Will California’s business environment finally get a shot in the arm by updating the 42-year-old California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)? The business community is hopeful and indications are that powerful legislative leaders want to see this through.

But there are potential roadblocks to the reforms that are desperately needed. The environmental community is digging in it’s heels over some of the changes. And, if the reforms are linked to other political deals, there’s a chance the effort could stall.

Yet, anticipation that cooperation between the business community and legislative leaders might lead to business-related reform is breathing new life into the usual stodgy air of stalemate in Sacramento.

The CEQA Working Group encompassing some union supporters and many business organizations, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the California Business Roundtable and the California Chamber of Commerce, held a news conference yesterday enumerating important changes to improve CEQA.

The group is aiming to adapt CEQA to the more than 120 environmental protection laws that have passed since CEQA was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan.

The tangle of CEQA regulations opens the door for many lawsuits to challenge projects that even meet environmental standards in existing law. Ironically, using CEQA rules as a battering ram against projects stalls environmentally friendly projects such as clean power.

The working group proposes a four-pronged effort that would modernize CEQA as well as protect the environment, CEQA’s reason for existing. The group proposes to:

  1. Integrate environmental and planning laws
  2. Eliminate duplicative CEQA project reviews
  3. Reduce CEQA-related lawsuits that re-challenge projects while keeping the ability to sue in supporting CEQA’s environmental objectives
  4. Enhance public disclosure and accountability

Should CEQA reform come to pass, perhaps the image of a business unfriendly California will begin to crack.