Editorial: California’s troublesome environmental review process needs to be fixed

June 9, 2014 


Elon Musk, principal investor and chief executive of Tesla Motors, stands with one of his company’s $90,000 all-electric Roadsters in San Carlos on July 8, 2008.

PETER DASILVA — New York Times file

First, we must make clear – emphatically so – that we want Elon Musk to build his $5 billion electric car battery “gigafactory” in California. We want the 6,500 jobs that come with a new plant for the Golden State – not Arizona or Nevada or, God forbid, Texas.

The state has invested a lot in Musk’s ventures, from Tesla Motors and SolarCity to SpaceX, in terms of government subsidies and individual appreciation. A third of Tesla’s sleek and sexy electric cars are sold here even though they cost more than the state’s annual median household income.

We even listened, in somewhat seriousness, when Musk suggested the Hyperloop – a whimsical alternative to high-speed rail.

So understand that when we complain about Senate Bill 1309, it’s because we don’t think that only VIPs – Very Important Projects – should be given relief from the state’s important but often misused California Environmental Quality Act.

SB 1309 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, appears to do just that, along with promising financial incentives, for Musk should he decide to build his plant here. In this, we approve, as well as commend state lawmakers for their impressive urgency in reaching out to Musk before he committed to building the plant elsewhere.

But this is starting to become a bad legislative habit: handing out a pass on the troublesome CEQA, which most legislators agree needs reforming, to only a few politically connected people.

Last year, Steinberg got a bill passed that bent the CEQA rules to expedite the proposed new arena in downtown Sacramento. Two years before, the billionaire owner of Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles also got legislative relief for his proposed and still-unbuilt football stadium.

If Steinberg wants to leave an economic legacy larger than Musk’s battery factory (which, again, we support), he would use this opportunity to get CEQA fixed – not just for billionaires and sports teams – but for everyone.

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