Severn Williams, Public Good PR
California Economic Summit: CEQA Roundup: A win for the Kings and Steinberg. But for CEQA reform? by Justin Ewers (September 13, 3013).
San Diego Free Press: Traffic Impact May Get Some Reform Under Smaller CEQA Bill by Robert Cruickshank (September 18, 2013).
Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown, lawmakers set to ease CEQA for ‘infill’ projects by Anthony York (September 12, 2013).
The Sacramento Bee: Legislature approves bill to build new arena for Sacramento Kings by Laurel Rosenhall (September 12, 2013).
The Sacramento Bee: Steinberg shelves main environmental measure to aid arena effort by Tony Bizjak (September 11, 2013).
San Jose Mercury News: CEQA reform: Analytics, not anecdotes, should guide Legislature by Steve Blank (September 4, 2013)
San Francisco Chronicle: No special environmental rules for sports by San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board (September 4, 2013)
Riverside Press-Enterprise: RiversidePress-Enterprise Editorial: arena exemption, no; streamline CEQA, yes, 9/3/13 by Riverside Press-Enterprise Editorial Board (September 3, 2013)
Long Beach Press-Telegram: Clock is running out for real CEQA reform: Editorial by Long Beach Press- Telegram Editorial Board (September 3, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: Editorial: Fix CEQA, end carve-outs for special projects by The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board (September 3, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: Steinberg pushes bill to help Sacramento arena project by Jeremy B. White (August 30, 2013)
Sacramento Bee: Editorial: Steinberg’s CEQA bill is a step in the right direction by Sacramento Bee Editorial Board (August 28, 2013)
Fresno Bee: Dan Walters: Major reform of CEQA unlikely by Dan Walters (August 22, 2013)
California Forward: CEQA Roundup: What would Steinberg’s bill actually do for infill? by Justin Ewers (August 21, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Activists fight environmental-law changes proposed by Brown’s staff by Patrick McGreevy (August 19, 2013)
Capitol Public Radio: Steinberg Has Blunt Words for CEQA Overhaul Backers by Ben Adler (August 14, 2013)
California Economy Reporting: CEQA Roundup – The Good, Bad & Potentially Bad: What business thinks of reform bills by Justin Ewers (June 7, 2013)
Daily Breeze: NRDC files suit against Port of Los Angeles railway project by Brian Sumers (June 7, 2013)
Long Beach Press-Telegram: Long Beach files suit, seeks injunctions over Port of Los Angeles railyard project by Karen Robes Meeks (June 5, 2013)
KCET(blog): The Power of CEQA: Gas Plant Delayed in Smoggy Inland Empire by Chris Clarke (June 5, 2013)
California Economy Reporting: CEQA Roundup: Reform wins unanimously in Senate, what to watch for next by Justin Ewers (May 31, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Senate advances bill to streamline environmental reviews by Patrick McGreevy (May 29, 2013)
Press Enterprise: Editorial: Pursue local resolution to rail project wrangling by Editorial Staff (May 28, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Alter CEQA but don’t weaken it by Editorial Board (May 20, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Don’t dilute CEQA, improve it by John Van de Kamp (May 9, 2013)
Capitol Weekly: In CEQA fight, ‘modernize’ is the mantra of spin, by Greg Lucas (May 5, 2013)
California Economic Report: CEQA Roundup: For a moment, everyone lines up behind Steinberg, by Justin Ewers (May 3, 2013)
My Mother Lode: Berryhill Disappointed By CEQA Vote, by B.J. Hansen (May 3, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: Panel approves Steinberg’s CEQA bill, kills broader GOP version, by Torey Van Oot (May 2, 2013)
KCRA Sacramento: Steinberg: Regulations won’t tie up arena project, (April 17, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Jerry Brown starts push to revamp California’s environmental law, (April 17, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: State Senate leader said revamp of environmental law is on track, (April 17, 2013)
California Planning & Development Report: What’s Next for CEQA: Major Reform or Incrementalism?, (April 16, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: CA Democrats take aim at efforts to overhaul education, CEQA, (April 16, 2013)
San Mateo Daily Journal: OP-ED: Imagine the Bay Area without CEQA, by Clement Shute Jr. and Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey Jr. (April 5, 2013)
San Jose Mercury News: Milpitas case shows how the rush to reform CEQA is unwise, By Richard Drury (April 4, 2013)
