As the only licensed engineer in the state Senate, Anthony Cannella brings a useful perspective and expertise to Legislature. He knows the California Environmental Quality Act from the side of developers and from the side of government. Remember, he's a former planning commissioner, councilman and mayor of Ceres.
That's why Cannella, the Ceres Republican whose
12th District includes all of Merced County, hopes to
be named to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, likely to be ground zero for the debate about amending the the landmark law that requires analysis of impacts on traffic, air, water and every other imaginable angle before something can be built or expanded.
Earlier this month, Senate President Darrell Steinberg announced committee leaders and, as expected, Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, was named the chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality committee. Cannella and Rubio have developed a strong working relationship. In early December, the two paired on a letter to the governor asking that realignment funds be targeted toward counties with higher per capita populations of offenders who are being detained in local jails rather than state prisons.
As far as CEQA, it's a hot potato. There are far-right conservatives that would like it eliminated altogether. That isn't going anywhere in our Democratically controlled Legislature. In fact, there was a push in 2011 to collect signatures to put on the ballot an initiative that would repeal all of the state's environmental laws and regulations. It didn't qualify.
On the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists that don't want any changes to CEQA. They maintain that any amendments will lead to dismantling the law.
"I like CEQA," Cannella told me in an interview before Christmas. With that review, "I have all the information I need on whether a project is good for the community. Even if it (the review) takes a lot of money and time, it's a tremendous document."
But CEQA also can be as a strategy to stop worthwhile projects or to stall them for so long they disintegrate. Sometimes the complaints come from competing developers, and some use it for extortion. Cannella says developers should have a path to get through the state's "robust environmental laws," and if they meet the standards, they should be allowed to build.
Besides Rubio, there are two key Democrats favoring CEQA reform -- the Senate president and Gov. Jerry Brown, who once described CEQA reform as "the Lord's work."
Cannella isn't interested in leadership positions in the Republican caucus in Sacramento, and he won't get them because he doesn't toe the party line -- in words or in votes.
What could be a real accomplishment is if Cannella is able to advance some meaningful CEQA reform that retains reasonable environmental protections and prevents abuse of the law.
While Cannella led the Senate Agriculture Committee for the past two years, he fully expected Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, to get that spot with her election to the new 5th Senate District. Sure enough, Steinberg gave her that appointment. Galgiani formerly was chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee; she knows ag issues.
Freshman Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, was named chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. As the name suggests, it analyzes and reviews the financial practices and performance of various state government entities.
Sly is editor of The Modesto Bee's Opinions pages. Contact her at email@example.com or (209) 578-2317 or on Twitter @judysly.