CEQA Reform Update

By Douglas Aikins : jdsupra.com

Three flavors of reform

Between the two types of CEQA burdens, abuse of litigation is the least difficult to justify, and the easiest to fix. The two main CEQA reform bills in the Legislature, however, address mainly the burden of excessive environmental analysis, by exempting certain topic areas from repetitive study.

SB 731 (Steinberg, D- Sacramento) is fairly modest. It would allow EIR’s and Negative Declarations to omit study of certain environmental topic areas (noise, traffic, aesthetics, etc.) if a project did not exceed specified statewide impact standards. On the positive side, SB 731 would allow shorter, cheaper CEQA compliance documents in many instances. On the negative side, it requires qualifying projects to comply with new regulations favoring renewable energy projects, infill development, transit, bicycle and similar “green” projects.

SB 787 (Berryhill, D- Modesto) reprises a more aggressive reform proposal, supported by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group*, among others. This approach would reduce both regulatory burdens and litigation burdens. It would omit the need for analysis of environmental impacts when they can be shown to comply with existing state and federal limits on pollution, emissions, wetland fill, etc., and it would prohibit CEQA litigation contesting Lead Agencies’ determinations that compliance with existing regulatory standards will adequately mitigate projects’ adverse environmental impacts.

A third pending CEQA reform bill merely tries to make CEQA litigation more efficient, by allowing Lead Agencies to prepare the administrative record simultaneously with a project’s CEQA compliance documents. SB 617 (Evans, D- Santa Rosa) would save time by making these processes coincide, but the additional early expense of preparing an administrative record would be justified only where a litigation challenge is certain. SB 617 also would require additional environmental analysis, by reversing a line of cases which exempted from CEQA study “impacts of the environment on the project,” that is, the effects of locating a project in a sensitive location, as opposed to “impacts of the project on the environment,” CEQA’s primary focus. See Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles (2nd Dist. 2011) 201 Cal App 4th 455… (more)

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