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Push to overhaul CEQA law divides Democrats


A major political battle is brewing in Sacramento over California’s landmark environmental law referred to mainly by its acronym, CEQA, with some powerful Democrats urging an overhaul of the regulations.

Noreen Evans.

Critics of the 43-year-old legislation say it has become a tool for special interest groups to thwart development, or to coerce project managers into accepting their terms, a process referred to derisively as “greenmail.”

“It’s a weapon misused by people who want to stop something,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic Party leaders in both houses of the state Legislature have stated their willingness to change the law. So far they’ve not released specific details.

State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has emerged as a major player in the debate as a defender of the status quo, or even adding more provisions to the law that in some instances would be anathema to business interests.

Evans did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.

In an opinion piece the senator co-authored this week for Capitol Weekly, Evans wrote that CEQA “continues to provide essential environmental protections” and has “empowered community members to hold public agencies accountable.”

The California Environmental Quality Act was signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan and over the decades has been updated with new regulations.

“The important thing to remember is that CEQA, since its inception, has enabled California to have one of the cleanest, and one of the most restored, environments of any state in the country,” said David Keller, a former Petaluma City Council member and current member of the Petaluma River Council.

He said he supports Evans’ calls for more transparency in the process, which the senator wrote would include translating documents for people who don’t speak English as their first language.

Others appear to be seeking more sweeping changes. Among them is State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, who has complained that CEQA was used to stop “green projects,” such as those involving wind and solar power, when Rubio served as a Kern County supervisor.

Evans, however, stated her opposition to blanket exemptions for such projects in her Capitol Weekly piece, writing that utility-scale renewable energy or high-speed rail can have “significant environmental and public health impacts.”

She also recommended adding an “environmental justice component” to the process and raising the standard for overriding considerations that allow environmentally damaging projects to move forward without “sufficient mitigation.”

Keller said his understanding of the environmental justice provision is that it would require planners to consider the cumulative and community-wide impacts of proposed development, particularly in poorer areas of the state.

Evans will have a say in any proposed changes to CEQA as a member of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. She wrote that she also is considering introducing bills aimed at making the changes she has outlined.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

8 Responses to “Push to overhaul CEQA law divides Democrats”

  1. Terry says:

    You know sometimes its tough reading these posts because they contain so many errors by whack-jobs that look at EVERYTHING through the lens of conspiracy and Agenda this or that.

    But, every once in awhile there is a gem. @Boethius hit the nail right on the head.

    Ms. Evans, or those that agree with her position on CEQA, please read boethius’s post and tell me that you would have wanted to add an additional layer to CEQA that would have required Lucasfilms to pay an additional large sum of money and wasted time to do a “study” of the social justice merits of the Grady Ranch project.

    Give me a thumbs down if you would have liked to have seen this additional study?

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  2. John Pendergast says:

    What is CEQA really? It’s a tool to limit housing and keep rents much higher than they ordinarily would be. This has very little to do with the environment, it used to 30 years ago.

    It’s now a social engineering tool used by left wing waspish old money to limit the Hispanic population in certain areas like Sonoma County. More housing means more brown people. Of course this comment will probably be moderated because I’m accusing white liberals of being closet racists, or at least ethnocentric.

    I would much prefer more development so we can have cool businesses moving in and not be so bored in this county. You can only go to so many wine tastings.

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  3. boethius says:

    CEQA was used specifically to stonewall Lucasfilm’s Grady Ranch project for roughly 20 years, which they famously threw back in the face of Marin County and permanently ended the project, giving it back over to the community for low-income housing. Yet another example of how it was wielded by an HOA of a community that was not even there when Lucas bought the Grady Ranch property as a job killer. No matter that Lucas has almost universally shown himself to be a very good steward of the land and of course an economic engine of the community. It’s not like he was intending to build a strip mall or a gas station. He was going to build a world-class movie studio that had a very light footprint on the land. Ugh.

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  4. GAJ says:

    Good point Lee; the ADA was well intentioned but has become a nightmare in California due them adding a layer called the Unruh Act which has essentially made it legal for “activists” and their lawyers to blackmail small businesses…sometimes into bankruptcy.

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  5. Lee says:

    You can’t change the use of (or build or augment) ANY building without running into these three small business killers:

    The Fire Sprinkler racket

    I’ve had several small, viable projects which would have created jobs killed by some combination of the abuse of the well meaning regulations.

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  6. Terry says:

    CEQA has and will continue to protect our environment, however unfortunate, it also has been misused by attorneys and “activist” organizations that make their living solely in using the court system to extort others under CEQA. CEQA needs reform so that it can do what it was intended to do while not allowing abuse. Ms. Evans apparently has never had a real job, nor has ever built anything.

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  7. James Bennett says:

    The Calif. Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a two edge sword.

    It’s a means to thwart our actions (which largely defines Agenda 21). However the process can be absolutely molested when our local government wants to do something.

    The ultimate local example being The One Bay Area “visioning meetings.”
    This “process” is outlined in the cover story of The North Bay Independent (.org). Although the site is only hours old, for now it just mirrors the print version.

    MTC and ABAG skirted with the public input component of CEQA. In an obvious deference to ram the Plan through and not genuinely measure support. It was sickening.

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  8. GAJ says:

    Well, if it can be used to stop the High Speed Rail White Elephant then I’m 100% on board with Ms. Evans.

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