Gov. Jerry Brown recently told reporters, during his China trip, that he was temporarily backing off of his push to weaken California’s environmental review law, the California Environmental Quality Act. A few days ago Evan Halper, the Los Angeles Times’ Sacramento Bureau chief, wrote an interesting article about this and the governor’s latest efforts to push ahead with controversial big projects. Then, a day or two later, our own Sierra Club California Executive Committee member Gary Patton wrote a great letter regarding the governor’s position, which was also published in the Times.
While the governor is certainly a threat to CEQA, is he the only or biggest threat to environmental review? More than a week before Brown’s statement from China, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee that, during a presentation about why the National Basketball Association should keep the Kings in Sacramento, Steinberg assured the NBA that the legislature wouldn’t allow any environmental laws to unnecessarily slow down construction of a new arena for the Kings. Then late last week, Steinberg said something similar to television reporters. According to KCRA, ”Steinberg said before the Kings relocation first unfolded, he had started to work on SB 731, which includes comprehensive reform for environmental regulations and might prevent lawsuits that could hold up an arena project.”
The last big proposal to reduce enforceability of CEQA, AB 900, was drafted by Steinberg and his staff as a gut-and-amend bill at the end of the 2011 legislative session. The most offensive aspect of that bill would have allowed challenges to certain kinds of projects to bypass the lower court and go straight to the appeals court. The Club opposed this provision because we believed then–and continue to believe–that this would reduce the ability of local groups to effectively challenge Environmental Impact Reports and actually enforce CEQA.
Our friends at the Planning and Conservation League challenged that provision, and in March an Alameda Superior Court judge struck it down as unconstitutional.
Fortunately, there are a few good CEQA bills that we support. These bills, including two by Sen. Noreen Evans and one by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, will help make sure the law works better for all Californians by doing things like taking advantage of technology to encourage electronic posting of project announcements and making sure there’s a firewall between project analysts and the developers who are sponsoring the projects.
Meanwhile, we’re also waiting to see what will actually be in Sen. Steinberg’s SB 731. So far, it only contains intent language.
Tell the Senate Environmental Quality Committee members, who will hear the bills soon, that Evans’ SB 617 and SB 754 and Jackson’s SB 436 deserve support. The bills will make information about big development projects more available to the public—consistent with the true intent of CEQA.
Disparate interest groups have argued that the CEQA process needs to be made more efficient. The improvements in these bills will help do that without sacrificing the heart of environmental review and its enforcement.
Help make sure CEQA keeps working for the public’s interest.