Perfect Storm for CEQA Reform In 2013? Former Govs Weigh In

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Hot on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown’s 2013 State of the State address, which raised the need for CEQA reform (as noted in my immediately-preceding blog post), a trio of former California governors has echoed and amplified Brown’s observations. In an op-ed special to The Sacramento Bee published February 3, 2013, former Governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis – all members of the non-partisan, non-profit Southern California Leadership Council – decried CEQA’s abuses and called for its meaningful reform and modernization, stating: “As three former California governors who often have differing views, on this point we wholeheartedly agree, and join with Gov. Brown in his call to modernize CEQA.”

While the op-ed piece reaffirmed support for keeping CEQA’s “original intent” intact, it called for reform to end its “reckless abuses … that are threatening California’s economic vitality, costing jobs and wasting valuable taxpayer dollars.” It noted “CEQA has … become the favorite tool of those who seek to stop economic growth and progress for reasons that have little to do with the environment[,]” and cited as too-frequent offenders “those seeking to gain a competitive edge, to leverage concessions from a project [and those] neighbors who simply don’t want any new growth in their community – no matter how worthy or environmentally beneficial a project may be.”

The opinion article referenced some pretty sobering project delay data – including Caltrans reports that the average major transportation project in California now takes 17 years to complete – and pegged CEQA as “often a major cause of such delays.” It asserted that accelerating the completion of projects in the Southern California Association of Governments’ recently-adopted Regional Transportation Plan by 5 years would result in an overall positive economic benefit of $156 billion to the GDP of that region alone over the five year period.

The former governors characterized past efforts at CEQA reform as mostly resulting in exemptions that “tend to work around the underlying problems without fixing them” and called instead for “modernization” effecting “smart adjustments to CEQA” such as “requiring petitioners to disclose their economic interests; adding certainty to the CEQA timeline; avoiding duplicative CEQA reviews; and lessening opportunities for unjustified litigation and delay[,]” as well as better integrating CEQA “with the hundreds of new environmental protection mandates adopted since [its] passage, instead of requiring redundant and inconsistent reviews, as present law requires.”

In my view, their points are well-taken and shared by many involved in the debate, and the voices of former Govs. Deukmejian, Wilson and Davis are eloquent additions to the growing bipartisan chorus calling for immediate CEQA reform.