The Mysteries of CEQA

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Last week Governor Brown told assembled business leaders,

I’m sure when (Governor) Ronald Reagan in 1969 signed the Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), he didn’t know about all the mysteries of CEQA that people were going to have to  deal with for the next 45 years.

I thought the Governor might have been exaggerating, but it didn’t take long to stumble upon that chamber of mysteries:

  • Just last week came word of a CEQA lawsuit against the just-approved Sacramento sports arena. Opponents claim, among other things, that “the Project EIR fails entirely to account for how these crowds will be controlled, particularly when riot conditions may arise … bonfires, teargas if necessary to disperse crowds, destruction of surrounding property and consequent blight …”

  • Activists in San Francisco are cranky about increased commuter bus traffic in California’s most urbanized city. Turns out it’s not even about the buses. Apparently “gentrification” is now an environmental impact that must be addressed, according to a new CEQA lawsuit.
  • Moving down the Peninsula, a litigious San Jose gas station owner filed a CEQA lawsuit to prevent a competing station across the street from adding three gas dispensers on his site. Moe’s Gas Stop had to prepare a full environmental impact report to demonstrate that his project would have no unmitigated environmental impacts.
  • Not far from Moe’s, local labor unions are upset that some construction jobs may be filled by non-union workers from out-of-town. The solution? A CEQA lawsuit complaining about the “developer generating more profits at the expense of local workers and the environment.”
  • You don’t have to build a building or buy (or fuel) a bus to experience the mysteries of CEQA. Last year the city of Bakersfield was hit with a CEQA lawsuit by citizens demanding an environmental review before adopting its new medical marijuana ordinance.
  • Some companies want no part of the “mysteries of CEQA,” and just wave to California while passing it by. Not wanting a CEQA lawsuit in its future, Google Fiber took a pass on California “in part because of the regulatory complexity here brought on by CEQA and other rules. Other states have equivalent processes in place to protect the environment without causing such harm to business processes, and therefore create incentives for new services to be deployed there instead.”

The vanguard of environmental preservation in California is here: riots, urban improvement, competitive advantage, labor wars, and medicinal practices. Governor Reagan, Senator Peter Behr and Assemblyman Jack Knox would be horrified.

Governor Brown deserves credit for continuing to hammer this issue. Perhaps a fourth term as Governor will allow him to drain the swamp of litigation where CEQA abuse thrives.

The Governor has a glimpse of how this new world might look. In his otherwise trying campaign to build high-speed rail in California, he must take some small comfort that the “mysteries of CEQA” do not extend to that project, which is exempt from the California act according to a federal transportation agency.

Private firms that create new housing and jobs, and public agencies creating or updating public works should enjoy similar relief.

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