CEQA Roundup – Who’s saying what this week

150 150 Justin Ewers

Gov. Brown mentioned streamlining the way CEQA works in his State of the State speech Thursday. (Photo: Office of the

The CEQA debate in Sacramento is showing no signs of leaving town anytime soon. The state’s landmark environmental law made a starring appearance in Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State yesterday, where the governor told lawmakers he wants “to rethink and streamline” the law.

Brown’s comments, which, he joked, finally “gives Republicans something to clap about,” came only a week after Darrell Steinberg, the Senate President pro Tem, told a group of environmental advocates he was taking a serious look at changing the way CEQA works.

With several of the state’s top Democrats now calling for reform—and plenty of other lawmakers jumping on the bandwagon—it seems to be official: The CEQA reform muscle-flexing has begun.

Who’s saying what this week:

The man behind the reform effort: Sen. Michael Rubio, the Central Valley Democrat who authored last year’s CEQA reform bill—and “rising star,” according to this fair-minded profile in Environment & Energy Daily—is getting a closer look from many political watchers. Rubio, now in his third year in Sacramento, withdrew his bill in 2012 under pressure from Senate leadership, but has been named chair of the Senate’s Committee on Environmental Quality, where a CEQA bill is likely to originate.

What’s at stake: Capitol Weekly has a comprehensive summary of the long-running battles over CEQA since the law was signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970—along with the latest comments (still noncommittal) from Democratic leaders about what kind of reform is on the table. The story also details the strange bedfellows of this round of CEQA reform, which pits environmentally-conscious Democrats who believe the law is slowing down infill development against longtime foes of the law, including Central Valley farmers who are using CEQA suits to block the state’s two biggest infrastructure projects, high-speed rail and the Delta Water Project.

Is now the time to change it? A forceful point-counterpoint in the Sacramento Bee features Sen. Rubio detailing the “misuses of CEQA,” while Tom Adams, former board president of the California League of Conservation Voters, argues that CEQA is “powerful and effective.”

Business leaders rally for reform: Two Bay Area business leaders, Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council and Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, wrote an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle outlining the business case for CEQA reform. Will they get their way? Cynthia Kurtz, president and CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, said it’s important to watch “who is whispering and who is yelling.”

Environmentalists join forces against changing CEQA: The last few weeks have seen a range of op-eds by environmentalists committed to protecting CEQA. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which released a statement after the State of the State urging the governor “to reject efforts to weaken the law,” also unveiled a study this week on “the CEQA litigation myth.” The study highlights just how rare CEQA litigation is—finding that only 1 out of every 100 projects in California that are subject to CEQA wind up in litigation.

The Economic Summit’s take: Since leaders at the first-ever California Economic Summit last year called for a substantive discussion on CEQA, caeconomy.org has featured a range of different perspectives on the law in its series, CEQA in the 21st Century. These include the latest developments on the politics of CEQA—including where Darrell Steinberg, the Senate President pro Tem, stands on reform—as well as a look at the latest studies on what kinds of projects CEQA is impacting most.

Even among environmental experts, there are a range of opinions on how (or whether) CEQA should be changed. Some of the voices we’ve shared:

CEQA reform isn’t what it seems to be – Sean Hecht of the UCLA Environmental Law Center questions the timing and motives of today’s reformers.
CEQA reform is long overdue – Jennifer Hernandez, a lawyer with almost 30 years of CEQA experience, says CEQA lawsuits are holding back environmentally conscious growth.

CEQA is a safety net – Doug Carstens, a Los Angeles environmental lawyer, says CEQA’s public participation rules are vital to the democratic process.

Middle ground exists on CEQA reform – Jim Moose, a Sacramento CEQA attorney, is part of a team of lawyers committed to finding a compromise that works.

Video: CEQA as public health tool – Martha Arguello of Physicians for Social Responsibility details how CEQA helps protect the poor.

Video: Save or tear down? CEQA works for question of historic buildings – Susan Brandt-Hawley, a Sonoma attorney, argues that saving buildings is better for the environment.

Video: Labor leader speaks out on CEQA reform – Union representative James Araby says the reform conversation should be bigger, not just about CEQA.

Video: Conservation movement open to CEQA reform discussion but… – Bruce Resnik of the Planning and Conservation League stresses the need for dialogue on the law.

Video: Ensuring California rural poor not forgotten in CEQA – Caroline Farrell of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment supports CEQA’s public participation; but wants more accountability from projects.

CEQA in the 21st Century — a series of news stories and individual perspectives designed to educate and spark dialogue on CEQA as the California Legislature revisits the role the environmental law will play in the future of our economy.


Justin Ewers

All stories by: Justin Ewers