CEQA Roundup: Debate resets with Jerry Hill appointment

by Justin Ewers : caeconomy.org – excerpt

The debate over updating California’s premier environmental law officially moved past last week’s frenzy surrounding Sen. Michael Rubio’s sudden resignation from the Legislature, when lawmakers confirmed the appointment yesterday of Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) to replace Rubio as chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
Much was made last fall of Sen. Darrell Steinberg handing the reform-minded Rubio the reins of the committee tasked with sending CEQA-related legislation to the Senate floor. And then much was made again of Steinberg’s decision a few months later to pack the same committee with green Democrats who were expected to prevent Rubio from proposing anything that would weaken the law.
Now, speculation about where Democratic leaders intend to take CEQA will focus on Sen. Hill, a respected former assemblyman known for his moderate views on environmental issues. Steinberg has said he wants to force all sides to “confront” the need for changes to the state’s premier environmental law—something he believes the Silicon Valley Democrat can do.
“[Hill] is well-positioned to appreciate the complexities of this challenge, and well-versed in the false dichotomy that pitches business against the environment,” Steinberg said this week. “California has led, and will continue to lead the nation in smart, environmentally sustainable economic growth.”…

A reminder of what lawmakers aren’t talking about
Arthur F. Coon, a lawyer for the real estate firm Miller Starr Regalia, takes a closer look this week at several other important reform ideas that haven’t yet made their way into Steinberg’s legislation:
In its current form, SB 731 does not address: (1) codification of “CEQA-in-reverse” case law; (2) uniform standards for mitigation; (3) combatting lawsuits that are economically rather than environmentally motivated; and (4) reforming provisions concerning the timing, content, and manner of preparation of the record so as to expedite CEQA litigation.
Some of these issues are addressed in other bills—most notably Sen. Noreen Evans’s SB 617, which includes proposals that would update the law’s record-keeping requirements and resolve legal questions about CEQA’s scope resulting from the Ballona Wetlands case. (More on that here.)
But Coon is right about one glaring omission in this year’s evolving legislative lineup. In more than two dozen bills, lawmakers haven’t addressed one of the biggest complaints environmentalists and business leaders alike have with CEQA—that the law is being abused by everyone from labor unions to gas station owners for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
Before he introduced his bill, Steinberg explained his reasoning for avoiding that issue, pointing out that determining a petitioners’ motive is a slippery slope.
As the legislative debate begins again, look for reformers to find a way to climb back up it… (more)

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