Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said what needed to be said about the California Environmental Quality Act. “California cannot afford to be held hostage by NIMBYs who weaponize CEQA to block student and affordable housing,” he said on Feb. 25, vowing to work with the Legislature to see CEQA reform happen. But, according to recent reporting by the Sacramento Bee, such proposals have yet to emerge.
“There were some good ideas, but we just decided this wasn’t the year to do it and there was more work to be done,” Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, told the Bee. “In terms of more fundamental reform, the politics are very, very difficult.”
It really shouldn’t be difficult, though.
Legislators from both parties have long known that the California Environmental Quality Act has been misused by special interest groups to stifle development in this state.
It is far too easy for lawsuits to be filed over real or imagined violations of environmental review processes, which can lead to long delays and escalating costs for developers.
Businesses have misused the law to target the developments of competitors. Unions have misused the law to apply pressure on developers to hire union labor. Particularly agitated neighbors have invoked the environmental law to stop projects they simply don’t want for non-environmental reasons, including homeless shelters, apartments and affordable housing projects.
That’s not how the law is supposed to work. But that is how it works and it’s wrong. That’s why, many years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown called CEQA reform “the Lord’s work.” It’s why this editorial board has long and repeatedly called for CEQA reform for many years.
But so far, Newsom has spent more time campaigning for president in red states than campaigning for CEQA reform. Newsom should be front and center in pushing for reforms to make it much harder for the law to be wrongly invoked.
The ideas Sen. Wiener was reportedly planning to put before the Legislature this session are good ones.
“Wiener considered allowing public agencies to limit environmental review for certain infill housing — new housing in existing neighborhoods or subdivisions,” the Bee reported. “He also wanted to empower state regulators to limit the scope of the law, according to draft amendments outlined in the documents.”
This is the sort of serious work that needs to be done to clear a longstanding barrier to needed development in our state. California’s lawmakers need to show courage and leadership and do what needs to be done.