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In Case You Missed It: Los Angeles News Group and Bakersfield Californian Reiterate Support for CEQA Reform this Year, 5/6/13

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October 18  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 6, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In an editorial today, the Los Angeles Times advocated in favor of thoughtful reforms of CEQA that strike a balance between preserving environmental protections and curbing misuses of the law. Excerpts from the editorial are below. The full editorial can be read here.  The Times joins a growing chorus of newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform.

Los Angeles Times, Editorial, May 20, 2013, “Alter CEQA but don’t weaken it”

  • “Over the years, the law has successfully compelled many builders to improve their proposals, but it also has been used at times as a tool to stop development by opponents whose objectives have nothing to do with protecting the environment.”
  • “Perhaps the poster child for what riles CEQA’s critics is a gas station in San Jose whose owner won city approval to add a couple of pumps. A CEQA lawsuit brought by a competing gas station at the same intersection claimed that the extra pumps would create too much traffic — and held up the modest expansion for years.”
  • “Critics also point to what they call not-in-my-backyard lawsuits brought under CEQA to kill construction of housing for low-income senior citizens on a dilapidated corner in Berkeley, to keep a school from being renovated in El Cerrito and, last year, to keep the so-called subway to the sea from tunneling along its most logical route under Beverly Hills High School. Competitors have filed CEQA lawsuits to stop businesses from opening or expanding, and unions have filed suits on supposedly environmental grounds, only to withdraw them as soon as a labor agreement is reached with the developer.”
  • “Reforming the law, then, requires striking a delicate balance between preserving its protections and curbing its unnecessary job-killing costs and delays.”
  • “A bill (SB 731) that goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday might not resolve all the valid complaints about the law, but it moves the state in the right direction.” 

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CEQA Working Group Responds to End of Session CEQA Developments, 9/12/13

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September 13  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 12, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SB 731 Turned into Two-Year Bill.  SB 743 Contains Only Minor Improvements.

The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, business, transportation, transit, schools, hospitals, and other organizations that have come together to work towards meaningful CEQA reform this year. The coalition issued the following statement in response to the end-of-session efforts to implement true CEQA reform.

Carl Guardino, President & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group:

“Senator Steinberg made the right choice by turning SB 731 into a two-year bill. The bill as it is currently written is not meaningful CEQA reform, and actually contains troublesome provisions that would increase opportunities for litigation and delays for worthy projects. We want to thank the Pro Tem, Assembly Speaker and the Governor for the time they have dedicated to this issue. In particular, we want to thank Senator Steinberg for taking on the difficult and thankless task.”

Gary Toebben, President  & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce:

“While we are disappointed we were not able to accomplish CEQA reform this year, we believe our coalition has been successful in raising awareness that CEQA needs to be modernized.  This resulted in a widespread consensus from editorial boards, lawmakers, and thought leaders from throughout California that we must preserve the law’s environmental protections, while reducing opportunities for meritless litigation and bureaucratic delays for projects that meet our state’s stringent environmental laws and regulations. While we appreciate the effort that went into SB 743, we want to be clear that this law represents only a very marginal improvement. It is not the comprehensive reform that we need to support environmentally responsible job-inducing projects that our state needs. We remain committed to achieving true CEQA reform and will continue to pursue this important and long-overdue task.”

 

In Case You Missed It: San Jose Mercury News Editorial: “CEQA Reform Must be Comprehensive,” 9/9/13

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September 9  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In a recent editorial, the San Jose Mercury News urged the legislature to pass comprehensive CEQA reform this session that will curb abuses of the law and benefits worthy projects statewide.

The Mercury News is one of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

San Jose Mercury News, Editorial, September 6, 2013, “CEQA Reform Must be Comprehensive”

  • “…CEQA is regularly abused. Labor unions use it to extract concessions from developers. NIMBYs use it to stop development in their backyards. And businesses use it to stop competitors from expanding. The law needs to be updated to help stop these abuses.”
  • “If special interests continue abusing CEQA, and if Sacramento continues giving exemptions to those it favors without reforming the law for all, public support of CEQA could falter over time. That could open the door to sweeping changes that would weaken CEQA’s valuable environmental protections, which truly would be harmful to California.”

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San Jose Mercury News Editorial, CEQA Reform Must Be Comprehensive, 9/6/13

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September 6  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg knows the California Environmental Quality Act needs to be reformed. Why else would he make a last-minute push to exempt a proposed NBA arena in Sacramento, a top priority of his, from provisions of the law?

Yet Steinberg won’t agree to broader CEQA reforms that would do for the rest of the state what he wants to do for the Sacramento Kings. CEQA reform for me, but not for thee?

