Editorials

LA Times Editorial: “Too Many CEQA Execptions” 7/14/15

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July 16  |  Editorials, News  |   user

The LA Times editorialized today against the annual exercise of legislators granting favored projects CEQA exemptions and urged Governor Brown and the Legislature to instead focus on fixing CEQA.

The editorial says, But it seems he and his colleagues in Sacramento are more interested in using their power to grant exemptions rather than to fix the underlying problems.”

The CEQA Working Group believes CEQA needs to be updated to stamp out abuses. It has become an annual ritual for politically connected projects to be granted legislatively sanctioned CEQA exemptions. CEQA needs reform to prevent the law from being abused for non-environmental reasons. The law should work for everyone and reforms to CEQA should benefit all projects, not just those with political connections.  

Read the full editorial,Too many CEQA exemptions”. Below are key excerpts:

  • “The real concern is that lawmakers keep carving out CEQA exemptions for favored projects.”
  • “Yet legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown show no interest in comprehensive CEQA reform that would give all projects — not just lawmakers’ picks — the opportunity for streamlined review.”
  • “Instead, they seem perfectly happy to create a two-tier system in which projects with enough lobbyists or political supporters can get on the fast track, while other projects get stuck in the slow lane.”
  • “Certainly it will be difficult to craft a sensible, reasonable reform package that maintains the fundamental purpose of CEQA, which is to ensure that decision-makers have the analysis and public feedback they need to make intelligent choices.”
  • “Brown himself has said that CEQA reform is “the Lord’s work.” But it seems he and his colleagues in Sacramento are more interested in using their power to grant exemptions rather than to fix the underlying problems.”

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment.  www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

In Case You Missed It: Riverside Press Enterprise and Orange County Register Editorial: “CEQA used as legal ‘greenmail’” 7/6/15

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July 7  |  Editorials, News, Press Releases  |   user

The Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise today editorialized against CEQA exemptions given by the CA Legislature in this year’s state budget to politically connected projects.

The editorials say:  “If the law is not good enough for professional sports teams and politically connected developers, then it is not good enough for anyone else.”

The CEQA Working Group believes CEQA needs to be updated to stamp out abuses. It has become an annual ritual for politically connected projects to be granted legislatively sanctioned CEQA exemptions. CEQA needs reform to prevent the law from being abused for non-environmental reasons. The law should work for everyone and reforms to CEQA should benefit all projects, not just those with political connections.  

Read the full editorial,CEQA used as legal ‘greenmail” Below are key excerpts:

  • “California has earned a notorious reputation for fickle policymaking and unequal application of the law, from targeted tax breaks for politically favored industries such as green energy and Hollywood to special exemptions from major regulations like the California Environmental Quality Act.”
  • “…not all laws are applied equally, and special interests have used CEQA to serve their interests, which oftentimes have nothing to do with the environment.”
  • “Unions have often held projects hostage through CEQA lawsuits to demand concessions… thus driving up construction costs even more.”
  • “Businesses have used the law to keep out potential competitors, and local governments and neighborhood groups have used the law as leverage to compel developers to build additional facilities or features on their wish lists.”
  • “CEQA might have been implemented with noble intentions, but capricious application of the law is no rule of law at all.”

About the CEQA Working Group: The CEQA Working Group is a broad coalition of local government, affordable housing, business, agriculture, education and other organizations advocating for moderate reforms to CEQA that will preserve its original intent – environmental protection and public disclosure – while eliminating some of the misuses of CEQA that hurt job creation, community renewal and our environment.

www.ceqaworkinggroup.com

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Sonoma Index-Tribune Editorial: Is county ‘housing crisis’ caused by environmental-review abuse? 5/15/15

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May 15  |  Editorials, News  |   user

“If you build it they will come” is the famous line from “Field of Dreams.”

But if Kevin Costner had been restricted by CEQA requirements, the 1989 let’s-build-a-ballpark-in-the-cornfield movie would’ve been a different story altogether.

CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, turned out to be the special guest at last week’s North Bay Housing Summit, where more than 300 stakeholders gathered at the Petaluma Sheraton for the North Bay Leadership Council’s event – put together in response to what NBLC officials have called a housing shortage crisis.

CEQA has emerged in recent years as something of a whipping boy for critics who say the law’s strict environmental review process stymies even environmentally sensitive development – in that legal challenges to CEQA-required environmental impact reports are frequently used to tie up housing proposals in the courts. It’s a move, critics say, less about genuine environmental concerns than simply intended to drain developers of time and money – and ultimately the desire – to see such projects through.

Like it or not, the “CEQA move” works. Sonoma Raceway’s recent bid to adjust its use permit drove barely a single lap before venue officials cooled their engines in the face of daunting legal challenges.

And many longtime champions of CEQA are now coming around to the idea that all too often its environmental protection ethos is being used as a property values protection ethos – by those “conservationists” most interested in conserving their quality of life in and around their property limits.

The California Environment Quality Act was groundbreaking state legislation when it passed in 1970, a mere eight years after Rachel Carson’s game-changing book “Silent Spring” brought the conservation movement to the mainstream. CEQA’s mandate was simple: any proposed project that could alter its surrounding environment would require an independent report on the project’s plan for mitigating that environmental footprint.

