In Berkeley, an infill mixed-use development to house 40 low-income seniors was delayed two years by one person who sued, claiming the project would change the aesthetics of her neighborhood. The Sierra Club supported the project as it met every environmental law in California. This case cost the city and developer an extra million dollars.
As 2013 is upon us, now is the time to look forward and determine how we are going to best fulfill our stated priority: restore full economic growth in California while leading the world on progressive environmental standards. As the incoming chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, I believe that modernizing CEQA should be the top priority to ensure that California remains both green and golden.
Many laws have been adopted at the federal, state and local levels to protect the environment, including air quality, water quality, species protection, greenhouse gas reduction, toxics, hazardous waste, responsible land use planning and more. CEQA, however, has not been modified to reflect these new laws.
Clearly, modernizing CEQA is needed so that California remains a leader in protecting the environment and growing a 21st century economy. We can do this while also preserving the best portions of the law public disclosure and participation, mitigation of environmental impacts and the ability to challenge projects that don't meet existing environmental standards.
Specifically, one of the main ideas being proposed is the basic premise that once a project has met the relevant environmental statutes, regulations and codes set forth by the state and local authorities, and has completed an Environmental Impact Report, that it be protected from lawsuits on those regulated aspects. Too many times, a project that has met all of the environmental requirements is unfairly delayed or even killed by a lawsuit. Misuse of CEQA should not be able to derail projects.
As this process moves forward, we will continue to solicit input and make sure that the voices of interested stakeholders are both heard and considered. Public participation will always remain a key element of CEQA and the process to modernize this important law.
We must never get used to the delay of projects caused by CEQA abuses.
NO: We should resist efforts to weaken a law that works well
By Thomas Adams
Special to The Bee
CEQA works by requiring public agencies to consider the effects of projects on the environment. If a project may have a significant effect on the environment, an environmental impact report is prepared. Citizens may comment on it. Agencies are required to avoid or reduce significant effects to the extent feasible. Alternatives to the project must be considered. The end result of this process is typically a decision by the public agency to approve a project subject to measures to protect public health and the environment.
CEQA is not enforced by a government bureaucracy; instead it is enforced by citizens through the courts. Litigation, though important, is comparatively rare, less than 0.02 percent of total civil litigation per year.
Under this process, CEQA prevented offshore oil drilling. It led to the preservation of the Santa Monica Mountains. It kept sewage out of vital bodies of water such as the San Francisco Bay and Newport Bay. When developers proposed an open-air human sewage treatment facility near the town of Hinkley, CEQA forced them to consider using an enclosed facility. When the Port of Oakland considered an airport expansion, CEQA forced it to address toxic air contamination threatening nearby residents.