Sacramento’s Attempted So Cal Overreach Could Extend Beyond Southern California

Jack Bean
Executive Director of the Industrial Association of Contra Costa County

Things have been going pretty well lately in the East Bay. Since last year the total number of jobs here increased by almost 27,000 and unemployment is below the statewide rate.  An important factor in area companies’ ability to survive California’s myriad state and local regulations is working with local government representatives and agencies such as planning commissions, water boards and air quality boards regarding operating conditions and fees.  Local agencies are the frontline to the communities and businesses they represent.  Without the element of local control the employment picture would likely be much different.

That critical balance may be jeopardized if Sacramento lawmakers have their way.  The Legislature is considering a bill that could open the door to transfer rulemaking authority from the locally elected officials who comprise the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) board to appointees accountable solely to the politicians who put them there. SB 1387 applies only to the BAAQMD’s southern California counterpart, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, but it doesn’t take much imagination to guess that if that power grab is successful it’s likely to be replicated in other regions, including ours.

SB 1387’s essence is simple.  The South Coast board recently adopted a rule that could arguably lead to record-breaking emissions reductions.  But some Sacramento politicians, feeling the regulation didn’t go far enough, proposed this new law. If adopted it would double the Legislature’s number of seats on that board, virtually guaranteeing that those unelected appointees, not locally elected county supervisors and mayors, would control decisions that could have a profound, potentially negative effect on the local economy.

This dangerous precedent should give Bay Area businesses, consumers and families pause. The BAAQMD board is currently comprised of 24 locally elected representatives from nine Bay Area counties. Rules and regulations are adopted by a majority of the board after a lengthy process involving stakeholder meetings and public workshops and hearings.

The board’s elected officials are intimately familiar with environmental, social and economic conditions in their communities, and they are required to consider local residents and employers’ first-hand knowledge of the feasibility of proposed regulations and the impacts they are likely to have on costs, the workforce and quality of life, precisely as the public process intends.

This interaction between the board and the regulated community is essential. It allows for development of cost-effective air quality rules that reflect the region’s unique needs and capabilities, and holds locally elected officials accountable for their decisions. And since local Air Districts are required to advance regulations that meet or exceed state and federal air quality standards, those rules must at the same time deliver progressively fewer emissions and cleaner air.  It’s an equitable balance that only local control can achieve.

The diverse membership of the Industrial Association of Contra Costa County represents a significant portion of the region’s economy, supplying substantial jobs and high salaries.  We take seriously our role in protecting and growing the East Bay’s economy in an environmentally responsible way, contributing with the rest of the community in dialoguing with our locally elected BAAQMD board members to develop a regulatory framework that works best for the East Bay – not Sacramento.

Concerns over SB 1387’s legislative overreach extend far beyond the Bay Area and the South Coast District. Worries about the long-ranging consequences of the bill on local and regional policy-making are growing throughout California.

Just because a few folks in Sacramento may occasionally disagree with how some communities choose to meet California’s stringent clean air standards, it’s no reason to arbitrarily impose the Legislature’s remote will on our local elected officials, employers and families.

It’s no wonder that over 100 statewide and local organizations oppose SB 1387. The bill is a slippery slope that could ultimately undermine local control in our own backyards, with potentially devastating consequences.  We urge our elected representatives in the state capitol to protect local control by voting NO on SB 1387.

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