We need to support Governor Brown in his efforts to reform CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA requires that all projects be analyzed to determine if the potential exists for the project to have a significant impact upon the environment. The devil is in the details! Just what constitutes a significant impact and what resources are worthy of the protection of CEQA?
CEQA was created to ensure that anything defined as a project identifies potential impacts to the environment and mitigate the same. Unfortunately, lawyers and NIMBYs have helped morph CEQA into a bulwark against progress of any kind and projects of all types.
CEQA is a deal killer when its provisions are triggered by people who use the tactic of delay to slay a project. CEQA has become a literal blank check of obfuscation due to the vagaries of its requirements and the insatiable demands and challenges generated under its cover.
Things we considered as impacts to environmental resources at one time meant something substantial and truly significant. CEQA could and should represent the opportunity to ask whether there is a better way to do projects with less harm to the environment, the community, and our quality of life, but it has become distorted.
Tracing this line of the evolution of CEQA constitutes a trail of tears, financial ruin, and economic havoc in the state of California. There are too many communities and jurisdictions in our state who specialize in exploiting the vagaries of CEQA to prevent growth and development. Moreover, there are a cadre of activists and attorneys who make their living using CEQA to kill projects. We don’t need to do away with the law, but we do need CEQA reform, and we need it now!
To accomplish reform, we need to eliminate attorney’s fees in CEQA lawsuits, as legal challenges have become a cottage industry. Relatedly, we also need to set a limit as to what constitutes a resource and what constitutes a significant impact to a resource. Currently, there is no limit on what can be construed as a resource to be protected, nor is there any limit as to what can be considered an impact to the same. Any “impact” to any “resource,” no matter how trivial, can be deemed significant.
For example, some years ago, the tag team of CEQA and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) stalled a hospital project out of concern for eight flies! We now actually have a fly preserve as a result! CEQA doesn’t always need the help of the ESA; it can kill commonsense single handily! How about the fungus growing on rocks in a field in Santa Barbara that warranted a lichen restoration program! Flies and fungus! These are resources worthy of stalling projects?
CEQA must be amended to balance its provisions with economic considerations. Economic vitality and job creation must be considered and appropriately valued in the CEQA process and should be considered an overriding consideration in approving projects.
Limitless appeals and studies on projects that have been thoroughly vetted must cease. We need a quicker, expedited process of CEQA review. The obfuscation afforded project opponents is used to bankrupt projects by years of associated delays and expensive studies. Opponents should have to prove abuse of discretion to prevail.
Governor Brown’s interest in CEQA reform indicates his realization that the evolution of this law has created insurmountable obstacles to economic investment and recovery in our state. He is personally interested in reforming CEQA for the sake of the California High Speed Rail Project and to implement Smart Growth policies. We might not agree on the projects we want to move forward, but we can all agree CEQA is no longer helping any of us realize our California dreams.
How this lesson has been lost on some factions of organized labor, who are currently opposing CEQA reform, is beyond me. Labor should be interested in reform as the abuse of the law hinders investment in our economy and growth of our tax base, the ultimate source of wages and benefits in both the public and private sector. CEQA is a literal job killer.
We need less paralysis of analysis and more jobs and prosperity! Delay and obfuscation accomplishes nothing for the environment or the economy. For too long, CEQA has been exploited to rob people of their dreams, communities of their vitality, and California of its ability to plan its future with confidence.
Please contact the Governor’s Office and your state representatives and urge them to adopt meaningful and comprehensive CEQA reform.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) and the host of the Andy Caldwell Show weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. on Santa Barbara News Press Radio AM1290 and KUHL AM1440 Santa Maria. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.