Friday, February 15, 2013 The CSAC Bulletin
CSAC to Focus on CEQA
If you’ve opened a newspaper within the last few months, you’d be hard pressed to not find an article on CEQA reform, the issue du jour in Sacramento. Whether it be commentary on the good CEQA has done protecting the environment, or stories of abuse, lawsuits, and project delays, the battle lines are being drawn by many in Sacramento as discussions on how to reform or amend CEQA heat up.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, is arguably one the most complicated and controversial policy issues in Sacramento. The groundbreaking law requires proponents of land development and construction projects to document the expected impacts on the surrounding environment and lay out plans to mitigate damage. CEQA is also about public disclosure. The statute provides procedures for governmental agencies to disclose to the public the environmental impacts of projects being considered for approval. Additionally, CEQA gives the public the ability to challenge the decisions of local governments and state regulators. 

Fueling the call for reform has been the efforts of moderate Democratic Senator Michael Rubio of the Central Valley. Senator Rubio took on CEQA reform last year at the end of session, but momentum stalled in the waning days of session due in part to significant opposition from the environmental community. Work continued over the legislative recess with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s establishment of a CEQA reform working group, and Governor Brown brought about renewed focus on the issue in January with his comments in his State of the State, calling for legislators “to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act. Our approach needs to be based on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”

It’s clear that there is again momentum to take a hard look at CEQA, with organizations on both sides of the aisle calling for some type of reform. Three former California Governors, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, all called for meaningful reform in a recent Sacramento Bee editorial. Even some environmental groups acknowledge there are select issues that need be addressed.

CSAC is joining the ranks of many others in Sacramento and entering the fray in an attempt to identify opportunities for enhancing key areas of CEQA, to improve its effectiveness and the efficiency of the environmental review process while also ensuring environmental protection and public involvement. As practitioners of the law, counties have the ability to provide meaningful input into the process. CSAC’s focus will be to identify issues that will improve our delivery of public works and other critical projects associated with county service delivery as well as identify areas in the overall process that enhance CEQA in ways that apply precious resources to actions that protect the environment.