Possible Changes in California Environmental Law

California Environmental Law

Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 15 to approve or veto a large package of legislation that includes three CEQA-related housing bills aimed at addressing some of the state’s housing and megaprojects problems. Brown has pledged to sign these, and legislators have long discussed overhauling CEQA, but the few measures that have managed to advance only seem to be those that have the backing of Sacramento’s most powerful interests and only provide relief for deep-pocketed developers.

CEQA stands for the California Environmental Quality Act and is the primary environmental law that governs development and requires the developers to disclose and reduce their projects’ effects on the environment. That is a time-consuming and costly process and often involves lawsuits that last years.

Since being enacted in 1970, CEQA has been credited for preserving California’s natural beauty and coastline. However, the rules were written so broadly that the law also has been a tool for unions, business competitors, preservationists, and others to oppose a wide-range of projects which would otherwise be environmentally friendly.

Housing has also become a target. For example, a 21,500-home Newhall Ranch project has been delayed by lawsuits for over two decades. On Monday, September 25, 2017, the environmental groups finally reached an agreement to end those lawsuits but only in exchange for receiving $25 million from the developer to be used for conservation and other concessions.

For years, developers of proposed skyscrapers, owners of professional sports teams, and others have pleaded with the state's lawmakers to grant relief for their projects from those environmental regulations. Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) has pressed for approval of his bill, which would act to speed up an expansion of their Menlo Park headquarters by Facebook, the $1 billion construction in Hollywood of twin skyscrapers by New York developer Millennium Partners that will build 500 homes, a 200-room hotel, and retail and office space.

Santiago’s bill would update the existing law and would allow a project costing over $100 million and meeting greenhouse gas reduction standards and union-level wages to be able to get a final court decision in a CEQA lawsuit within nine months.




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