Controversial CEQA Reform Approved by Legislature

PCL stands strong with coalition partners in opposing 11th-hour bills that weaken California’s landmark environmental and community protection law

The Planning & Conservation League, joining with a coalition including Sierra Club California, Coalition for Clean Air, Clean Water Action, and a host of environmental justice and community groups from the Los Angeles area and throughout California, tried valiantly to stave off three bills that will weaken protections of The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Unfortunately, SB 226 (Simitian), SB 292 (Padilla) and AB 900 (Buchanan), all either introduced or dramatically amended in the last 36 hours of the legislative session, passed the Legislature on its final day of session. SB 226 will, if signed into law by the Governor, exempt from CEQA certain urban projects deemed ‘green’, with inadequate definitions of for what defines ‘urban’ and ‘green’. It could, therefore, allow sprawl or other impactful projects without adequate environmental review. AB 900, while not an exemption, “streamlines” CEQA’s judicial review requirements, potentially limiting the public’s voice in challenging projects. And SB 292 is, most simply, special treatment under the law for an influential developer (AEG) seeking to build a downtown Los Angeles football stadium. By depriving petitioners of the opportunity for superior court jurisdiction, SB 292 and AB 900 may even violate the California Constitution.

PCL certainly wants to see California take necessary and overdue steps to promote green projects in California, while putting people back to work and transforming the State into a leader in sustainable development; but these 11th-hour efforts, while perhaps well-intentioned, were ill-conceived. They attack important protections of CEQA that have given communities a voice in the development process for more than four decades, with a great deal of uncertainty as to whether these measures were needed to, or will in fact, create more jobs in California.

Moreover, the measures themselves were hastily crafted and poorly thought-out. Some legislators, such as Senator Sam Blakeslee (R, 15th District), did complain about the hastily crafted nature of AB 900 before voting against the bill. That legislation’s shortcomings were seemingly acknowledged by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, (D, 6th District), who agreed that ‘clean-up’ legislation will have to be introduced next year to address the problems with AB 900. In addition to depriving legislators with final bill language before they voted, the rushed process also deprived the public from having meaningful input into the process.

PCL would like to thank the many organizations and individuals who stood strong against this process, and the legislators, like Senator Noreen Evans (D, 2nd District) Assembly member Jared Huffman (D, 6th District) who spoke so eloquently for good governance and for environmental and community protection.

While disappointed at the outcome, PCL will continue to work with its environmental partners, the Legislature, and local communities to ensure that projects developed pursuant these streamlined processes will still protect our environment and public welfare, while we continue to advocate for CEQA to remain a strong environmental bill of rights for all Californians.

For more information about the importance of CEQA and the threats it faces, click here.