San Francisco Examiner: CEQA stream-lining declared unconstitutional, by Kathy Hamilton (April 4, 2013)
San Francisco Examiner: Attacks on CEQA distort the truth, By Rebecca Evans and Quentin L. Kopp (April 4, 2013)
East Bay Express: Letters to the Editor: Readers sound off on CEQA, People of California (March 27, 2013)
San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. supervisors butt heads over CEQA, C.W. Nevius (March 19, 2013)
Sacramento Bee: Walters: Capitol battle over environmental law comes down to ‘standards’, Dan Walters (March 18, 2013)
Tahoe Daily Tribune: CEQA: Working for California, working for the Sierra, Tom Mooers (March 14, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Letters: CEQA gets the job done, (March 13, 2013)
KQED: Environmental, Labor Groups Prepare to Fight CEQA Changes, Scott Detrow (March 12, 2013)
Marin Independent-Journal: Our CEQA Champion, Reader’s Forum (March 9, 2013)
Palo Alto Daily News: Peninsula Readers’ Letters: March 09, Letter to the Editor (March 9, 2013)
California Economic Summit: CEQA Roundup: Debate Resets with Jerry Hill Appointment, Justin Ewers (March 8, 2013)
New Times: It’s the Environment, Stupid, Susan Harvey (March 6, 2013)
Lake County News: Evans Introduces Bills Meant to Improve, Strengthen California Environmental Quality Act, by Staff Writers (February 26, 2013)
San Francisco Chronicle: CEQA Tied to Oakland’s Experience, by Joe Garofoli (February 26, 2013)
Fox and Hounds: The Curious Timing of Sen. Rubio’s Resignation, by Joel Fox (February 25, 2013)
The Bakersfield Californian: Robert Price: Rubio Will Be Spending Some Quality Time With Chevron, by Robert Price (February 23, 2013)
LegalPlanet.com: Rubio Resigns: Was CEQA “Reform” Just About Fracking?, by Ethan Elkind (February 22, 2013)
SF Gate: Shocker: CEQA Reform Lawmaker Abruptly Resigns, by Andrew S. Ross (February 22, 2013)
The News Review: Save CEQA, Don’t Gut It, by Editorial Staff (February, 21, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: CEQA overhaul puts lawmakers on tightrope, by Dan Morain (February 17, 2013)
The Recorder: Viewpoint: CEQA Works Well for California, by David Pettit (February 15, 2013)
Santa Cruz Sentinel: Gary Patton: Reforms for CEQA? Watch out!, by Gary Patton (February 9, 2013)
The Sacramento Bee: Environmental groups, unions team up to oppose CEQA push, by Torey Van Oot (February 7, 2013)
Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice: CEQA is not in need of ‘modernization’, by Dotty E. LeMieux (February 7, 2013)
Los Angeles Times: Environmentalists and unions band together to fight CEQA changes, by Michael Mishak (February 6, 2013)
San Francisco Chronicle: CEQA overhaul fight begins, by Wyatt Buchanan (February 2, 2013)
The Bakersfield Californian: ANOTHER VIEW: CEQA empowers the people to hold developers accountable, by Gordon Nipp (January 31, 2013)
Capitol Weekly: CEQA a fundamental safeguard for California, by Sen. Noreen Evans, Assembly member Das Williams (January 29, 2013)
Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice: CEQA is unjustly under siege, by Nona Dennis (January 26, 2013)
San Francisco Chronicle: Calls for CEQA overhaul much ado about not much, by David Mogavero and Bruce Reznik (January 24, 2013)
LegalPlanet.com: The Case Against CEQA “Reform” — San Diego’s Lame Transportation Plan, by Ethan Elkind (January 22, 2013)
California Economic Summit: CEQA reform isn’t what it seems to be – Law professor’s perspective, by Justin Ewers (January 16, 2013)
California Economy: CEQA reform isn’t what it seems to be – Law professor’s perspective, by Justin Ewers (January 16, 2013)
Switchboard NRDC: California’s Landmark Environmental Law in Action – It Works, by David Pettit (January 15, 2013)
California Economy: Protecting & Strengthening California’s Environmental ‘Bill of Rights’, by Abigail Okrent and Bruce Reznik, Planning & Conservation League (January 11, 2013)
California Economic Summit: CEQA is a safety net: Environmental attorney’s perspective, by Justin Ewers (January 09, 2013)
San Jose Mercury-News: Gutting CEQA would be wrong for California, by Kathryn Phillips and Joel Reynolds (December 7, 2012)
Huffington Post: Handle CEQA With Care, by Joel Reynolds (October 7, 2011)
San Francisco Bay Guardian: CEQA: We Need It, by Susan Brandt-Hawley (September 11, 2012)
San Diego Union-Tribune: Environmental Regulations Keep State Golden, by Kathryn Phillips (July 26, 2012)
Sacramento Bee: Pro CEQA letters to the editor, by the people of California
Q: What is the California Environmental Quality Act?
