Steinberg Drops Statewide CEQA Reform Bill (SB 731) After Meeting With Governor Brown

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Proposed legislative CEQA reform for 2013 has gone out, not with a bang, but with a… dribble? After meeting with Governor Brown, on September 11, 2013, Senator Darrell Steinberg abruptly withdrew his much-ballyhooed CEQA “reform” bill, SB 731, from consideration, canceling a hearing set before the Committee on Local Government, and threw his support behind a much different CEQA bill, SB 743, which paves the way for a new downtown Sacramento Kings arena.

While SB 731 never really proposed the comprehensive CEQA reform hoped for by the business and development community (see my May 17, 2013 post, “The Direction of CEQA “Reform” Under Proposed SB 731:  One Step Up and Three Steps Back?”), it appeared from recent amendments to the draft bill in early August and September that this statewide CEQA measure was at last headed toward a vote in some form; new language in the most recent version suggested Steinberg was trying, among other things, to tie the bill more closely to GHG reduction laws, to facilitate infill projects, to promote greater use of “tiering” from CEQA-reviewed specific plans in order to avoid duplicative CEQA review, and to remove some of the earlier versions’ objectionable provisions (e.g., mandated provision of draft findings and annual MMRP reports by local agencies).

However, the efforts to pass a statewide CEQA reform bill of any stripe this year apparently ended after Steinberg’s meeting with Governor Brown, in which Brown reportedly pushed Steinberg to back just one CEQA bill this legislative session. Steinberg chose SB 743, a “new” bill that resulted from his recent gutting of another bill to replace its content with a CEQA streamlining/exemption law that would apply expedited CEQA review procedures to ease the way for a specific project:  a new Sacramento Kings arena/event center in downtown Sacramento.

If SB 743 passes, the new arena will undoubtedly be a great thing for Senator Steinberg’s home base. For the rest of the State, and those desiring thoughtful, intelligent, and generally-applicable CEQA reform, it looks like: “Wait ‘til next year!”