Steinberg Introduces Bill to Modernize the California Environmental Quality Act

February 22, 2013

(Sacramento) - Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg today has proposed a measure to modernize the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with the introduction of SB 731, a bill outlining the detailed intent that strengthens the Act’s protection of the state’s environment and residents while modernizing the law to help the growth of California’s economy.

“This measure sets the framework to encourage smart, environmentally sound growth by streamlining the environmental review process without compromising the quality of life Californians deserve and expect in our communities,” said Steinberg. “We’ve worked hard with representatives of the business community, labor and environmental groups to preserve public input over proposed development while updating the environmental review process to speed-up good, clean projects that keeping our economy growing.”

“The Natural Resources Defense Council appreciates Senator Steinberg’s hard work and leadership in working with responsible parties to identify ways to make CEQA effective while maintaining California’s world class law that protects our air, land and water. This is just the start of a long conversation about ways to make the law work for all Californians,” said David Pettit, NRDC senior attorney. 

“Almost everyone agrees that CEQA is a great law that has been abused for primarily non-environmental purposes,” said Carl Guardino, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and co-chair of the statewide CEQA Working Group.  “Special thanks to Sen. Steinberg for introducing intent language today that provides the framework for meaningful CEQA modernization. He’s known for tackling the toughest issues facing our state and for bringing all sides to the table for successful resolutions. Our statewide coalition will continue to work with them to modernize CEQA.”

“We recognize Senate Pro Tem Steinberg’s willingness to show leadership on this critical issue and look forward to working together on this frame work legislation in a manner that is in the best interest of California's residents,” said Robbie Hunter, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. ”However, we want to be clear that we stand strong and unwavering in our opposition to any legislation that leads to the deregulation of the important environmental protections for California’s communities provided by CEQA.”

Key elements of SB 731 include:

  • Updating CEQA to encourage and expand infill developments to reduce urban sprawl. This will help jump start the state’s housing market while promoting development consistent with state climate and planning laws like SB 375.
  • Expedite the CEQA process, without compromising underlying public disclosure or environmental protection, for new investments in clean energy, bike lanes and transportation projects that help California meet its renewable energy, clean air, jobs, and transit goals.
  • Modernize CEQA and its implementing regulations to set clear minimum thresholds for impacts like parking, traffic, noise and aesthetics to allow local agencies to standardize mitigation of those impacts. This change would preserve local control to set more stringent thresholds where communities choose to do so.
  • Reduce duplication in Environmental Impact Report filings by expanding the use of “tiering.” This streamlines and limits further paperwork whereby local land use plans that have sufficient detail and recently completed EIRs can be used by people building projects within those plans.
  • Where Environmental Impact Reports have been successfully challenged, allow the courts to send back for repair only the portion of the EIR that is found to be incomplete or lacking required specificity. This would eliminate the need for the entire EIR to be recirculated for public comment which can create additional delays.
  • In those cases where project developers and agencies haven’t made any substantive change to a project and the public has already had time to comment on it, limit or prohibit so-called “late hits” and “document dumps” designed solely to delay projects late in the environmental review process.
  • Appropriate $30 million in new funding to local governments to update their general, area, and specific plans so that they can be better used to “tier” and streamline environmental review of projects built pursuant to those plans.

“When it comes to dealing with controversial matters, not everybody gets everything they want. I’m gratified that all sides on this issue are willing to work with us to move forward,” said Steinberg. “We need to take advantage of the opportunity to improve and strengthen this great law by making the process more efficient, timely and effective for the kinds of projects we all want to see.” 

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