A: The California Environmental Quality Act, which became law in 1970, is an environmental bill of rights for our state. By requiring state and local agencies to assess and disclose environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to minimize or mitigate those impacts to the greatest extent possible, CEQA fosters transparency and integrity in public decision-making, while ensuring development decisions account for their full impacts on our natural and human environments.
Q: How does CEQA work and who can use it?
A: The California Environmental Quality Act provides a process through which public agencies, Californians, and project developers can evaluate a project, understand its environmental impacts, and develop measures to reduce these impacts. Only projects that could result in a significant adverse impact to the environment must undergo a full environmental review under this law. In fact, CEQA already contains numerous exemptions for smaller projects that don’t have major environmental impacts.
The CEQA process requires the public agency in charge of permitting the project, known as the “lead agency,” to conduct an environmental review. This review is pulled together in one document, either a “negative declaration” if no significant adverse impact is projected, or an “environmental impact report” if significant effects may occur. CEQA documents include information about the project, the areas where it may cause environmental impacts, whether the proposed project complies with applicable environmental laws and plans, and how the impacts can be avoided or mitigated. Ultimately, the decision to approve or deny a project remains with the agency; CEQA does not prevent officials from approving an environmentally damaging project, but rather ensures that they disclose and consider the full impacts of the project and incorporate mitigation measures to reduce or avoid those impacts where feasible.
Q: Does every project require CEQA review?
A: No. CEQA generally applies only to projects that require discretionary permits from a local or state (not federal) public agency—that is, projects where the agency has a great deal of latitude in determining how the project can be conducted. Routine “ministerial” decisions like the issuance of building permits typically do not involve CEQA review in most jurisdictions. Even where CEQA does apply, the most thorough environmental review is reserved for projects that may have significant adverse impacts on the environment—in other words, for the projects where the public and agency officials really should take the closest look at environmental consequences.
Why CEQA Matters
Q: Why is CEQA important?
A: This law gives community members a voice in development decisions. It requires decision-makers to adopt feasible alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce significant adverse environmental impacts of development when possible. As such, it plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing California’s public health, safety, and the environment. The Act was designed to ensure that a project applicant—not the public—bears the costs of providing necessary infrastructure to support a project and takes feasible steps to protect against environmental damage. It also provides the public and decision-makers with “the big picture” and helps ensure that many small projects are not considered in isolation, only to overwhelm a community when taken as a whole.
Q: What is at stake in the current controversy surrounding CEQA?
A: A current effort is underway, led largely by development interests, to weaken some of the key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. Proponents of changes to the law have made a number of false and misleading claims about how CEQA is used and its effects on California’s economy. This law has been in place for more than 40 years and has been used effectively to protect the values that Californians hold most dear – including protection of public health and natural resources, such as clean air, clean water, and open space – without harming the economy. Our state has seen dramatic periods of growth, including the recent housing boom, with this law firmly in place.
