By Sarah Downey
Last week’s legislative action to exempt the University of California at Berkeley from a long-standing state environmental law, is raising questions about how the statute could be further reformed to help not just schools but a host of infrastructure, housing, wildfire protection, and other projects.
What’s clear is the UC Berkeley case has generated robust discussion about CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), Chris Carr, a partner with Paul Hastings, LLP and co-author of the Pacific Research Institute study The CEQA Gauntlet, told the Northern California Record.
“I’m optimistic that the UC Berkeley enrollment imbroglio has raised awareness with the public at large in a way it hasn’t before, so pressure can be kept on the Legislature to do more than these quick one-off fixes,” Carr said.
Even with the passage of SB 118 on March 14, lawmakers like Sen. Scott Wiener, D–San Francisco, have introduced additional legislation aimed at CEQA reform.
Carr noted the PRI study, The CEQA Gauntlet: How the California Environmental Quality Act Caused the State’s Construction Crisis and How to Reform It, includes examples of CEQA lawsuits that have blocked Habitat for Humanity projects.
“And it goes beyond that, to broaden the conversation by identifying these real-life horror stories about housing, transportation, clean energy, wildfire protection programs and the like,” Carr said.
Among the reform proposals is a moratorium on passing narrow CEQA exemptions, a sunshine provision on who funds CEQA lawsuits, and taking a broad look at what needs to be done 52 years on, so that CEQA works for Californians again, Carr said.
CEQA was signed in 1970 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan with the intent of incorporating environmental impacts in development decisions.
But the law has produced frequent criticism because of extensive litigation to block all forms of development.
Carr noted that many programs and necessary infrastructure projects — otherwise supported and promoted by other California laws and policies – have been blocked by misuse of CEQA.
“So you have this ironic situation – a very unfortunate one – where a lot of California’s top-line policy priorities, take the climate area, are themselves frustrated by California’s fundamental environmental law,” Carr said.