Business, labor groups propose environmental act changes
A coalition of business and labor groups is proposing changes to California's landmark environmental law, saying it is time to modernize a 40-year-old measure that is often used to block even so-called green development.
At a Sacramento press conference Monday, representatives of the coalition outlined a proposal that they said would maintain the California Environmental Quality act as "the state environmental law" but eliminate regulatory redundancy and limit legal challenges to "real" environmental lawsuits. Currently, organizations can challenge projects on non-environmental grounds, such as effects on the aesthetics of a neighborhood, the group said.
Those challenges, the group said, are costing the state revenue and jobs.
Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said the proposal was about "making sure a great law is no longer abused."
In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders, the coalition said the proposed changes would preserve the original intent of the law: environmental protection.
"We reject the notion promoted by some that any and all CEQA modernization attempts are automatically an attack on the environment," the group wrote. "This all-or-nothing posturing is what is preventing California from moving forward with environmental protection policies that foster -- instead of inhibit -- responsible job creation, economic growth and community renewal."
Elements of the coalition's plan resemble a proposal that alarmed environmentalists and some labor unions last week. Some of those groups found Monday's proposal equally unnerving.
"This bill will kill CEQA, not reform it," said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The latest proposal would eliminate CEQA review for projects that comply with local planning and zoning codes. Pettit said many communities have "low or outdated planning and development standards" and that residents who live in those areas would lose the ability to ask for measures to mitigate things like traffic and air pollution.
The proposal's legislative prospects are unclear, but Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said last week that he opposed a similar approach. Nevertheless, Pérez said "regulatory reform" -- including CEQA changes -- was a priority for him in the final two weeks of the legislative session.
On Monday, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he is "always open to discussion" but would want to see specific CEQA proposals before taking a position.
-- Michael J. Mishak and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento