Judicial Council opposes fast-tracking environmental challenges
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
The policy arm of the California court system has come out against legislation that would fast-track legal challenges to development projects under the state's landmark environmental law.
The Judicial Council is opposing bills that seek to expand the provisions of a measure the Legislature passed last year to relax legal hurdles for developers under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the Daily Journal.
The 2011 bill, AB 900 by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and others, allows the governor to require that courts take no more than 175 days to decide environmental challenges to projects that cost more than $100 million and win certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Under the legislation, litigation begins in the state Court of Appeal, whose ruling could be challenged only in California's Supreme Court. Currently, lawsuits and appeals can drag on for years.
Two Republican lawmakers, Assemblyman Stephen Knight (R-Palmdale) and state Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), want to expand that process to all projects, regardless of their size. While the GOP bills face an uphill battle in the Democrat-dominated Legislature, a Judicial Council official told the Daily Journal that any expansion of AB 900 would frustrate a court system besieged by budget cuts.
"The courts are simply not prepared to take on this caseload," said James Herman, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge and vice-chairman of the council's policy committee, "and it will push other cases right out of the way -- juvenile, criminal and civil cases that are required to be heard on an expedited basis."
Meanwhile, last year's CEQA bill faces legal challenges of its own. The Planning and Conservation League has sued the state on constitutional grounds, saying the Legislature cannot meddle with court jurisdiction.
For the record, 2:27 p.m., May 3: An earlier version of this post misidentified Judge James Herman as chairman of the Judicial Council’s Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee. He is vice-chairman.
--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), left, talks with Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) and Assemblyman Steve Knight (R-Lancaster) about his California Environmental Quality Act reform measure last year at the Capitol. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press