SMART Regulation: CEQA

Refine the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

The California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) intent is to require public disclosure of the environmental impacts of proposed projects to foster informed public comment and public agency decision-making about whether and under what circumstances to approve such projects.

In recent years, there is a growing trend of litigation that appears to use CEQA for “non-environmental” uses - e.g. thwarting competition or cash settlements or contractual commitments that do not result in any environmental benefit.

The practical effect has been to undermine the state’s bigger-picture land-use and environmental goals. These non-environmental uses and abuses of CEQA have caused significant delays on projects, contributing to the loss of much-needed jobs in California’s decimated construction industry.

Goal of SMART Regulation: CEQA

Encourage the Governor and Legislature to convene a moderated discussion among a representative group of stakeholders to develop, by the end of 2012, proposals to modernize CEQA and return it to its original intent of improving environmental outcomes.

Tracking Progress

Action Team

Goals for the Year

Progress update - September 1, 2015

Refine CEQA
Increase transparency and reduce uncertainty in the CEQA administrative and litigation processes
September 24, 2013 - The Summit has created a 2013 Regulations Action Team that has met several times in August and September and has approved a charter for the Team’s work over the next year. The Team will focus its efforts on two goals:
  • Ensuring state regulations are streamlined and modernized: This may include selecting a small number of specific regulations to focus on over the next year.
  • Support CEQA reform dialogue: SB 743, Sen. Steinberg’s final CEQA reform bill, passed out of the Legislature in September. The bill aims to streamline the CEQA process for the Sacramento Kings arena and infill areas across the state. It is awaiting the governor's signature. The Regulations Action Team is reviewing this legislation, while continuing to support the Summit’s educational efforts highlighting how CEQA could be updated to protect the environment and improve economic outcomes for projects.
  • April 1, 2013 - More than two dozen CEQA-related bills have been introduced in this legislative session, most of them pushing for relatively modest modifications to the law. Sen. Steinberg’s SB 731 goes further. His bill proposes changing CEQA to:
  • Provide more certainty for infill projects – by updating CEQA for infill developments to reduce urban sprawl.
  • Streamline the law for certain projects - by expediting the process for new investments in clean energy, bike lanes, and transportation projects in a way that does not compromise public disclosure or environmental protections.
  • Update CEQA’s traffic and aesthetic impacts – by setting clear minimum thresholds for impacts like parking, traffic, noise, and aesthetics to allow local agencies to standardize mitigation of those impacts.
  • Speed up the legal process – by reducing duplication in Environmental Impact Report (EIR) filings, by allowing courts to repair only portions of EIRs instead of requiring the entire report to be redone, and by prohibiting “document dumps” after the public comment period.
  • Update local plans – by providing $30 million in new funding to local governments to update general, area, and specific plans to better “tier” and streamline environmental review of compliant projects.
  • Several bills proposed by other lawmakers would revise other portions of CEQA:
  • Change the way records are kept – Sen. Noreen Evans has introduced two bills (SB 617 and SB 754) that would update the way the law requires records to be kept and mandate translation of the legal documents into other languages.
  • Seek other project exemptions: A half-dozen bills seek exemptions for specific types of projects, including bike projects (AB 417), light and high-speed rail (SB 525), and energy management projects (AB 628, AB 930, and AB 1079).
  • Create CEQA courts: Two bills have also been introduced that would create new provisions for specialized CEQA courts, including SB 123 (Corbett) and AB 515 (Dickinson).
  • Revisit the “standards” approach: A few lawmakers have also introduced CEQA-related bills, including Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), who has revived former Sen. Rubio’s standards approach in SB 787.
  • December 28, 2012 - Senate Pres. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) hosted stakeholder meetings in Sacramento during the fall. Legislators and key stakeholders have participated in several CEQA tours held in Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. See video report of San Francisco tour. Planning for additional tours is underway. It is anticipated that legislation will be introduced in 2013. Watch for continued coverage of this issue on September 20, 2012 - Senator Michael Rubio, recently appointed as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality - and a champion of CEQA reform - has restarted discussions of SB 317, a bill that would push for meaningful CEQA reform. The Governor has called CEQA reform ""the Lord’s work,"" and three former governors joined him in his call to end CEQA abuse in an open letter. September 14, 2012 - Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced that he is convening meetings with all the parties involved in the issue in the months before the Legislature reconvenes in December. Steinberg appointed Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality for the upcoming legislative session. The CEQA working group has conducted its first CEQA tour in Los Angeles, where it brought together public and private stakeholders to view the sites of projects stalled by CEQA lawsuits. The CEQA working group has also adopted four major reform principles that will inform its ultimately proposals: 1. Integrate Environmental and Planning Laws - Where a federal, state or local environmental or land use law has been enacted to achieve environmental protection objectives (e.g., air and water quality, greenhouse gas emission reductions, endangered species or wetlands protections, etc.), CEQA review should identify the applicable environmental standards and describe how a project will meet those standards 2. Eliminate CEQA Duplication - This proposal is intended to return the law to its original intent and not require duplicative CEQA review for projects that already comply with existing local General Plan and Zoning laws. 3. Lawsuit Public Disclosure and Accountability - Amend CEQA to require that any party who contributes in excess of $100 toward a plaintiff’s or petitioner’s costs of a CEQA lawsuit must be disclosed. 4. Expediting CEQA Litigation - CEQA records are now typically maintained in electronic format, and can only be retrieved and assembled by the lead agency. This proposal would amend CEQA law to require the lead agency that maintains the majority of the administrative record in electronic format to assemble these electronic documents. It would require Petitioners to fund any additional cost of converting the lead agency's electronic files into the format required for the administrative record. If the Petitioner fails to pay its share of the cost of completing the record in a timely manner, then the lawsuit should be dismissed.
    Eliminate non-environmental uses of the statute (e.g. thwarting competition, NIMBY challenges to change, leveraging non-environmental monetary benefits, and "greenmail")
    Refocus CEQA administrative and litigation processes to improve environmental outcomes
    Avoid duplicative CEQA review processes
    Focus CEQA modernization on the ""3E"" outcomes that will improve the quality of California's environment, economic competitiveness, and community equity
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