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Orange County Register, Opinion Editorial, Lucy Dunn, OCBC, Time to modernize CEQA, 4/8/13

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April 10  |  News, News Articles  |   user

At a time when California is striving to encourage growth and job creation, updating the California Environmental Quality Act is imperative. Modernizing CEQA to make it function in a way that promotes the economy, while protecting the environment, is just what California needs. It also sends a strong message to the rest of the U.S. (and all those “visiting” state Governors trying to steal California business) that we are, in fact, “open for business.” Senate President Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 731, legislation that lays out the framework for CEQA modernization discussions. SB731 sets intent language that has the potential to ensure CEQA works to protect the environment, while stamping out abuses that stifle desirable projects and job growth.

 We at the Orange County Business Council commend Senator Steinberg for his leadership and commitment to accomplishing meaningful CEQA reform this session. While SB731 is a good first step, the legislation has not yet been written. A long process is ahead that will require a great deal of time and participation from diverse stakeholders to strike a balance between environmental protection and responsible economic growth. The case for reform is compelling. In the 43 years since CEQA’s passage, the law has served as a vital tool to protect California’s environment by ensuring that proposed local projects undergo a rigorous review process and that the impacts of new development on the environment are adequately addressed.

 However, CEQA has become a tool frequently used by those who seek to stop projects – often for reasons that have little to do with environmental protection. Those misuses of CEQA must be stopped.

Too often, CEQA lawsuits and the mere threat of litigation harm the type of local community renewal and environmentally desirable economic growth we need. For instance, in Laguna Beach, the Emerald Bay Safety Improvement Project is currently on hold due to CEQA ligation, even after the project was approved by the County. Emerald Bay’s community entrance is at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Shamrock Road, where many accidents have occurred – some fatal – due to an unprotected turn lane, lack of traffic signals and signage, and short merging lanes.

 The County conducted several traffic studies, and prepared environmental studies and responded to numerous requests for comments and changes, in particular from one local group, Preserve and Protect North Laguna. Ultimately, the project was approved by the County but PPNL sued nonetheless. Even though the court upheld the project, PPNL continues to fight it before the City of Laguna Beach and Coastal Commission. It’s troubling that one group can block for years fixing a dangerous traffic condition.

Throughout the state, CEQA has held up affordable housing, schools, renewable energy projects, hospitals and many other desirable community projects, even when they “play by the rules” and follow all applicable laws and regulations. Private developments get sued, but so do public works projects. In fact, according to a review of CEQA cases from 1997 to 2012 in the Appellate or California Supreme Court, 59 percent of those cases were filed against infill projects and 36 percent were filed against public works projects like schools, universities or roads.

 CEQA modernization will ensure that projects conforming to California’s stringent environmental laws, local and federal regulations are able to move forward without the threat of lawsuits that have nothing to do with the environment. Achieving these goals will not be easy, but meaningful CEQA reform can and should be accomplished this year. We urge legislators to make this a top priority. Begin the stakeholder meetings; start writing legislation; and let’s send the strongest message possible that California is willing to lead the world in modernizing its old claim to fame: CEQA.

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Riverside Press Enterprise, Opinion Editorial, Glen Becerra: Support governor’s push to modernize CEQA, 2/27/13

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March 1  |  News, News Articles  |   user

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent call to streamline regulatory procedures, especially the California Environmental Quality Act, was music to the ears of those of us who believe the state can and should do more to help job recovery and economic development.

 The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the 191 cities and six counties we represent, and the businesses that call our region home have long supported CEQA modernization if California is going to shed its business-unfriendly reputation.

 We applaud the governor’s understanding of how regulatory delays are an economy and jobs killer. Indeed, we cannot wait any longer and want to support working with state leaders. SCAG is doing its part, working with our partners to build business friendly cities as part of the Southern California Job Recovery and Economic Strategy and attract business investment to California.

 SCAG’s state-approved 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy showed how vital these partnerships are in order to maintain and improve our transportation system and provide livable clean air communities. The money needed to accomplish these important goals is staggering, and we need to prove to our taxpayers that we are investing their transportation dollars wisely. CEQA modernization and reducing regulations impacting project delivery are important steps in that direction.

