by Brian Leubitz
There is a lot of discussion going on around how CEQA will be reformed in this legislative session. Gov. Brown has called for major changes in the legislation, and it has been weakened by a series of one-off exemptions for major projects passed through the legislature. However, a new organization, CEQAWorks, has been formed to maintain the integrity of CEQA’s mission to protect California’s environment and natural resources.
Take a look at the “Who We Are” page on their website and you see quite the interesting mix. Sierra Club California and the State Building Trades Council. California Trout and UFCW Western States Council. It’s an interesting list, and a coalition that should carry considerable weight in the process.
The group claims a number of goals for any proposed reforms:
We are committed to positive updates to the California Environmental Quality Act that maintain its core principles:
• Transparency CEQA must continue to require public disclosure of the project, its potential environmental impacts and consideration of reasonable alternatives.
• Mitigation CEQA must continue to require mitigation of all significant effects on the environment to the extent feasible.
• Comprehensive protection. CEQA must apply to all significant impacts on the environment, including cumulative impacts, and provide a safety net to cover holes in the existing regulatory structure.
• Public participation CEQA must continue to require public participation in the review of environmental issues, including requiring a written response to public comments.
• Community enforcement CEQA must continue to provide the public with the right to sue to enforce its protections, a key tool to protect communities, particularly those in disadvantaged areas.
CEQA has gotten a lot of bad press over the last few years, especially with regards to transit and affordable housing projects. And certainly there are cases of abuse. However, CEQAWorks puts the issue in context:
But environmentalists argue that claims of delays are exaggerated. Less than 1% of all projects in the state face CEQA lawsuits, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Nevertheless, Reznik said the new group will offer its own proposals to update CEQA, including increased electronic record-keeping. “I think there is a recognition that things can be improved in CEQA,” he said. “We’re not just the group of no.” (LATimes)
Given the increasingly likely odds of some changes to CEQA, engagement by a broad swath of organizations like this one, could bode well for a more open process.