If special interests succeed in weakening CEQA, the public could lose its ability to force developers to reveal and address the real environmental consequences of major projects and would likely have to bear more of the cost of fixing environmental problems caused by private developments. Californians would enjoy fewer environmental protections and our environment would suffer more damage from unchecked growth.
About CEQA Works Coalition
Q: What is CEQA Works?
A: CEQA Works is a coalition of civic, conservation, public health, environmental justice, and community groups. Participating organizations are committed to shielding California’s landmark environmental laws from radical reforms that would limit public input into land use planning, threaten public health, and weaken environmental protections.
Q: What does CEQA Works hope to achieve?
A: CEQA Works is committed to defending the rights of communities to have input into land use decisions that will most affect the people who live, work, and go to school there. The members of CEQA Works believe that there may be opportunities to improve the California Environmental Quality Act, but any changes should strengthen, not weaken, its core protections. We are working with members of the California legislature to prevent attempts to gut the fundamental environmental protections CEQA provides.
CEQA and Economic Growth
Q: Does CEQA stunt economic growth?
A: There is no evidence that California’s environmental laws have interfered with healthy economic growth in California. Our state has seen robust growth – both economically and physically – since 1970. In fact, according to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, California was the national jobs leader for most of 2012 with 257,000 new private sector jobs, including several high-profile company expansions (e.g., Samsung, Sutter, Amazon, and Caterpillar). Thanks to CEQA, that growth has happened in a way that has limited impacts on our air, water, open space, and other natural resources. And because the environmental review process ensures that agencies approve development proposals with the big picture and long term consequences in mind, it ultimately saves taxpayers money.
CEQA and ‘Green’ Projects
Q: Does CEQA make it too easy to prevent the construction of infill projects?
A: Just last year SB 226 was passed to streamline the environmental review and approval process for infill projects that are consistent with a city or county’s general plan. The state Office of Planning and Research just released guidelines for implementing SB 226 in February 2013. These guidelines should speed approval of infill projects, and should be given time to work before further, wholesale changes to CEQA are proposed to encourage infill development.
Q: Isn’t the recent case against the San Diego Association of Governments’ Sustainable Communities Strategy an example of abuse of CEQA?
A: The case against SANDAG is an excellent example of why CEQA must remain strong, particularly in this era of climate disruption. Although the SANDAG plan technically met greenhouse gas standards for 2020 and 2035 under SB 375, it then allowed emissions to keep rising dramatically through 2050, conflicting with key state policies recognizing that steep emissions reductions over the same time period are needed to stabilize the climate.
CEQA is the only state law that ensures public disclosure and analysis of this conflict—and because SANDAG steadfastly ignored the problem, litigation was necessary to expose the serious flaws in SANDAG’s plan. In contrast, if SANDAG’s plan had been evaluated under the “standards-based” approach advocated by some special interests, all the public would know is that the plan met SB 375’s targets—not that it fundamentally conflicted with state policy and sound science.
Q: With our growing climate crisis, shouldn’t renewable energy projects be exempt from CEQA?
A: No. There’s a lot of variation among “renewable energy” projects, from hydroelectric dams, to big wind and solar installations, to wood-fueled power plants. Many of these projects may have the potential to help prevent climate disruption, but they also may have other less desirable consequences—and some ultimately may not even be that good for the climate. Only through careful CEQA review can agency officials and the public choose the best projects, in the right locations, with the least significant trade-offs. This is exactly how CEQA was designed to work.
Q: How would “fracking” for oil and gas be affected by the proposed changes to CEQA?
A: Currently California regulators do not even track, let alone regulate, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in California. CEQA is our safety net when serious environmental risks, like fracking, slip through the cracks in other environmental laws. This is why conservation groups have been able to bring a lawsuit against California regulators for ignoring their duty to analyze and disclose the dangers of fracking via California Environmental Quality Act review. If special interests, including the oil and gas industry, succeed in gutting CEQA, we would lose this safety net for addressing the risks posed by fracking to the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Q: How would major infrastructure projects like California’s High Speed Rail line or industrial-scale renewable energy projects be affected by the proposed changes to CEQA?
