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Chipping Away at CEQA

by: Brian Leubitz

Wed Mar 03, 2010 at 10:26:30 AM PST


The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) now regulates much of the environmental procedures in the state, especially for new contstruction projects. It requires projects to go through a fairly vigorous environmental review process.  Though it was passed in 1970, it was a relatively weak law until the California Supreme Court construed the law broadly in Friends of Mammoth vs. Board of Supervisors of Mono County.  Republican Attorney General Evelle Younger, wrote a brief in favor of the more powerful CEQA, and is generally credited for giving CEQA real teeth.

But today's Republicans would picket Younger, saying that he hates Americans or some such nonsense.


Years of exemptions from California's principal environmental protection law are being crafted in the Capitol by the Schwarzenegger administration and lawmakers in both parties, who believe speedy approval of dozens of projects, public and private, will create jobs and spur economic growth.
*** *** ***
Environmentalists say the proposed end-run around the California Environmental Quality Act constitutes one of the most significant changes to CEQA since the law was written 40 years ago and inspired environmental legislation across the country. CEQA is a frequent target of lawsuits and legislation.

The proposals are supported by manufacturers, builders, engineers, developers, business interests and others. They say their intent is to expedite construction of numerous, still-unknown projects and jumpstart the weak economy. The proposals restrict the power of the courts to review the projects and give final authority over the projects to the administration. (CapWeekly)

It is telling just how far the environmental movement has fallen in that the current Governor, a Republican who likes to style himself an environmental champion, is seeking to neuter the law.

The process Schwarzenegger has in mind would be disastrous for future environmental review.  The first kick in the shins to CEQA was the LA stadium deal, which the Governor and Ed Roski shoved through the legislature last year.  Now, since that was so successful, Arnold figures that he'll just do that again, this time with a huge long list of projects rather than just one.

This process results in a willy-nilly approach to environmental review, offers favors to those with political or financial clout, and shrouds the process in secrecy. And with every supposed "vital project that will kickstart the economy," our environmental laws get a little weaker.

"We said at the time that they would encourage more of these proposals, and it's done exactly that," said Bill Magavern of Sierra Club California. "We're seeing a stepped-up attack on CEQA this year, and I think we're seeing development interests using the recession as an excuse for the CEQA rollbacks that they have been gunning for."

Democrats across the state are facing pressure to green light the projects as jobs projects.  But, for years we have had these restrictions, and developers were able to comply.  During the bubble, developers complied (grudgingly), but said that the process slowed down the huge expansion. (Imagine the vacant lots of houses sans CEQA).

CEQA is a vital component of our environmental system.  You can't call yourself green by simply voting Aye on AB32 and then systematically deconstructing the focus of environmental regulation.  Democrats should think twice before they jump into bed with the developers on this.  There are serious long term policy consequences.  But even for a term-limited legislator, they should understand that the politics isn't as easy.

Over the flip, I've posted the vote on the LA Stadium Deal.  You can find the full details of the bill here.

Brian Leubitz :: Chipping Away at CEQA
Senate:

AYES
****

Alquist Benoit Calderon Cedillo
Cogdill Correa DeSaulnier Dutton
Harman Liu Maldonado Oropeza
Padilla Price Romero Runner
Steinberg Strickland Walters Wright
Yee

NOES
****

Ashburn Corbett Cox Denham
Ducheny Hancock Hollingsworth Kehoe
Leno Lowenthal Pavley Wiggins
Wolk Wyland

ABSENT, ABSTAINING, OR NOT VOTING
*********************************

Aanestad Florez Huff Negrete McLeod
Simitian

Assembly:

UNOFFICIAL BALLOT
MEASURE: ABX3 81
AUTHOR: Hall
TOPIC: Land use: City of Industry: stadium complex.
DATE: 09/10/2009
LOCATION: ASM. FLOOR
MOTION: AB 81 HALL  Assembly Third Reading  Third Extraordinary Session
(AYES  54. NOES  18.)  (PASS)

AYES
****

Adams Beall Bill Berryhill Tom Berryhill
Blakeslee Bradford Charles Calderon Carter
Conway Cook Coto Davis
De La Torre De Leon Emmerson Eng
Evans Fong Fuentes Fuller
Furutani Gaines Galgiani Gilmore
Hagman Hall Harkey Hayashi
Hernandez Hill Huber Jeffries
Jones Knight Lieu Logue
Ma Mendoza Miller Nestande
John A. Perez V. Manuel Perez Portantino Ruskin
Silva Smyth Solorio Audra Strickland
Swanson Torlakson Torres Torrico
Villines Bass

NOES
****

Anderson Arambula Block Buchanan
Caballero Chesbro DeVore Feuer
Fletcher Garrick Huffman Monning
Nava Niello Nielsen Salas
Saldana Yamada

ABSENT, ABSTAINING, OR NOT VOTING
*********************************

Ammiano Blumenfield Brownley Duvall
Krekorian Bonnie Lowenthal Skinner Tran

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CEQA reform is needed (0.00 / 0)
But what the Republicans are doing isn't reform - it's a complete bypass of the process.

