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Opinion Piece in the Fresno Bee
Demand CEQA reform, not phony tweaks
By Sen. Tom Berryhill Fresno Bee, Saturday, March 23, 2013
Gov. Jerry Brown, in his Jan. 24 State of the State address, declared: "We ... need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act. Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays."
For more than 40 years, CEQA has protected our environment, spurred informed planning, and assured public input and involvement in growth decisions. These aspects of CEQA -- the ones that have helped preserve California's natural resources and make it a better, healthier place to raise our families -- must be preserved.
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Dozens of CEQA reform bills have been introduced this session. One of them is my Senate Bill 787, an approach that simply acknowledges that newer -- sometimes stricter -- environmental and planning laws exist. SB 787 would integrate those laws with CEQA review. This would eliminate the ability to challenge already adopted environmental standards or endlessly re-challenge approved plans through frivolous lawsuits. No more gaming CEQA for non-environmental purposes.
In no way does SB 787 interfere with legitimate lawsuits filed for failure to comply with CEQA's procedural and substantive requirements. It does not change requirements for public notice, disclosure or mitigation. Contrary to scare tactics employed by some, honest reform doesn't threaten CEQA. It merely brings honesty back to the process, protects the environment and gets Californians back to work.
If history is prelude to future, Californians have every right to be concerned that legislative leadership, beholden to some of the groups that profit from the misuse of CEQA, will tweak rather than substantively reform the act. Remember pension reform? The low-hanging fruit everyone agreed on was packaged as "real" reform, while the measures that would have made a real difference to the state's bottom line were left behind to rot on the tree.
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Recently, however, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "opposition from organized labor, including the 2.1 million-member California Labor Federation, has prompted Steinberg to hit the pause button," and Steinberg now concedes standards-based reform "won't fly with the Legislature." Is labor more concerned with their privileged contracts than with protecting health and safety?
We know policy-making efforts are negotiations in which both sides give a little to get a little. Generally, that middle ground is where the public wants the Legislature to be.
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Senator Berryhill represents the counties of Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Amador, Calaveras, Mono, Tulare and parts of Sacramento. For additional information about Senator Berryhill please visit his website at www.senate.ca.gov/berryhill or sign up for his monthly newsletter here.