A: CEQA’s role in California is to guide major public and private projects through a process that identifies the least environmentally damaging path for achieving a development goal. While High Speed Rail and utility-scale renewable energy projects have tremendous public and environmental benefits, they also have environmental costs. CEQA’s role in such projects is to help identify appropriate mitigation and reduce environmental harm to the extent feasible in building such projects.
CEQA and Litigation
Q: Isn’t it true that most developments end up in court at some point because of CEQA?
A: The most thorough study on CEQA and litigation, conducted by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California in 2005, found that 0.3% of CEQA reviews were taken to court. The statute was also amended in 2010 to provide penalties to those using the law maliciously. At this time, not a single motion has been filed under that amendment, demonstrating that claims of “CEQA lawsuit abuse” by those attempting to weaken CEQA are utterly false.
Q: Shouldn’t parties who bring forward lawsuits under CEQA be required to disclose who is funding the lawsuit? Wouldn’t such a change reduce opportunities for abuse of the law?
A: The Supreme Court ruled many years ago that forcing organizations to disclose their members and donors violates the First Amendment. People must be free to exercise their legal rights and associate freely without the chilling threat of public disclosure. Some CEQA critics have proposed requiring disclosure only to the judge, but the only purpose of disclosure would be to invite judges to bring their own prejudices to bear. This would be a serious blow to equality before the law.
It shouldn’t matter who’s bringing a lawsuit, or who’s funding it. CEQA is about making sure environmental impacts are disclosed and mitigated. If an agency fails to follow the law, and litigation succeeds, California’s environment benefits no matter whose name is on the lawsuit or who wrote the checks. If a lawsuit is truly frivolous, it will not succeed, and the parties who filed it can be fined up to $10,000.
CEQA and Non-Environmental Use/Abuse
Q: Isn’t it true that neighbors and other groups often misuse CEQA to stop projects they just don’t like, or to require non-environmental changes?
A: Anyone who weighs in with legitimate concerns about the environmental impacts of a project during a CEQA-mandated public comment period has the right to bring forward a lawsuit if he or she believes that the public agency did not follow the law. This is by design. Unfortunately, government agencies do violate the law sometimes. Public oversight—including the ability to go to court when it’s necessary—is critical to making CEQA’s environmental protections effective. If the court finds the case is completely without merit, the court can impose fines on the plaintiff and the case will not move forward.
Special interests sometimes complain that “non-environmental” participation in CEQA processes—whether by labor unions, businesses, or even neighbors concerned about property values—is somehow “illegitimate.” But because CEQA is structured to provide environmental protection, it doesn’t matter who participates in the process or even who brings a lawsuit. Labor unions have used CEQA to identify hazards that could affect workers, achieving greater public health protections for all. Businesses have used CEQA to expose the hidden consequences of certain policies and decisions—again resulting in better environmental knowledge and protection. Anyone can find an example of a lawsuit she doesn’t like for some reason. But CEQA itself focuses on disclosure and prevention of environmental impacts, and thus benefits all Californians, no matter who’s participating in the process.
CEQA’s Relevance Today
Q: Is CEQA outdated?
A: CEQA has served Californians well for more than 40 years. The law has been updated many times over the years, most recently to address concerns and streamline the review and approval for projects that are likely to have minimal environmental impacts, such as infill development. CEQA is a living document that ensures the public remains informed of planned land use changes and how those changes might affect them.
Q: Why do we still need CEQA?
A: While many environmental laws have been passed since the enactment of CEQA in 1970, these laws do not replace CEQA. One of CEQA’s main purposes is to disclose potential impacts to the public and allow for public feedback. It also forces developers, and the overseeing public agencies, to avoid environmental impacts to the extent feasible. More recently enacted laws typically have very specific purposes and were designed to work in a system that includes the rigorous public environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Q: Why do we need CEQA when there is already a National Environmental Policy Act?
A: CEQA applies to land use projects approved by state and local agencies in California, while NEPA only comes into play when federal funding is involved or federal agencies are required to review and approve a project.
Q: Wouldn’t the “standards” approach that has been suggested by some in the legislature address the same issues raised by CEQA with less red tape?
