Public Participation and Smart Planning Under Attack

Under the guise of helping to plug the current budget hole, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed a dangerous new policy that would undermine the ability of communities to participate in decisions that determine how their neighborhoods grow and allow new developments to be built without the benefit of adequate planning and accountability. Four identical bills have been recently introduced to enact the Governor’s proposal: ABX8 37 (Calderon & Nestande), AB 1805 (Calderon & Nestande), SBX8 42 (Correa & Cogdill), and SB 1010 (Correa & Cogdill).

If these bills are passed, the Secretary of the Business, Transportation, and Housing Administration could select 25 projects each year for the next 5 years and grant them judicial immunity from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That means that local communities, cities, and counties would not be able to ensure that the environmental review process, enshrined in the Environmental Quality Act, is conducted according to the law for any of the 125 projects.

Eliminating the ability to enforce California’s premier public health and environmental law could lead to new polluting power plants and waste facilities located next to schools and neighborhoods. It would eliminate the ability of communities to hold developers accountable for the impacts a new project has on air and water quality, traffic congestion, noise and open space. It wouldn’t be good for small businesses either; the process of selecting the 125 projects would likely be very political, with well-connected developers winning out over smaller competitors.

For the past four decades, community involvement in the environmental review process has improved new developments, reducing impacts to public health and the environment and improving our quality of life. The Governor’s proposal to allow new developments to avoid public scrutiny will close local residents out of the planning process and erode California’s legacy of environmental protection.