A whirlwind week for CEQA
The last few days of California’s legislative session often bring last-minute maneuvers on important policy issues, and this year was no exception. At the tail end of August, several interest groups released a proposal that would have significantly changed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
A little background: CEQA has been a great tool for protecting our environment, communities, and quality of life. However, CEQA is not perfect. As it exists now, it can and has been used to stymie projects that are in fact good for the environment — such as San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan.
We at Greenbelt Alliance think that we absolutely need to keep CEQA, but that action should be taken to fix these flaws.
Unfortunately, this proposal went way too far. Among other things, it would have prohibited using CEQA to challenge a project that is consistent with an adopted land-use plan (such as a city or county’s General Plan) that had already undergone CEQA review.
What could this look like in practice? Well in a city with pretty good zoning – say like Mountain View’s recently adopted General Plan that underwent an environmental review process – this proposal would definitely speed up infill development. Mountain View would likely see those urban villages spring up faster.
But, some places have plans that are woefully out of date. The City of Dixon in Solano County has a General Plan from 1993 which includes plenty of room for sprawl development — the type of growth that needs more environmental review, not less.
Equally upsetting is the process by which this proposal emerged. It was shaped behind closed doors and released at the last minute, so Greenbelt Alliance and others in the environmental community did not have a chance to review the proposal or weigh in on potential solutions. This rushed, end-of-session approach is not the right way to make needed changes.
We were relieved to see that Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) refused to move this ill-conceived proposal forward. Instead, he will convene a group of stakeholders to discuss adjustments to CEQA in the fall.
As a solutions-oriented organization, Greenbelt Alliance supports a well-organized dialogue that involves the environmental community, business, labor, social equity and other essential stakeholders as the best path to a “CEQA for the 21st century.” Together, we can make sure CEQA continues to protect what’s important, meaningfully involves the public in decisions, and also encourages projects that are truly sustainable.