Legislature goes after CEQA; enviros say law isn’t the problem

This past week, state lawmakers nearly toppled a 42-year-old landmark environmental law—and in just a matter of days.

Some people know the California Environmental Quality Act as CEQA. It’s an ubiquitous acronym at the Capitol and city halls, mostly because the law requires cities and counties to evaluate and analyze new development projects for environmental impacts. But for the average citizen, it’s just a law that helps keep our air and water clean.

But last Thursday, a state senator from Bakersfield gutted one of his existing bills and amended it with language to allow local governments to bypass CEQA. His bill, it was argued, was more business friendly and would permit municipalities to use their general plans, instead of CEQA, to evaluate a project’s environmental impact.

Environmentalists unanimously agreed that the proposed law basically would have dismantled CEQA. They also criticized the Legislature for going after CEQA at the very end of session and without meaningful dialogue or public review.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg intervened at the eleventh hour to kill the overhaul. Environmentalists are concerned, though, about what’s going to happen next year.

Sierra Club’s Jim Metropulos said it’s disconcerting that the bill’s sponsors stated that they think they’re doing God’s will.

“In all the world’s problems, I find it hard to believe that gutting CEQA is the lord’s work,” Metropulous told SN&R.

CEQA opponents argue that the four-decades-old law kills development and jobs.

But attorney Bruce Reznik with the Planning and Conservation League said that CEQA, in fact, seldom kills development projects. He cited a report from earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research, which polled local governments on what they saw as major obstacles to infill development.

CEQA ranked twelfth on the list of concerns—which, ironically, was below the “loss of redevelopment agencies.”

The top barriers to infill development, according to the survey? Infrastructure constraints, lot issues—and lack of funding.