New CEQA Bill – Cure or Band-Aid? Perkins Cole Analysis

Perkins Cole Analysis : Update  02.25.2013 – excerpt

In response to a business community campaign calling for broad CEQA reform, Senate President Pro, California State Senator Tempore Darrell Steinberg, released his highly anticipated CEQA “modernization” bill (SB 731).  So far, the bill is more remarkable for what it lacks, than for what it contains:

  • A Co-author.  2012’s chief CEQA reform champion, Senator Michael Rubio, abruptly resigned from the state senate on February 22, the same day the legislation expected to bear his name was introduced.
  • Details.  Senator Steinberg describes his CEQA bill as a “framework.”  Others have used the term “outline.”  The bill expresses intentions to address various topics but contains no specifics.  Reflecting the resulting ambiguity, the bill is receiving positive press from both the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
  • Standards-based Reform.  The bill states, “It is not the intent of the Legislature to replace full CEQA analysis with state or local standards.”  Why does the bill include a cryptic sentence saying what the bill doesn’t do?  Because state and local standards were the heart of the far more sweeping reform measure that Senator Rubio floated at the end of the 2012 legislative session.  The Rubio legislation posited that since CEQA’s passage a host of other environmental laws had been enacted to regulate most (if not all) of the subjects CEQA addresses.  The Rubio legislation suggested that if a CEQA document discusses compliance with these other laws, project challengers should not be able to file a CEQA suit to demand more analysis and mitigation.  With the possible exception of the land-use related topics detailed below, the Rubio approach appears to be dead.
  • Changes to Standing Rules.  Many of the business community’s examples of CEQA abuses can be traced to litigation by trade unions using CEQA to leverage project-labor agreements, other businesses using CEQA to stifle competition, and landowners using CEQA to protect property values.  The new Steinberg bill contains no indication that the legislation will tighten procedural rules about who can file suit.  Perhaps tellingly, early press stories quote the environmental community, the business community, and a trade union representative, as if each should be provided equal time in a debate over CEQA reform…. (more)
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