August 26, 2015
The policy goal of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to inform government officials and the public of environmental impacts associated with development projects in the community. The heart of CEQA is the environmental impact report (EIR), which details the project’s negative impact on the environment, and how the project will take steps to lessen that impact. Typically, the CEQA process involves preparation of technical studies on subjects like biology or traffic, then numerous internal reviews and revisions of drafts of reports and the EIR, followed by numerous opportunities for public comment all the way from the local planning group up to a city council or board of supervisors. It’s not uncommon for this entire exhaustive process to consume two or three years of time and a fairly substantial amount of money.
With respect to the administrative process outlined, the state should encourage greater use of categorical exemptions for renewable energy, infill or redevelopment, or major infrastructure projects. Where those exemptions aren’t appropriate, greater use of negative declarations or mitigated negative declarations (MNDs) could be useful to save time and money over full EIRs. Currently, many projects know that they technically don’t need an EIR but will spend additional time and money preparing one because the threat of frivolous litigation is so high.
As for EIRs, CEQA doesn’t require a perfect draft (or even a perfect final document for that matter), and city staffs should recognize that fact and reduce the time spent on internal review – give the EIR to the public sooner for their comments. Moreover, while project revisions and public comment are valuable, they should not interfere with elected officials having enough time for project review – to this end, a hard deadline date for final submission of written comments should be required, ending document dumps.
The Chamber is supportive of both statewide and local changes in the CEQA process. We encourage the legislature to consider broader changes to judicial review and categorical exemptions, and we would encourage local agencies to review their policies to seek ways to expedite the CEQA process so that project applicants have a greater say on the process.
The Chamber has identified CEQA reform as a top policy issue and has partnered with the R.E.A.L. Coalition, a statewide coalition of chambers and economic development groups to lobby the state on this important issue. The Chamber looks forward to serious consideration of CEQA reform proposals.
The Governor has included in his Transportation special session proposal a CEQA exemption for highway and transit projects. He is also holding hearings this year on ways to improve CEQA and its process. Please click here for more information.
How to get involved
- AB 641 CEQA Legal Review Limitation for Housing Projects Fact Sheet
- AB 1500 California Environmental Quality Act: Exemption for Homeless Complex Project
- CEQA reform: Don’t allow gaming of the system (San Diego Union-Tribune)
- CEQA reformers up against powerful forces (San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Dan Walters: State’s landmark green law badly needs fix (San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Yes, CEQA Reform Is Possible (Voice of San Diego)
- No, Disclosure Isn’t CEQA’s Main Purpose (Voice of San Diego)
- All Roads – Including the One to a Stadium – Lead to CEQA (Voice of San Diego)
- Chargers Counsel: Stadium Won’t Get on Ballot This Year (NBC San Diego)
- City continues stadium push (San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Stadium Watch: Can the city negotiate around CEQA? (KUSI)
- Charges say Dec. 15 citywide stadium vote doesn’t comply with state law (ESPN)