Gov has right idea to speed infrastructure


It was bound to happen. At some point, California’s leaders had to notice that even their priority projects — notably plans to shift California to a carbon-free future — have run up against the state’s intractable regulatory obstacles. Massive public spending and far-reaching edicts on private firms can only get the state so far in meeting its climate-change goals.

At a solar farm in the Central Valley last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order designed to speed up the construction of major projects — and restore the public’s trust in our state’s ability to get things done. “The question is, are we going to screw it up by being consumed by paralysis and process?” he asked.

Pointing to the state’s plan (thanks to federal aid) to spend $180 billion over the next decade on infrastructure priorities, Newsom vowed to cut construction timelines by three years by expediting court reviews, streamlining permitting processes, embracing new procurement procedures and putting time limits on reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Republican leaders complained the plan — embodied in 11 budget-related bills that need to pass the Legislature by June 15 — doesn’t actually reform CEQA. They’re correct. It’s time for lawmakers to permanently fix that “landmark” environmental law that empowers virtually anyone to file lawsuits that slow or stop every type of construction project. But’s it’s a solid start.

Not surprisingly, the governor’s focus is on fast-tracking environmental-related projects, but his approach would also help jump-start traditional infrastructure projects that this editorial board supports: water storage projects, the tunnel project to improve water conveyance through the Delta, transit projects and freeway improvements.

Labor, business and mainstream environmentalists cheered the idea, although some green activists complained. “We need to meet the state’s climate goals with smart, carefully considered projects, not knee-jerk construction that bypasses the necessary protections that keep us safe,” said an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Newsom was spot on when he noted that lawmakers often embrace similar reforms when it comes to building arenas. “I love sports. But I also love roads. I love transit. I love bridges. And I love clean-energy projects,” he said. “And we’ve proven we can get it done for stadiums. So why the hell can’t we translate that to all these other projects?”

Well, it’s because the state’s legislative leaders have refused to do anything about it. Unfortunately, Newsom often makes big, bold promises — many of them encouraging — but then doesn’t follow through. Democratic lawmakers have taken a measured response to this announcement, so the governor needs to use his political capital if he wants this to happen.

The impetus for the executive order came from a new report from former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who serves as the governor’s infrastructure adviser. It noted obvious points — that infrastructure investment is a prerequisite for a prosperous society and “to achieve the utmost value for our infrastructure spending, significant and substantial regulatory and governance reform is necessary.”

We remain leery about the state’s spending priorities. Too often, our leaders promise to reduce congestion and upgrade our energy and water systems, but instead focus on fanciful environmental projects. Nevertheless, it’s high time for California to confront its regulatory barriers so we can build infrastructure quickly and cost effectively. Let’s start building.

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