CEQA reform placed on backburner until next session

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Photo credit: John Guenther

California Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s says the Senate won’t take up CEQA reform this session. His declaration capped a week of intense speculation and political jockeying on how or if to amend the landmark and increasingly controversial California Environmental Quality Act.

Steinberg took an important stand, “This law, for all its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of session.” The San Francisco Chronicle agreed, saying: “Jamming a bill through in what’s known as a ‘gut-and amend’ process, where the CEQA reform would be loaded into the shell of a bill about something else altogether, is poor policy.”  

However, the Chronicle continues, “there is much work to do to simplify the CEQA process yet ensure that broad topical areas don’t replace specific protections.” Governor Jerry Brown continued the theme, referring to CEQA reform as “the Lord’s work”, although he was non-committal about SB 317, the bill under consideration. 

As you may remember, CEQA emerged as a signature initiative from the first Annual California Economic Summit. The SMART Regulation Action Team recommended “the Governor and legislative leadership convene a thoughtful and moderated discussion among a representative group of stakeholders to develop … proposals to modernize CEQA to make it more effective and attuned to the era in which we find ourselves.”

The Action Plan outlined several areas of focus:

  • Increase transparency and reduce uncertainty in the CEQA administrative and litigation processes
  • Eliminate non-environmental uses of the statute
  • Refocus CEQA administrative and litigation processes to improve environmental outcomes
  • Focus CEQA modernization on “3E” outcomes that will improve the quality of California’s environment, economic competitiveness and community equity.

Bill Allen, SMART Regulation Action Team co-chair and executive director of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation repeated the emphasis of advancing “the beneficial goals or protecting the environment, creating more jobs and ensuring that our state’s overall quality of life is preserved.”

Senator Michael Rubio, author of SB 317, participated in the Summit in Santa Clara and acknowledged “the genius ideas that really change things never come from the state Capitol. They always come from the grassroots level people who are on the streets, living it every single day.”

Summit participants signed onto A Commitment for California’s Economic Prosperity, accepting that developing, enacting and implementing signature initiatives requires new ways for steward leaders with diverse perspectives to work together in communities, regions and the state.

CEQA reform seems like the perfect opportunity. We’ll keep an eye on this process and let you know how attempts at reform are progressing. 


Susan Lovenburg

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