We are often supportive of Steinberg’s ideas. But this time, the hypocrisy is hard to take.

The Environmental Quality Act signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970 requires studies of the environmental effects of proposed development and requires public and private builders to mitigate the effects or explain why they can’t. It’s a key reason the state has been able to preserve much of its natural beauty as its economy boomed.

But CEQA is regularly abused. Labor unions use it to extract concessions from developers. NIMBYs use it to stop development in their backyards. And businesses use it to stop competitors from expanding. The law needs to be updated to help stop these abuses.

Steinberg has a bill to reform CEQA, SB 731, but it falls short of what’s needed — and it could even make matters worse in some cases. The bill might not make it through the Legislature, even with some changes Steinberg says he’ll make. And if it does, it’s unclear whether Gov. Jerry Brown would sign it, since he has said he wants real reform.

So, Steinberg is pushing a separate bill to fast-track construction of his city’s arena, since, as part of a deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento, construction must be completed by 2017. The bill is similar to exceptions made for a proposed stadium in Los Angeles and for the 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara, but the hypocrisy level wasn’t quite the same.

“When it comes to infill projects, when it comes to high-wage, big job-opportunity projects,” Steinberg said about the arena bill, “we ought to do all that is reasonable to expedite the process.”

Well said. The new arena will be a boon to Sacramento’s economy and its downtown. But why shouldn’t other economic development projects — not just stadiums with powerful supporters — get the same treatment?

Steinberg isn’t stupid. He has to recognize this gigantic hole in his logic. But he can’t get agreement on broader changes from the labor and environmental groups that support him.

If special interests continue abusing CEQA, and if Sacramento continues giving exemptions to those it favors without reforming the law for all, public support of CEQA could falter over time. That could open the door to sweeping changes that would weaken CEQA’s valuable environmental protections, which truly would be harmful to California.

Lawmakers need to add meaningful protections to SB 731 — the kind Steinberg wants for his own constituents.

Read full editorial here.

In Case You Missed It: San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Urges Legislature to Pass Comprehensive CEQA Reform that Benefits All Worthy Projects Statewide, 9/5/13

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September 5  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In an editorial today, the San Francisco Chronicle calls on the legislature to pass meaningful CEQA reform that levels the playing field for all projects. Under current law, CEQA is frequently exploited by special interests to delay and kill worthy projects throughout the state, and comprehensive reform is needed to curb these misuses of the law.

The Chronicle is one of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

San Francisco Chronicle, Editorial , September 5, 2013

  • “…there are plenty of worthy projects around the state that are threatened by litigation under a law that is being exploited by individuals and special interests with motives that have nothing to do with the environment.”
  • “If the playing field is uneven, let’s level it for all.”

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San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, No special environmental rules for sports, 9/5/13

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September 5  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s last-minute legislation to grant special treatment under the California Environmental Quality Act for a new downtown Sacramento basketball arena is just plain wrong.

Let us count the ways.

  1. This trend of sports teams running to the State Capitol to get relief from what they regard as overly onerous environmental laws needs to stop. It began in 2009 when legislators bowed to Majestic Realty’s demand for insulation from CEQA-related lawsuits against its proposed football stadium in the City of Industry. Lawmakers were told they had to act fast or lose an imminent opportunity to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles area – and to create thousands of jobs in the depths of recession. The project has yet to break ground or attract an NFL team. Asked about the trend in May, Steinberg said: “In general, one-offs are not the best way to do public policy.”
  2. The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association are hardly the only ones worried about CEQA lawsuits delaying or even killing projects with environmental value. Steinberg had been promoting SB731 as a way to reduce the regulatory and legal obstacles for urban-infill projects. In May, he said it was merely “a happy coincidence” that the Sacramento arena would be one of the measure’s beneficiaries. But business groups complained that CEQA reforms are being watered down. There can be no greater confirmation of their complaints than the fact that Steinberg sees fit to carve out a special bill to make sure his hometown arena gets sufficient relief.
  3. Last year, Steinberg, among others, cried foul when advocates of an aggressive CEQA reform plan he opposed used a process known as “gut and amend” to try to jam through a measure at the end of session. “Gut and amend” involves stripping the language out of an existing bill and replacing with a measure of an entirely unrelated subject – a tactic that effectively short-circuits the often laborious legislative process. Steinberg pledged to come back at CEQA reform in “the only way good things get done around here,” with hearings, deliberation and compromise.

