SB 798, the bill to give CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exceptions to a proposed L.A. Clippers sports arena in Inglewood and transportation projects tied to L.A.’s 2028 Olympics, was put aside by the legislature. Too bad—but not for reasons you might think.

Had the bill passed, it would have been another in a long line of measures that granted a CEQA pass. That’s what occurred with the sports facilities in Sacramento and Los Angeles. That’s what Gov. Brown wanted for his high-speed rail project. These exceptions highlighted examples how CEQA laws can strangle projects and required special dispensations from the legislature to move forward in a timely, less costly manner.

CEQA needs to be reformed to help worthwhile developments that will boost economic activity. More high-profile CEQA exceptions illustrate the need for reform. SB 798 would have added another stone on the scale of needed reform.

CEQA can be reformed to keep its intended purpose of addressing environmental concerns while reducing the law’s effect as a tool to gum-up the works on a building project that has opposition for one reason or another that often has little to do with the environment.

The proposed Clippers arena is a perfect example of this. Business firms of rival arenas, Inglewood’s Forum and L.A.’s Staples Center, opposed SB 798 not because they have grave concerns about environmental matters. They do, however, worry about a rival arena taking away business. The CEQA law is a device these rivals can use to delay or even block a new Clippers arena.

While another example of the unfairness of the CEQA law may be lost, the need for reform does not go away. As I’ve noted before, the goal is to adjust a law that has been used sometimes maliciously via lawsuits, back to its original intent. Important CEQA reforms can maintain the physical environment while at the same time improve the state’s economic environment, which is also important to the well being of Californians.

Perhaps we can go back five years to the proposal put forth by a CEQA Working Group made up of business and labor. The working group proposed a four-pronged effort that would modernize CEQA as well as protect the environment. The group proposed:

  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

It’s time to play ball with CEQA reform—and not just inside a new sports venue.