Governor Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) into law in 1970. The law has been streamlined and improved since then. According to a Jan. 27 article in Marinij, that is not enough for some business and development interests. They insist that jobs and California's economic recovery are at stake.
Interest in CEQA was triggered by something that Gov. Jerry Brown said during his State of the State address on Jan. 24. He sad that California must "rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act." Brown added, "Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays,"
Many Californians agree with the Governor that, while CEQA is a deliberately flexible law, it needs to be more flexible. Others are concerned about making any permanent changes to an increasingly crowded and complex state without achieving the best balance between environment and economic goals.
CEQA has a contentious history that has pitted local residents against developers. Developers focus on profit and only provide temporary construction jobs. Residents must deal with the long-term impacts of the development. Giving them too free a hand has led to damage that will never be repaired. On the other hand, people who oppose any new development have been accused of abusing CEQA.
The challengers want a standards based approach where compliance with environmental laws, standards and regulations should be enough to determine that a project complies with the CEQA. It sounds reasonable as a streamlining effort.
CEQA supporters claim the standards based approach could involve many separate administrative proceedings with a variety of agencies. This would result in greater uncertainty because compliance might come from outdated general plans that do not address the latest environmental challenges. The standards based approach could also bypass legal controls and public input that is essential to balanced development.
The problem with the current law is that the processes and procedures can be time consuming and can lead to costly litigation. While such litigation serves a vital function by forcing planners and developers to balance economic concerns with environmental protection, the process is messy, costly and time consuming.
However, CEQA addresses an entire project and its cumulative impacts. This is not an easy or simple process, given the rising complexity of environmental and business interests in the state.
In summary, there are no easy solutions to legal complexity and "streamlining" has its limitations. CEQA is unlikely to be changed to allow uncontrolled development. The current complexity is not likely to be tolerated when the state is coming out of an economic slump.