A: There is no way to provide the same safeguards CEQA provides without protecting the robust public process required by the law. In fact, when environmental review is thorough and complete, the CEQA process provides more certainty than the standards approach, which would require agencies to make a judgment about whether or not the spirit and the letter of dozens of local, state, and federal laws had been met. The ability of communities to know about and weigh in on planned land use changes would be eviscerated under the standards approach.
Q: Couldn’t communities rely on local measures, like General Plans, instead of CEQA to evaluate project impacts?
A: City and County general plans are sometimes touted as potential alternatives to CEQA. While these plans provide community-specific development guidelines, many of the plans have not been updated for 10 years or more and may not reflect current realities or community needs. Even current general plans do not contain the detailed analysis necessary to ensure that all feasible steps are taken to reduce the environmental cost of particular development projects. In fact, most if not all current general plans were prepared under the assumption that future development projects would get thorough CEQA review. A general plan is just that—“general”—and does not provide a substitute for CEQA’s effective environmental protections.
Q: How might CEQA be improved? Does CEQA Works support any changes to CEQA?
A: CEQA should not be gutted, as those who assert a need for “reform” would like to do. However, there may be opportunities for making the public process more consistent and more transparent throughout the state. Examples of amendments CEQA Works could support include requiring the electronic posting of all environmental review-related materials; enhancing public health protections; enacting safeguards to ensure impartial analysis in the environmental review process; extending and making uniform in all jurisdictions the length of the environmental review comment period to give the public ample opportunity to respond to a proposed project; and providing developers with more opportunities to address concerns earlier in the review process.
Frivolous CEQA lawsuits are rare.
CEQA cases are rarely filed. They represent just 0.02% of the 1.1 million civil cases filed annually in California. Of projects subject to CEQA, less than 1% are litigated. Moreover, Section 21169.11 of the Public Resources Code authorizes a court to impose a $10,000 penalty on frivolous lawsuits.
CEQA provides opportunities for good, clean jobs in California while protecting workers and providing tangible quality of life improvements and environmental protections in rural and urban areas. CEQA has resulted in:
- The electrification of the Port of Los Angeles, improving the working conditions for truckers and health of nearby communities.
- The Cornfield and Taylor Yards State Parks, in park-poor low income neighborhoods of L.A.
- A robust tourism industry for California, which is a particularly important economic sector in less-populated counties. According to the California Travel and Tourism Commission, travel generated $102.3 billion in direct spending and accounted for 893,000 jobs in 2011alone.
- Protection from offshore oil drilling for the $6.5 million tourism-based coastal economies.
- Protection for workers – and nearby residents – from undue exposure to toxic chemicals, such as at the ConocoPhillips refinery in the small Bay Area community of Rodeo.
- Prevention of 30M gallons of sewage overflow into San Francisco Bay (mitigation for the Mission Bay development) and more than 200M gallons of sewage overflow into Newport Bay (mitigation for San Joaquin Reservoir conversion) annually.
- A long list of good outcomes for the environment and the public (see www.ceqaworks.org/ceqa-successes).
CEQA includes provisions for speeding approval of infill projects.
According to a 2012 survey of planning directors by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, 87% of local governments ranked CEQA 12th on a list of 16 barriers to urban infill. SB 226 (Simitian, 2011) and SB 375 (Steinberg, 2008) included provisions to streamline environmental approval of infill development. The guidelines for SB 226 are still being finalized by the Office of Planning and Research.
CEQA provides important protections not found in subject-specific environmental laws.
CEQA ensures full public disclosure of the likely impacts of significant projects and provides a system through which communities can participate in a meaningful way in environmental review. CEQA ensures that the myriad of content-specific state and federal environmental laws and regulations are considered in a holistic context that includes cumulative impacts. It also allows community members to seek redress when public agencies and project proponents fail to adequately mitigate the environmental impacts of projects.
CEQA is appropriately applied to large-scale renewable energy projects.
Utility scale solar and wind projects typically require thousands of acres of land, which are bulldozed flat, obliterating wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and cultural sites. CEQA requires agencies to consider alternatives and mitigation measures that lessen these significant impacts.