Michael Rubio of Shafter was positioned to have a lot of influence in Sacramento this year as chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee, which will be key in reviewing proposals on how and whether to modify the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.
Rubio was an advocate of CEQA reform, especially for urban infill projects, and his position as a moderate Democrat suggested he was the ideal person to push for changes that would not gut the law but would reduce the ways it could be used to unfairly stall or kill good projects.
A week ago today, Rubio told The Fresno Bee's editorial board that he would introduce legislation to reform CEQA. Citing a bout with the flu, he spoke by telephone. He told of CEQA abuses that had stymied urban revitalization and green energy projects. He defended his proposal to exempt projects from environmental review if they met standards established by other laws.
Two days later, Rubio announced that he was resigning to become a government relations manager for Chevron Corp., one of the state's biggest political and economic powers and a corporation that has had major issues with environmental laws. In summer of 2009, a Contra Costa County judge ordered a halt to a major upgrade of Chevron's refinery in Richmond after finding the CEQA review inadequate. The project was under way and it was idled within a few weeks, putting nearly a thousand people out of work.
Rubio said he made the move for family reasons; specifically that he "wasn't having any quality time with his family." We'll take his word for that -- although his new job also is in Sacramento and Chevron likely will expect its new lobbyist to work long hours.
Saying it bluntly: The timing of Rubio's departure stinks, and there is reason to doubt his claim to The Fresno Bee's John Ellis that he submitted his "résumé just like anybody else would off the street."
Throughout his time in office, Rubio worked on legislation -- including a 2011 bill pertaining to oil drilling -- that would benefit Chevron. Moreover, we think he was being disingenuous in talking about introducing legislation when he had decided to take the job with Chevron.
Rubio should have thought hard about his family obligations before running in 2010 to represent the citizens of the 16th District at the south end of the valley. Taxpayers in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties now are on the hook for the cost of a special election to select his replacement.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the state Fair Political Practices Commission is reviewing Rubio's new position to see if the move violates conflict-of-interest laws. We suggest that investigators dig deeply.
The timing and circumstances of Rubio's sudden resignation will contribute to the widespread sentiment that politicians only are looking out for themselves. And it could be a setback for those who believe, as we do, that CEQA is a worthwhile system that needs to be modified.