The following op-ed was authored by former California Governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis of the Southern California Leadership Coalition and was published in the San Diego Union Tribune on July 12.
KEEP CALIFORNIA GREEN AND GOLDEN WITH CEQA REFORM
Californians are unique – independent, optimistic, innovative, entrepreneurial and self-confident. These characteristics, evident during the Gold Rush, are just as common today in communities up and down California, from the Silicon Valley, to Los Angeles, to San Diego. This entrepreneurial spirit has fueled hundreds of thousands of small businesses throughout our state and created millions of jobs. It’s what makes California the Golden State and why we are the eighth largest economy in the world.
Likewise, California is often referred to as more of a “state of mind” than a state. A place where great weather, geography and natural beauty combine to provide a relaxed and fulfilling lifestyle. Because of this, Californians also share a strong environmental consciousness – one that has helped to make our state the greenest in the country and a world leader in environmental policy. This too is part of who we are.
From these two parts of our collective personality comes a unique challenge – keeping California both “green” and “golden.” Doing this requires reason and understanding that both goals are coequal priorities for Californians. This certainly means protecting our environment. However, it also means a willingness to relentlessly advance smart reforms of environmental laws, business regulations, or policies that unnecessarily disrupt the reasonable balance between being “green” and “golden.”
As three former California governors with firsthand experience managing this dynamic, we believe that one of our state’s oldest environmental laws, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is in need of modernization. Adopted in 1970, CEQA provides a process for government to evaluate and mitigate adverse environmental impacts from projects and programs. While CEQA’s original intent must remain intact, now is the time to end reckless abuses of this important law; abuses that are threatening California’s economic vitality, costing jobs, and are wasting valuable taxpayer dollars.
Ending these abuses means modernizing CEQA with smart reforms such as requiring petitioners to disclose their economic interests, adding certainty to the CEQA timeline, avoiding duplicative CEQA reviews, lessening opportunities for litigation and delay and updating CEQA so that it better integrates and coordinates numerous environmental protection mandates.
Today, CEQA lawsuits are frequently filed only to extract concessions not related to the environment, or for the purpose of opposing a project for reasons having nothing to do with environmental protection. For example, in Los Angeles, a company that owns several student housing buildings near USC filed a CEQA lawsuit against another developer in an attempt to stop them from building a competing project in the area.
Frivolous CEQA lawsuits also cost taxpayers real dollars. Recently, the San Diego Association of Governments was the first region in the nation to complete a new long-term regional growth and transportation plan that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. After two years of extensive collaboration which generated 4,000 public comments, the plan was adopted. Preserving over half of the region’s land as open space, the plan will create more than 35,000 jobs and generate an additional $4.4 billion in economic activity. Unfortunately, before the ink was even dry, local anti-growth groups filed a CEQA lawsuit putting this “smart growth” blueprint at risk, and unquestionably delaying, if not costing, jobs.