Perhaps it is an unhappy coincidence Steinberg is doing a similar ram job with his downtown arena bill. It was introduced just last Friday. He insisted it did not weaken any environmental standards but assures quicker resolution of any legal challenges. It also limits construction-stopping injunctions unless there is a threat to public health and safety (or discovery of Native American remains or artifacts) and empowers the use of eminent domain to acquire property for the arena.

Steinberg has argued that a separate bill for the Kings arena is justified because the challenges – and the benefits – of that project are known.

Now we have nothing against the Kings, and can certainly understand why Steinberg is determined to keep them in Sacramento – revitalizing the downtown in the process – but there are plenty of worthy projects around the state that are threatened by litigation under a law that is being exploited by individuals and special interests with motives that have nothing to do with the environment.

If the playing field is uneven, let’s level it for all. To borrow a phrase: One-offs are not the best way to make public policy.

That was then …

Here’s what Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told Editorial Page Editor John Diaz in a May interview about professional sports teams seeking – and often getting – special treatment in the California Legislature.

— On legislation (SB731) to streamline litigation against urban-infill development developments throughout the state under the California Environmental Quality Act: He said it was merely “a happy coincidence” that one of the beneficiaries of the measure would be the Sacramento arena. “It has never been about basketball and the NBA, it’s about infill development. It’s about a billion dollars of private investment in downtown Sacramento.”

— On the wisdom of legislation that provides such exemptions to sports teams. “In general, one-offs are not the best way to do public policy.”

 

 Read the full editorial here.

 

Sacramento Bee Editorial, Fix CEQA, end carve-outs for special projects, 9/4/13

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September 4  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

If Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg wants to do an end run around the California Environmental Quality Act to expedite the proposed new arena in downtown Sacramento, why shouldn’t those changes apply statewide to similar urban projects?

Read full editorial here.

Los Angeles Newspaper Group Editorial: Time is Running Out for Real CEQA Reform, 9/3/13

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September 4  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

State residents are still waiting for the Legislature to complete meaningful reforms of the California Environmental Quality Act, the four-decades-old law that has done a lot of good but also has been exploited by powerful interests to stall development projects for selfish reasons.

With the deadline for passing bills only 10 days away, the state senator who’s supposed to be leading CEQA reform efforts for the good of all Californians has been focusing on a narrow fix that would mostly help his Sacramento-area district. Senate President Darrell Steinberg introduced a bill last week that would give CEQA exemptions to a plan to build a downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings. This would allow arena construction to be completed by the date the National Basketball Association says it must for the team to stay in Sacramento.

Now, why would Steinberg create a separate bill to help the Kings, instead of taking those provisions to speed up environmental review, making them apply to similar development everywhere, and including them in the larger CEQA reform bill of which the Democrat is co-author? Because the arena project is an urgent matter, given the NBA’s demands. And, very likely, because he believes the larger CEQA reform bill isn’t going to pass this month.

Well, broad CEQA reform is an urgent matter, too. And it certainly isn’t going to pass if its chief proponent is distracted by a bouncing ball.

Further delay in updating the landmark environmental law would be bad news up and down the state, where projects no less important than a basketball arena have been tripped up by abuses of CEQA.

Signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA’s noble purpose is to protect air, water, animals and quality of life by making backers of land development and construction projects document expected effects on the surroundings and lay out plans to limit damage. But too often, it has allowed local governments, land owners, rival businesses and labor unions to block projects they don’t like or to gain negotiating leverage.

Gov. Jerry Brown has called significant CEQA reform a priority. This was supposed to be the year it finally happened.

Maybe that always was far-fetched. As an editorial here in April predicted, influential unions and other interests have succeeded in delaying and watering down SB 731 to the point where business groups call its present form unacceptable. (It passed the Senate in May but hasn’t had an Assembly vote.)

The right bill would simplify CEQA’s provisions, remove duplications of environmental laws, restrict last-minute legal challenges and improve transparency. In short, a satisfactory CEQA would be one that requires far fewer exemptions of the kind awarded to projects like the bullet train and the downtown Los Angeles football stadium — and sought for the Sacramento basketball arena.

CEQA is one of the big issues still on the Capitol’s to-do list as it nears the end of the legislative session Sept. 13. Californians should accept nothing less than a serious effort by lawmakers to get meaningful reform done now, not put it off for yet another year.

Doing this will require lawmakers to keep their eyes on the ball. Not just the basketball.

Read full editorial here.

Riverside Press-Enterprise Editorial: Arena exemption, no; streamline CEQA, yes, 9/3/13

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September 4  |  Editorials, News  |   afrew

The Legislature should craft reforms of the state’s environmental law that apply to all development, rather than offering special treatment to favored projects.