I wrote extensively about CEQA in the context of high speed rail and concluded:

High speed rail should be assessed and planned in a statewide context. Instead, it is assessed in a town-by-town setting, totally divorced from statewide concerns, and even from local urban plans. As a result, sprawl has accelerated over the 40 years since CEQA's adoption, and it has become progressively more difficult to build sustainable infill projects, whether it is housing or mass transit, as the CEQA process empowers people to stop something they dislike, even when doing so causes significant environmental damage.

The alternative to CEQA reform is that more and more projects will simply be exempted by the state legislature from CEQA review. In fact, back in 1982, once and future governor Jerry Brown signed into a law a high speed train bill exempting the project from CEQA review. (The project eventually fell apart in 1983 for various reasons.) More recently, the landmark state planning law SB 375 signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger last year provides CEQA exemptions for certain kinds of infill urban housing projects that meet the AB 32 global warming guidelines.

Using the legislature to provide the occasional CEQA exemption isn't good planning. But it's what happens when the CEQA process is no longer functional. Rather than exempting HSR from CEQA - which, to be very clear, I am not advocating at this time, we should adopt the successful urban planning models used in states like Washington and Oregon that provide for regional and statewide planning processes that still give the public a chance to weigh in, still protect the environment, but don't come at the cost of prolonging a reckless dependence on sprawl and oil. Already the CHSRA is exploring a statewide planning effort, although it is not intended to supplant CEQA.

SPUR also did a very good report on the problems with CEQA back in 2006, Fixing the California Environmental Quality Act.

In short, CEQA is a serviceable but inferior method of land-use planning. We need a statewide system that prioritizes key environmental goals, instead of the current process that is cumbersome and more often than not privileges people trying to stop environmentally-friendly things from happening.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave


Good point (0.00 / 0)
I've been thinking about this in regards to job creation and public works, but you're right in that we need to focus on statewide and other forms of categorical planning.

[ Parent ]
Chipping? Where? (0.00 / 0)
I'm all for people having strong opinions and voicing them, we are all entitled to our own opinios but not our own facts.

I think you are referring to the bipartisan bill, SBX 842 authoured by Senators Correa and Cogdill.  This is not a "Republican" bill as you dubbed it, nor does it chip away at CEQA, quite the contrary.  All projects that would be impacted by SBX 842 would have to go through the complete CEQA process including an EIR and public review and comment.  That is a FACT.  All this bill does is protect a select few projects from going through an additional costly 2 years in the courts where any disgruyntled NIMBY can sue an EIR.  This bill protects CEQA certified projects from litigation, it does not "chip" at CEQA.

Prop 13 and CEQA are the two single biggest contributors to sprawl and environmental degredation in California and unless people stop treating them as commandments carved in stone we will never see any progress and all we'll get are McMansion subdivisions from the pacific to the Sierra and freeways clogged with SUVs.  


Correa's half a Dem (0.00 / 0)
Lou Correa is the same kind of Dem as Joe Lieberman, with the worst environmental voting record of any Dem, year after year, and a close association with Orange County money Republicans.

Calling a bill bipartisan because he helps sponsor it is laughable.

Of course that's not as laughable as the concept that CEQA requirements will be anything except worthless piles of paper  if there is no enforcement by courts.

There's sure room for streamlining CEQA review. It ususally starts with good projects and good policy, and beginning environmental considerations at the beginning of a planning process,  where all the parties work together from the beginning.  Doesn't really happen very often, but it's possible.

OC Progressive is Gus Ayer, former Fountain Valley Council member.  


[ Parent ]
I didn't call it Republican (0.00 / 0)
I am referring to Correa's bill, and am aware it is bipartisan. I was referring to Schwarzenegger there, but I see it's a bit unclear. my bad. Blame the editor. ;)

I have no problem reforming CEQA. My problem is the absolute lack of process that we have with the LA stadium deal and now this mystery "list" of projects that get special treatment.  For me, the ethics consequences are just as important as the environmental.  Why does Roski get this special treatment?

As Robert suggested above, CEQA does need change. However, we need to be working on setting up a better process, not picking and choosing which ones have to go through it and which don't.

I think?


[ Parent ]
How on earth does CEQA contribute to sprawl? (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
I completely agree (0.00 / 0)
We do need to reform CEQA and it can't become a partisan football, which is why I took exception to your characterization of this effort as some sort of Republican plot to undermine the law and strip mine Half Dome.

Robert is correct that we need to reform CEQA in a systemic manner, not on a case by case basis, but he is just as guilty as the Governor or Senators Correa and Cogdill by singling our HSR for special treatment. But in this environment nobody wants to talk about overhaling CEQA so the best anyone can hope for is a little give on lawsuit protection.

CEQA is unwieldy, inflexible, authoritarian, and most importantly it was authored before we knew what global warming was. It gives no consideration to big picture thinking and forces people to think in silos and on small scales...200 individual EIRs needed to build a HSR line is evidence of that.

Lets have a constructive conversation about CEQA reform and not make this a political point scoring exercise where the Sierra Club will probably win a pyrrhic victory..saving CEQA at the expense of the environment.


To be clear (0.00 / 0)
My comments about CEQA were made in the context of HSR, but were intended to be broadly applicable. I don't endorse exempting HSR from CEQA rules at this time, and totally agree with you that CEQA needs sensible reform to manage the environmental crises of the 21st century.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
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