New Times / Commentary
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 32
It's the environment, stupidCEQA does need reform, but the governor's proposed changes would dismantle the valuable law
BY SUSAN HARVEY
It surely came as no surprise to anyone that COLAB, in its accustomed role as handmaiden to big developers and polluting industries, recently occupied this space with a call to weaken California flagship environmental law (“Flies and fungus vs. jobs and prosperity,” Feb. 28).
Also no surprise: Every major conservation and public health group in the state opposes the sweeping changes to the California Environmental Quality Act that COLAB favors.
The way in which Sacramento just lost its primary champion for this kind of “reform,” Senator Michael Rubio, is telling: After pushing for industry loopholes to exempt development projects and major polluting industries from real environmental review, Rubio abruptly announced his resignation from the legislature and went to work for Chevron.
COLAB’s examples of litigation-crazed communities exploiting an allegedly out-of-control California Environmental Quality Act and bringing on economic Armageddon are cherry-picked distortions based on environmental ignorance. The reality: CEQA cases are 0.02 percent of the 1.1 million civil cases filed annually in California, affecting less than 1 percent of all the projects subject to CEQA.
This law has served our state well for more than 40 years and has helped to make California a place where millions of people want to live, raise their families, and go on vacation. It has allowed tremendous growth to take place while also protecting the things we all value most: clean air, clean water, and beautiful natural areas. It ensures that all Californians have a chance to weigh in on major land-use decisions affecting our communities and our environment. It protects public health by requiring that major land use projects take all feasible steps to keep our air and water clean and our environment safe. It ensures that new projects limit threats to public health to the extent possible by mitigating any new air and water pollution the project will generate.
By design, the law allows concerned groups and communities to hold industry accountable when public agencies fail to conduct a thorough environmental review. That’s not an abuse of the law; it’s using the law as it was intended. CEQA is the public’s last defense to ensure that proponents of large construction projects mitigate or reduce a project’s negative impact on its surroundings. That’s pretty important for individuals who don’t have the means to hire a team of lawyers to monitor and influence large projects planned for their communities, or lobbyists to campaign for their interests.
We agree with COLAB on one point: You should indeed contact the governor’s office and your state representative and urge them to adopt meaningful reform. You should do that by asking them to support Senate Bill 754, strengthening the protections our premier environmental law provides for our environment and for community participation in the development approval process. SB 754 cracks down on illegal actions undertaken to change the land prior to environmental review, prohibits a developer from directly contracting for and overseeing the preparation of the environmental review, controls administrative record costs, and provides enforcement for mitigation measures.
CEQA is a living document, and it has been updated over the years to fit the concerns of changing times. The broad changes sought by Chevron’s newest executive and supported by Governor Brown and COLAB would dismantle the benefits this law has brought to Californians. Gutting the California Environmental Quality Act would effectively hand over the state to those who for decades have longed to pave it all and let God sort it out. They are betting that this is the year they win it all. We had all better make sure they’re wrong.
Susan Harvey is president of North County Watch, a 501c3 public benefit corporation committed to balanced and responsible development in and around northern San Luis Obispo County. Its purpose is to promote economic and environmental policies that maintain and enhance the uniqueness of the community. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.