CEQA revamp advances, negotiations ongoing

5:21 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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Efforts to modify California's four decades old environmental protection law are still moving forward at the state Capitol, though it's clear that there remains a healthy dose of skepticism about the end result.

But supporters insist the point is that things are still moving forward -- especially for Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who seemed to be channeling the famous Mark Twain quote on Wednesday when reminded of Gov. Jerry Brown's recent gloomy assessment of changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

"CEQA reform is alive and well," the Sacramento Democrat told reporters just after his legislation, Senate Bill 731, cleared its first policy committee.

Steinberg's bill remains, by all accounts, a work in progress. While it received overwhelming support from legislators and interest groups this week, a number of those same voices pointed out the details matter.

And therein lies the challenge: business groups want more, environmental and labor union forces want less.

SB 731 currently focuses on a handful of issues that critics have said spark time consuming, and irrelevant, CEQA based lawsuits. In particular, the bill seeks new statewide standards for legal challenges to urban, 'in-fill' development projects based on traffic or noise concerns.  The bill also would impose new timelines for CEQA lawsuits.

But while the bill's supporters say these changes will limit CEQA lawsuits, they also argue -- as they did again during Wednesday's hearing -- that CEQA lawsuits are rare.

Last month, the governor reiterated his disdain for what the 1970 landmark law has become, calling it a "vampire" that needs "a silver stake through it."

Brown said he doubted anything of substance would come out of the Legislature, blaming interest groups who are his traditional allies.

"CEQA is supported by some key groups within the Democratic party," he told us during an extended interview in China.  "And I think it will be difficult for the Legislature to move that process forward."

The governor then suggested the issue may end up on the ballot, a suggestion the Senate leader says is the worst case scenario.

"The last thing we want, or need, are ballot measures on these subjects," said Steinberg.  "Those are always written by one side or the other, and always imperfectly."

The legislative process has a little more than four months left for a number of thorny issues to be dealt with, issues that have plagued previous CEQA negotiations.

"We're moving forward," Senate leader Steinberg told reporters.  "We're going to get this job done."


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