But over the course of the four decades since its enactment, a flurry of other environmental safeguards have come down the federal and state legislation pipe – many for good reason, but a mishmash nonetheless – making it relatively simple to challenge developments via claims of flawed EIRs. Concern over using CEQA to limit development – as opposed to ensuring development was eco-friendly, the law’s original intention – was pretty much a non-issue in the conservation-minded North Bay, until it became clear it was severely hampering another, perhaps more pressing, issue for local progressives: affordable housing.

At the Housing Summit, in fact, Sonoma County 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbitt called CEQA “one of the most abused acts” to come out of Sacramento.

“The idea of CEQA is a great one – in which people should be made aware of environmental impacts from any development project,” Rabbitt said. “But there is no such thing as a project that will have no footprint and CEQA should not be a tool to stop all projects from moving forward.”

Susan Gorin, 1st District Supe, stopped short of pinning it all on CEQA challenges, saying the county can’t “build its way” out of an affordable-housing shortage. “We need to elevate wages,” Gorin said.

She’s certainly right about that – and the county may be addressing that soon when it considers a $15 an hour living wage ordinance. But that doesn’t mean CEQA couldn’t use an update by the state Legislature. One idea to discourage frivolous CEQA lawsuits would be to allow defendants to recover attorney fees from plaintiffs in cases of particularly egregious challenges. (Currently only plaintiffs can recover attorney fees.)

Another proposal that deserves attention is to limit the standing of such lawsuits to litigation focused on environmental and planning law.

An Environmental Quality Act with teeth is a must, and there are ways to make CEQA stronger without gutting it.

Because if things stay as they are, to borrow another phrase from the Costner movie, Sonoma may never “go the distance” it needs to emerge from its “housing crisis.”

Full Editorial Here

San Jose Mercury News Editorial: Suspend CEQA for water recycling in San Jose and Silicon Valley 4/28/15

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April 30  |  Editorials, News  |   user

San Jose and Santa Clara pay a fortune to purify wastewater — really purify it — and then spill most of it away.

We can’t afford to do that any more. Water is too precious, and the alternatives, like desalination, are even more expensive and potentially polluting. Silicon Valley needs a system to re-use treated water that exceeds state standards for drinking. The technology is proven. Orange County residents have been drinking recycled water for seven years.

A coalition including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino and Santa Clara Valley Water District President Gary Kremen are leading the charge for an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to help speed construction of an $800 million comprehensive purification system so recycled water can be percolated back into the ground for general use.

If the exemption is granted, it easily could shave two years and $3 million in costs from what otherwise is expected to be a 10-year project. Two years will be critical if what we now see as a devastating drought proves to be the new normal for California’s climate.

The state should grant the exemption. As Guardino argues, if it can exempt a planned NFL stadium near Los Angeles from CEQA, surely it can exempt a project to deal with what Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

Environmentalists are lining up to oppose the CEQA exemption, even though they say they favor using recycled water. They want to preserve the detailed review of construction plans for the plant and pipe systems. Given the urgency of shoring up our water supply, it’s a weak argument.

The plan eventually could supply 20 percent of Santa Clara County’s water needs. Today only 5 percent of treated water is recycled, and only for landscaping, so it requires a whole separate, multimillion dollar system of distinguishable “purple pipe” to distribute it.

Public officials will need to combat the yuck factor in drinking recycled water: Yes, it comes from toilets, showers, dishwashers and the like, along with surface runoff into storm sewers. But by the time it goes through purification and then seeps from percolation ponds through the soil to replenish groundwater, it will be every bit as pure as the water we now drink. Remember, percolation ponds are home to fish, birds and all kinds of, um, polluting creatures now. Soil is an effective purifier.

We like to see Silicon Valley lead in innovation, but it’s following in this case. Not only Orange County but El Paso, Texas, is using or planning to use recycled water. Some East Bay communities that proposed it several years ago — when it still used to rain — are reviving proposals.

Valley leaders are showing courage to take this on. The Legislature and the governor need to help by granting a CEQA exemption.

Full Editorial Here

In Case You Missed It: San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: “Of all the well-documented abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act, this one may be the most absurd” 4/13/15

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April 13  |  Editorials, News  |   user

In an editorial today, the San Francisco Chronicle again called for reform of the California Environmental Quality Act, noting it can be manipulated and abused for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.

Case in point: A CEQA lawsuit filed by anti-abortion activists against a Planned Parenthood clinic in South San Francisco. The CEQA lawsuit alleges city planners had not sufficiently taken into account “environmental impacts,” specifically the noise and traffic disruptions that would be caused by the activists OWN protests.

Calling this “absurd” the Chronicle said “We can now add women’s health services to the toll of public goods that have been stymied by the California Legislature’s refusal to stand up to the interest groups who seem to think CEQA should remain carved in stone.”

Read the full editorial, “Antiabortion group exploiting environmental law to halt clinic”

Below are key excerpts,

  • “Of all the well-documented abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act, this one may be the most absurd.”
  • “This nonsense must stop. The 40-year-old CEQA has been a critical tool for preserving our natural resources, but it also has been exploited by interests whose motives have nothing to do with the environment, such as businesses that stifle would-be competitors or unions looking for leverage.”
  • “The plaintiffs are not going away easily, despite a tentative ruling against the lawsuit by San Mateo Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner in July 2014. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is being forced to spend money on legal fees that could have gone into health care.”
  • “We can now add women’s health services to the toll of public goods that have been stymied by the California Legislature’s refusal to stand up to the interest groups who seem to think CEQA should remain carved in stone.”

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.

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.