Experts Expound

Experts Expound

“Clearly, Gov. Brown is adamant about rewriting the California Environmental Quality Act. But why? What’s he got against CEQA? Other than developers, who is he scoring points with?”

It’s the economy, stupid!

He is scoring points with those people that feel environmental regulation has become unreasonable in some areas.  His experience as Mayor of a large California city probably played a key role in his views on this.  CEQA as currently written produces results that are often more costly for no real environmental improvements.
Even environmentalists will tell you that CEQA needs to be modernized. Many worthy projects, from urban infill to desert solar, have been scrapped by those who take advantage of CEQAs vague language. If enviros were smart they would see this as an opportunity instead of an attack.

Like pensions, I suspect the Governor will tinker around the edges so he can check the box on regulatory reform. It won’t be enough to seriously address the issue or ruffle any environmental feathers.

The biggest “get” out of CEQA reform (if it is still possible) is a strong counter-argument to claims that the Democrats will abuse the 2/3 majority with an orgy of liberal policy making.  Democrats need a reform that challenges one of their core constituencies in order to have cover for other progressive uses of the 2/3 majority.  If they had passed CEQA reform against the wishes of prominent environmental groups they could have cover for liberal tax/education/civil rights and other moves.

He’s “evolved” on the issue now, a born-again centrist just like Prop 13.  Chapter IV of the John Kerry playbook.

Brown, who has never been a real environmentalist, is a realist running for re-election.  End of story.

CEQA is an important law that has been misused by some for reasons having little to do with the environment. The law should be revised so as to maintain strict environmental standards and review, but also to reduce the avenues for mischief under CEQA.

He is drawing on his experience as a big city mayor where he lived through blusterous lawsuits aimed at driving up the costs of projects, both in legal fees and delays. Those actions truly pissed him off.

Other than developers, he scores points with the building trades and renewable energy companies because their projects can get held up.

In the 1990s, as mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown wanted to raze downtown Oakland and remake it as a modern downtown area. He was met with strong resistance from neighborhood groups and historical preservationists. He tried to get a law passed to exempt downtown Oakland from CEQA but it was pared back in the Legislature. Since that time, the Governor has seen CEQA as an impediment to urban revitalization efforts and economic growth.   So, I’ve assumed that was why he was so willing to take it on now.  Also, he thought he would get the Republican’s help with the budget – something he obviously didn’t do.

Like most governors, Jerry wants to build big things and wants to be seen as creating jobs.  Reforming CEQA helps with that notion. And given that he’s generally good on the environment, he makes it hard for CEQA supporters to portray him as a bad guy.

If the governor pushes forward with tunnels under the Delta and the bullet train through the Central Valley to LA, then modifying CEQA is a big deal to him. Every piece of every project faces legal challenges, and softening CEQA’s reviews makes it that much easier.

He changes CEQA, he beats his dad’s legacy. Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Ed’s Note: Those from whom we sought opinions include Andrew Acosta, Elizabeth Ashford, Hector Barajas, A.G. Block, Mark Bogetich, Barry Brokaw, Richard Costigan, Dale Debber, Peter DeMarco, Mike Donovan, Jim Evans, Kathy Fairbanks, Jeff Fuller, Rex Frazier, Tom Gede, Ken Gibson, Evan Goldberg, Deborah Gonzalez, Sandy Harrison, Bob Hertzberg, Gale Kaufman, Jason Kinney, Dave Lesher, Elizabeth Leslie, Chris Lehane, Greg Lucas, Donna Lucas, Mike Madrid, Aaron McLear, Nicole Mahrt, Steve Maviglio,  Adam Mendelsohn, Jacob Mejia, Beth Miller, Paul Mitchell , Barbara O’Connor, Kassy Perry, Jack Pitney, Adam Probolsky, Tony Quinn, Matt Rexroad, Matt Ross, Roger Salazar, Dan Schnur, Will Shuck, Ray Sotero, Garry South, Kevin Spillane, Robin Swanson, Ben Tulchin, Angie Wei, Scott Wetch. 

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