 Our independent economic experts determined that shaving five years off of the average big transportation project delivery could save our region $1.95 billion a year in construction costs. That’s close to $10 billion over the five-year period that can be used accelerate other key congestion relief and sustainable projects.

 The impact on employment would be equally impressive, accelerating job creation in the construction industry by more than 102,000 a year, improving our competitiveness in the goods movement sector to the tune of 120,000 jobs a year, and generating an additional 83,000 jobs as a result of reduced travel time, fuel consumption and other related costs.

 Put simply, the sooner we can get these projects up and running, the better. In Riverside County alone, money invested in transportation infrastructure between now and 2035 will generate an average of 24,400 jobs per year, according to the SCAG study. Why wait?

 Streamlining state regulations doesn’t mean taking a back seat when it comes to public safety, either. Far from it. As Brown said in his State of the State Address, “Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”

 As it relates to CEQA specifically, we encourage state leaders to conduct a top-to-bottom modernization of this 42-year-old statute, which, in its current form, impedes both development and job creation. We must preserve its original intent — safeguarding the environment and promoting smart, thoughtful planning decisions — while eliminating the opportunities for abuse by those whose only desire is to stop California’s economic growth in its tracks.

 The delay to the public of much-needed public transit and transportation infrastructure improvements alone not only impedes progress, it actually hurts our environment and air quality by allowing congestion to grow. By contrast, the projects included in SCAG’s 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy — if allowed to be completed in a timely fashion — will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2020 and 16 percent by 2035.

 Among the reform measures we encourage are allowing for concurrent rather than consecutive environmental reviews and expediting legal reviews when challenges occur.

 As Brown pointed out in his speech, the state lost 1.3 million jobs in the Great Recession — and according to economists we’ve talked to, employment in Southern California will not return to pre-recession levels at least until 2020. We look forward to the governor’s and Sacramento leaders’ actions this session. We are ready to help!

 Glen Becerra is president of the Southern California Association of Governments.

 

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Santa Cruz Sentinel, Opinion Editorial, Dan Wu and Carl Guardino: The time is right to modernize the California Environmental Quality Act, 2/17/13

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February 20  |  News, News Articles  |   user

The Santa Cruz Sentinel recently joined a growing chorus of newspapers throughout California that believe it’s time to modernize the California Environmental Quality Act. Fortunately, our elected leaders in Sacramento also seem to be responding to the call.

 Democrat Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has joined with Sen. Michael Rubio and others as part of a thoughtful, deliberative process to modernize CEQA. Gov. Jerry Brown has made CEQA modernization a priority, and he was recently joined by three former California governors and legislators from throughout California, both Republicans and Democrats, who are reaching across the aisle to advocate this important priority.

 For the past 43 years, CEQA has served as a vital tool to protect our environment by ensuring that all proposed local development projects undergo a rigorous environmental review process and that the impacts of new projects on the environment are adequately mitigated. That part of CEQA shouldn’t change.

 However, today’s CEQA is too-often abused by those who simply seek to stop projects, oftentimes for reasons that have nothing to do with environmental protection. For instance, in Santa Clara, CEQA was used by a NIMBY group to stall and ultimately stop a desperately needed transit-oriented affordable housing project for seniors simply because they didn’t want the

project in their neighborhood. Sometimes, just the threat of a costly CEQA lawsuit is enough to derail important community improvement projects.

 In Santa Cruz, the threat of CEQA litigation has stalled for more than 10 years the Homeless Garden Project, a local effort to assist the homeless transition into permanent jobs and housing.

Elsewhere, CEQA has been abused to thwart affordable housing, renewable power, transit-oriented development, roads, schools, hospitals and other environmentally desirable projects. Clearly, after 40 years and countless abuses, it’s time to modernize CEQA.

 In the four decades since CEQA was passed, Congress and the Legislature have adopted more than 120 laws to protect the environment including air quality, water quality, species protection, greenhouse gas reduction, responsible land-use planning and more.

 Compliance with California’s stringent environmental standards should mean something. CEQA should be modernized to ensure projects that “play by the rules” and comply with all applicable environmental laws and standards aren’t held up by meritless CEQA litigation that have little to do with the environment.

