


* Write a Letter to the Editor of your daily newspaper to let the public know what is proposed, what your concerns are and what they can do. Include your phone number of address if you choose. Newspaper Letters

* Contact each elected official who will decide on the project to let them know of your concerns and to ask them their thoughts on the activity.

* Show up at the meeting and explain to the decision making body that you object and why.

For more ideas and information visit Jim Britell's website.

Finally, when the decision makers agree with you and do what you suggested - thank them politely (they rarely get any thanks from the public) and then go celebrate.


Context: If you insist on changing a decision making Board's philosophy, rather than changing their actions - it is my experience that in the short term you are doomed to lose; repeatedly -- until you lose all your hope. On the contrary - if you can set aside your philosophy for a while and follow the steps described above you are essentially guaranteed victory after victory. So the decision is yours - do you wish to win or to merely publicly express your philosophy?


When the decision makers refuse to do what you ask - you need to consult with an expert (local activist, agency staff or an attorney) to find out how to appeal or how long before you have to file a lawsuit. CEQA only allows you 30 days to file a suit after the approval. In some cases you have only 5 or 10 days to act - or the decision is forever legally untouchable and irreversible.

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This Page Last Updated June 2, 2011