California needs a better approach to environmental issues than special treatment for favored projects. The Legislature should streamline and clarify the state’s overly complex, often ambiguous environmental law. And the reforms should benefit the entire state, not just offer aid to projects with political pull.

The year started with promises by Gov. Jerry Brown and ranking legislators that this year would see revisions to the California Environmental Quality Act. Instead, that effort has devolved into another last-minute push to give favored treatment to a special-interest project. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, last week unveiled legislation to speed the progress on a basketball arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The bill would require a full environmental report for the arena, but would fast-track any legal challenges and limit the courts’ power to halt construction of the project.

The four-decade-old California Environmental Quality Act requires public agencies to study the environmental effects of development plans, and take steps to avoid or repair any damage. But many of the law’s provisions are vague, leading to inconsistency, confusion and conflict. The law’s fuzzy language invites costly, time-consuming litigation and opens the door to nuisance lawsuits. Yet the Legislature largely leaves the job of clarifying the law to the courts, which yields a haphazard, case-by-case approach.

Reforms that would make the law more easily understandable, streamline the review process and curb abuses would benefit everyone. The state needs a law that protects the environment without bogging planning decisions in bureaucratic tangles and legal wrangling. A state worried about high unemployment and a fragile economy should not abide arbitrary roadblocks to economic growth.

But once again the Legislature is more interested in special-interest carve-outs than in serious public policy. Giving favored treatment for a Sacramento basketball arena would follow the dubious precedents legislators set in 2009 and 2011, when they similarly skirted environmental rules to aid professional football stadium proposals.

Changes that only benefit projects with sufficient political clout hardly address the broader concerns about the law. The Legislature should be enacting reforms that apply to all development, not just professional sports proposals.

That task will not be simple, admittedly. The environmental act is a minefield of conflicting interests, where compromise is all too rare and the extremes often drive the debate. The law has to simultaneously protect against harmful, defective development while not obstructing beneficial construction.

But finding the proper balance on the law requires more than giving special help to the well-connected. The state needs a clear, streamlined law that safeguards the environment, speeds planning and curtails abuses. Reforms that achieve that goal would be a substantial legislative achievement — and far better public service than a cynical game of political favoritism.

Read full editorial here.

In Case You Missed It: Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Newspaper Group and Riverside Press-Enterprise Call on Legislature to Apply CEQA Reforms Statewide, not just for Sacramento Arena, 9/4/13

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September 4  |  News, Press Releases  |   afrew

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2013

CONTACT: Kathy Fairbanks, 916-443-0872, kfairbanks@bcfpublicaffairs.com

SACRAMENTO – In recent editorials, the Sacramento Bee, Riverside Press-Enterprise and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group: Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Bernardino Sun, and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin strongly urged the legislature to pass comprehensive and meaningful CEQA reforms that benefit worthy projects across the state. These newspapers called on Senator Steinberg and all legislators to advance CEQA reforms that benefit projects statewide, not just changes for one project.

These editorials are only a few of many newspapers throughout California that have editorialized in favor of meaningful CEQA reform this year.

Sacramento Bee, Editorial, September 3, 2013, “Fix CEQA, end carve-outs for special projects.”

  • “Too often CEQA is exploited to stop good projects. Opponents who care nothing about the environment use the threat of CEQA lawsuits to leverage better labor deals or thwart a competitor.”
  • “If Steinberg’s end run around CEQA is good for Sacramento – and it may well be – it should be good for the entire state.”
  • “Why not make a more permanent fix to CEQA – so we don’t have to keep debating this laudable but easily abused law, year after year?”

Los Angeles News Group, Editorial, September 3, 2013, “Clock is running out for real CEQA reform

  • “Further delay in updating the landmark environmental law would be bad news up and down the state, where projects no less important than a basketball arena have been tripped up by abuses of CEQA.”
  • “The right bill would simplify CEQA’s provisions, remove duplications of environmental laws, restrict last-minute legal challenges and improve transparency.”
    • “Californians should accept nothing less than a serious effort by lawmakers to get meaningful reform done now, not put it off for yet another year.”

Riverside Press Enterprise, Editorial, September 3, 2013, “Arena exemption, no; streamline CEQA, yes.”

  • “The Legislature should streamline and clarify the state’s overly complex, often ambiguous environmental law. And the reforms should benefit the entire state, not just offer aid to projects with political pull.”
  • “The state needs a law that protects the environment without bogging planning decisions in bureaucratic tangles and legal wrangling. A state worried about high unemployment and a fragile economy should not abide arbitrary roadblocks to economic growth.”

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