 Contrary to some claims on these pages, no one is advocating that we weaken CEQA’s requirement that proposed projects must undergo rigid environmental review, public participation and mitigation. Nor should we exempt any projects from CEQA review or weaken current environmental laws. And most everyone agrees that local governments and lead agencies should continue to have strong authority to require that project proponents mitigate environmental impacts and address community concerns.

But when a project has met all required state, federal and local environmental laws, regulations, and planning, zoning and land-use requirements, it stands to reason that CEQA lawsuits shouldn’t be brought to force additional concessions that go beyond environmental protection.

 The legislative deliberations over what should, and should not, be contained in CEQA modernization will take a great deal of time and participation from diverse stakeholders across the spectrum. We’re hopeful that the end product would result in an updated CEQA that continues to protect our environment, while also allowing for the type of responsible economic growth and job-creation we need in California.

Dan Wu is executive director of Charities Housing. Carl Guardino is the chief executive officer of Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

 

 

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Sacramento Bee Opinion Editorial, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis: Preserve CEQA’s goals, end its abuses, 2/3/13

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February 3  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

http://www.sacbee.com/2013/02/03/5159564/preserve-ceqas-goals-end-its-abuses.html

By George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis
Special to The Bee

Key excerpt below: “But over time, CEQA has also become the favorite tool of those who seek to stop economic growth and progress for reasons that have little to do with the environment. Today, CEQA is too often abused by those seeking to gain a competitive edge, to leverage concessions from a project or by neighbors who simply don’t want any new growth in their community – no matter how worthy or environmentally beneficial a project may be.”

Read full article here. 

San Francisco Chronicle, CEQA overhaul fight begins, 2/3/13

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February 3  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

By Wyatt Buchanan

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/CEQA-overhaul-fight-begins-4246273.php

Sacramento —

What could be the most contentious issue considered at the Capitol this year already has proponents and opponents hiring lobbyists and media strategists to start public campaigns – and there hasn’t even been a bill introduced… 

Read full article here.

Sacramento Bee, Moderate Michael Rubio Takes on California’s Environmental Law, 1/28/13

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January 29  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

By: Torey Van Oot, tvanoot@sacbee.com

http://www.sacbee.com/2013/01/28/5144984/moderate-michael-rubio-takes-on.html#mi_rss=Top%20Stories

State Sen. Michael Rubio says he first wondered if something were wrong with California’s environmental review law during his days as a Kern County supervisor, when he saw it used to slow wind and solar projects he considered green by their very nature.

Now, just more than two years into his Senate term representing a large swath of the southern Central Valley,he is taking on fellow Democrats on the issue, moving to rewrite the California Environmental Quality Act, one of the most complicated and controversial policy issues under the dome…

Read full article here. 

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Column, Cynthia Kurtz: A good law that needs updating, 1/24/13

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January 24  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_22444088/cynthia-kurtz-ceqa-good-law-that-needs-updating

By Cynthia Kurtz, President & CEO, San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership 

After years of watching the political process, I have decided that it is often more important to observe who is whispering rather than who is yelling. You may have had a similar observation. A groundswell of concern lifts an issue to prominence followed by numerous demands for action, but nothing seems to happen. Then, very quietly, someone says or does something that makes you believe something significant is about to happen.

If my observation is correct, then we may be about to see something positive about modernizing the California Environmental Quality Act, better known at CEQA…

Read full column here.

Marin Independent Journal, Opinion Editorial, Cynthia Murray: Time to modernize CEQA so it is used properly, 1/20/13

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January 20  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_22405159/marin-voice-time-modernize-ceqa-so-it-is

By Cynthia Murray, President & CEO, North Bay Leadership Council
Guest op-ed column

MOST PEOPLE would agree that if a school, hospital or road project has been subjected to extensive environmental review and met all federal, state and local environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, the project should go forward without being sued for purported environmental reasons.

Unfortunately, these projects are being delayed and face increased costs or killed altogether because of abusive litigation that has nothing to do with the environment.

For 40 years, the California Environmental Quality Act has served as a vital tool to protect our environment by ensuring that all development projects undergo a rigorous environmental review and that impacts on the environment are mitigated…

 Read full article here.

