Gov. Newsom right to call for needed reform of California Environmental Quality Act

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared he would push for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act.

While it remains to be seen how far Newsom is willing to go, the governor is on the right track.

“California cannot afford to be held hostage by NIMBYs who weaponize CEQA to block student and affordable housing,” the governor said in a statement on Twitter. “This selfish mindset is driving up housing prices, and making our state less affordable. The law needs to change, and I am committed to working with lawmakers this year to making more changes so our state can build the housing we desperately need.”

What prompted the governor’s statement was a state appeals court ruling on Friday blocking plans by UC Berkeley to build a housing complex for over 1,100 students.

Related: It’s time to reform CEQA

Local groups invoked CEQA, complaining the housing development would bring too much noise and the project’s environmental review failed to address the impact of population growth associated with the development, among other matters.

While rejecting the population growth argument, the court agreed that the University of California’s environmental review of the project “failed to assess potential noise impacts from loud student parties in residential neighborhoods near the campus.”

At the same time, the court also agreed that CEQA wasn’t  intended to be used as a “redlining weapon by neighbors who oppose projects based on prejudice rather than environmental concerns.”

Related: OC case puts CEQA abuse in the spotlight

To these narrow points, Assemblyman Josh Hoover, R-Folsom, introduced Assembly Bill 1700 to “specify that population growth, in and of itself, resulting from a housing project and noise impacts of a housing project are not an effect on the environment for purposes of CEQA.”

That sort of narrow approach would certainly be an improvement over the status quo. But CEQA is routinely abused across the state. Broader reform of the law is needed to reduce opportunities for people who simply don’t want developments near them to invoke CEQA and hold up developments.

Gov. Jerry Brown once called CEQA reform “the Lord’s work.”

Is Newsom up to the task?

We hope so.

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