Thursday, February 28, 2013

The phony movement to "reform" CEQA

There's no CEQA in China
 
The front page story in Tuesday's Chronicle on CEQA "reform" was a mixed bag. Why does Governor Brown want to dilute the most important environmental law in California? 

"When CEQA was passed, a lot of people thought any development was bad. Now, many of those same people---including Jerry Brown---think, 'Oh, there's good development and there's bad development,' " said Bill Fulton, vice president of policy for Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, and a former mayor of Ventura who has authored several books on urban planning...Brown's position may have changed on CEQA, Fulton said, but he's a "policy opportunist...Remember, he was also for redevelopment before he was against it, too," Fulton added.

Aside from the straw man formulation---has anyone ever thought "any development was bad"?---this nails the governor. His approach to CEQA is cynical and self-serving. He wanted CEQA out of his way when he was Mayor of Oakland, and he wants it out of his way now on his dumb high-speed rail project, just like Scott Wiener wants it out of the way of City Hall's projects. (It's not CEQA that's going to stop high-speed rail but the fact that the project has changed radically since voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008. It's more likely that the courts will order the state to put it back on the ballot. Since public opinion has turned against the project recently, that would kill it. Read a brief based on the Prop. 1A issue here.)

But you have to read the last three paragraphs of the story to come in contact with reality on the CEQA issue:

Sierra Club of California Director Kathryn Phillips said the organization has "generally opposed exempting categories of projects from CEQA review, no matter how much we like the general category of projects. We strongly believe that CEQA is the best way to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of all projects."

Brown's evolving opinion of the law "has me scratching my head," said Ann Notthoff, California director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes dropping the environmental protections in the law.

The environmental group disputes any notion that the law jams the legal system with complaints from NIMBYs. Only 0.02 percent of the roughly 1.1 million civil cases filed annually in California from 2002 to 2011 involved CEQA cases, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study of state attorney general documents that was released last month.
 
Not surprising that a Chronicle editorial assumes there's a real need to "reform" CEQA, as it does some hand-wringing about state Senator Rubio's resignation:
 
...Rubio, chair of the Environmental Quality Committee, was set to play a leading role in what was expected to be one of the most contentious issues of the year: legislation to revise the California Environmental Quality Act to make it less burdensome on development. Rubio's centrist sensibilities and collegial style put him in a good position to bridge the differences between frustrated pro-development forces who want to radically overhaul the law and environmentalists who are determined to defend it against even minor changes. Meanwhile, CEQA reform is without a champion, and Democrats are without a Senate supermajority.
 
Who cares about either? Rubio quit the senate to take a job with an oil company and to "spend more time with his family"! There's no genuine need to fiddle with CEQA, and there's no benefit for the state in having a Democratic Party "supermajority," and I say that as a Democrat.
 
The Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum wants to get CEQA out of her way, just like WalMart wants to get it out of its way. Brown, Shahum, and WalMart, all see CEQA as an obstacle in the path of projects they support. Does anyone see a pattern here?

Thanks to James Fallows for the link to the China picture.

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