 

San Francisco Chronicle, Opinion Editorial, Carl Guardino and Jim Wunderman: Time to modernize CEQA, 1/17/13

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January 17  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Time-to-odernize-CEQA-4200785.php#ixzz2IFgsdQm9

By: Jim Wunderman, President & CEO Bay Area Council and Carl Guardino, President & CEO Silicon Valley Leadership Group

When it was first signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the California Environmental Quality Act represented a groundbreaking statement by Californians that our environment was important and deserved protection.

Since then, CEQA has served to protect the environment and foster better planning. More recently, however, CEQA has too often been abused by those who simply seek to stop development, often for reasons that have nothing to do with environmental protection….

Read full article here.

Sacramento Bee Opinion Editorial, Senator Michael J. Rubio: Should California make changes to landmark 1970 law?, 1/13/13

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January 13  |  News, News Articles  |   afrew

http://sd16.senate.ca.gov/newsroom/news/2013-01-13-sacramento-bee-should-california-make-changes-landmark-1970-law

By Michael Rubio

Special to The Sacramento Bee

I support the California Environmental Quality Act and, when asked why I want to modernize it, I immediately think of the Metro Expo Line Extension in Los Angeles, connecting Santa Monica to downtown.

If and when it is completed, this project will have taken more than nine years to complete. The project will significantly reduce traffic on one of the most congested freeways in the country and help California achieve its internationally renowned greenhouse gas reduction standards. It will also greatly improve air quality and overall public health.

In New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman’s book “That Used to Be Us,” he writes about how “people have sort of gotten used to” the snail-pace project schedules in the United States compared with other countries. Similarly, many in California have “sort of gotten used to” the misuse of arguably one of the most important laws enacted in our state’s history: CEQA. When NFL football stadiums are exempted from this law and projects that improve the public health and the environment take nine years, it motivates me to modernize CEQA.

There are many examples of where the misuse of CEQA has impacted foster youths, elementary school upgrades, University of California campus improvements, urban bike lanes and critical infrastructure projects. We seem to have “sort of gotten used to” doing without all of these projects while CEQA lawsuits cause years-long delays and significant cost increases. Two specific examples occur in the Sacramento and Bay Area regions.

In Auburn, a group of people calling themselves Residents Against Inconsistent Development, or RAID, used CEQA to challenge an affordable housing project that forced the developer to lose loans and grants. RAID then signed a settlement agreement to allow the project to move forward if the majority of units were market rate, essentially discriminating against poor people. The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society publicly stated that the suit was bogus, serving as an attack to stop affordable housing rather than to protect the environment.

In Berkeley, an infill mixed-use development to house 40 low-income seniors was delayed two years by one person who sued, claiming the project would change the aesthetics of her neighborhood. The Sierra Club supported the project as it met every environmental law in California. This case cost the city and developer an extra million dollars.

As 2013 is upon us, now is the time to look forward and determine how we are going to best fulfill our stated priority: restore full economic growth in California while leading the world on progressive environmental standards. As the incoming chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, I believe that modernizing CEQA should be the top priority to ensure that California remains both green and golden. 

Many laws have been adopted at the federal, state and local levels to protect the environment, including air quality, water quality, species protection, greenhouse gas reduction, toxics, hazardous waste, responsible land use planning and more. CEQA, however, has not been modified to reflect these new laws.

Clearly, modernizing CEQA is needed so that California remains a leader in protecting the environment and growing a 21st century economy. We can do this while also preserving the best portions of the law – public disclosure and participation, mitigation of environmental impacts and the ability to challenge projects that don’t meet existing environmental standards.

Specifically, one of the main ideas being proposed is the basic premise that once a project has met the relevant environmental statutes, regulations and codes set forth by the state and local authorities, and has completed an Environmental Impact Report, that it be protected from lawsuits on those regulated aspects. Too many times, a project that has met all of the environmental requirements is unfairly delayed or even killed by a lawsuit. Misuse of CEQA should not be able to derail projects.

As this process moves forward, we will continue to solicit input and make sure that the voices of interested stakeholders are both heard and considered. Public participation will always remain a key element of CEQA and the process to modernize this important law.

We must never get used to the delay of projects caused by CEQA abuses.