If you want to start a good political debate in California, mention CEQA.
It’s an acronym for the California Environmental Quality Act. The 40-year old law has a noble purpose: mandate the public disclosure of potential environmental impacts from proposed projects.
It’s hard to argue with that simple logic. But give a law 40 years to marinate in the brine of the California Legislature and it emerges an overly-amended, overly-complex and frequently abused shadow of its former self.
More specifically, what began as a forward-thinking protective measure is now being used to litigate against (and thus delay projects) for reasons far outside the scope of the environment. In its worst forms, it can become a weapon employed by one business against a potential competitor.
The problem has gotten widespread enough that the chorus calling for reform is growing. Three former California Governors co-authored an op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune that says CEQA reform is necessary to make California both green and golden.
George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Grey Davis made the point that time for reform is now if California is going to retain its role as a global economic power. It’s a thought provoking op-ed and we invite you to read it, bearing in mind the bi-partisan nature of the trio (Deukmejian and Wilson are Republicans, Davis is a Democrat).
Obviously, the business climate in California has been topic A for many years. The state is increasingly seen as inhospitable to business (though many believe is an unfair perception) and not able to protect itself from other states that plunder our economy by luring businesses away to their warmer economic shores. And for that CEQA is often blamed.
The California Economic Summit Action Plan tackled CEQA reform as one of its seven signature initiatives. Regional Forums were held around California in advance of the Summit being convened in May and CEQA Reform was a top priority at practically all 14 of them.
The Summit Action Plan calls for:
- The Increase of Transparency and the Reduction of Uncertainty in the CEQA Process
- The Elimination of non-Environmental Uses of the Statute
- The Reduction of CEQA Administrative and Litigation Processes
- CEQA to be modernized, rationalized and streamlined.
The Summit calls for these changes to be done with the following goals, called the 3Es, which are to protect the environment, increase economic competitiveness and ensure community equity.
To be candid, this won’t be easy. CEQA is the red flag of California politics. For environmental advocates, it is what is supposed to be: a protection against over-development. For business and development advocates, as discussed, it can become a tool wielded for all manner of other purposes.
The Summit Action Plan is tackling this very difficult topic intelligently. One of its first goals is to get more people with different points of view involved in the process. The Summit Action Team believes that common ground that can be defined so that real progress toward reform can occur.
Apparently, Governors Deukmejian, Wilson and Davis agree with the concept.
We invite comment.