Gov. Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act in 1970, a monumental year for the nation's environmental movement. That was the year the nation first celebrated Earth Day and that President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
NEPA and the CEQA have some similarities, but California's law is far broader and more powerful. The federal law only requires reviews of projects receiving federal funding or approval by federal agencies. CEQA applies to all public and private projects that have received state or local approval.
Over the years, supporters and detractors have debated the law's flaws and benefits, and in response, the Legislature has tweaked the statute several times. But Gov. Jerry Brown has elevated the issue by declaring that he wants a major modification of the statute in this year's legislative session. Following are two opinions:
OPPONENTS ABUSE CEQA TO DERAIL WORTHY PROJECTS
by Michael Rubio
I support the California Environmental Quality Act and, when asked why I want to modernize it, I immediately think of the Metro Expo Line Extension in Los Angeles, connecting Santa Monica to downtown.
If and when it is completed, this project will have taken more than nine years. The project will significantly reduce traffic on one of the most congested freeways in the country and help California achieve its internationally renowned greenhouse gas reduction standards. It will greatly improve air quality and overall public health.
In New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's book, "That Used to Be Us," he writes about how "people have sort of gotten used to" the snail-pace project schedules in the United States compared with other countries. Similarly, many in California have "sort of gotten used to" the misuse of arguably one of the most important laws enacted in our state's history: CEQA. When NFL football stadiums are exempted from this law and projects that improve the public health and the environment take nine years, it motivates me to modernize CEQA.
There are many examples of where the misuse of CEQA has impacted foster youths, elementary school upgrades, University of California campus improvements, urban bike lanes and critical infrastructure projects. We seem to have "sort of gotten used to" doing without all of these projects while CEQA lawsuits cause yearslong delays and significant cost increases. Two specific examples occur in the Sacramento and Bay Area regions.
In Auburn, a group of people calling themselves Residents Against Inconsistent Development, or RAID, used CEQA to challenge an affordable housing project that forced the developer to lose loans and grants. RAID then signed a settlement agreement to allow the project to move forward if the majority of units were market rate, essentially discriminating against poor people. The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society publicly stated that the lawsuit was bogus, serving as an attack to stop affordable housing rather than to protect the environment.
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.
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 green and golden.