CEQA - What is that?
CEQA stands for the California Environmental Quality Act. This agency started off as a benign instrument for protecting the natural environment. It has morphed into a political weapon. One of the latest examples of this is the Governor and state legislators acting quickly to protect the University of California from having to limit enrollment at its flagship Berkeley campus. The legislation they passed was supposed to solve the decision of the state Supreme Court that stated that increasing enrollment at UC Berkeley was a “project” that fell under the purview of the California Environmental Quality Act. Here is the full story.
Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods (a local group) sued to block an enrollment increase at UC Berkeley arguing that it would affect the city’s environmental ambience and therefore was subject to CEQA’s stringent mitigation procedures. The State Supreme Court upheld that position. UC Berkeley quickly sought intervention in the Legislature.
Governor Newsom supported legislation to invalidate the court decision and therefore, Senate Bill 118 was quickly drafted, passed and sent to the Governor for his signature. Weaponizing CEQA is a major reason why California cannot close the huge shortage of housing. Local opponents of housing projects and labor unions use the law to compel developers to use unionized labor.
CEQA does need to be reformed. However, the legislators and governors have granted narrow exceptions to the law’s snail like processes for projects with political pull, noticeably large sports arenas and made a few changes for certain types of housing. SB118 continues that practice.
SB 118 went through the legislature in a shameful manner. It was initially drafted as a “budget trailer bill” even though it had nothing to do with the state budget, by inserting a token $50,000 appropriation to the University of California. Budget trailer bills are meant to implement provisions of the budget. They have become something quite different. Trailer bills are exempt from some normal legislative procedures. They take effect immediately when signed but do not require the 2/3 vote usually required for such immediate actions. Therefore, they become vehicles for making big policy changes quickly, with virtually few opportunities for public input.
In addition, a state law requires bills to be in print, available for public inspection for 72 hours prior to passage. SB 118 was introduced late Friday while the Legislature was in recess. The 72 hour waiting period was mainly Saturday and Sunday. The Legislature reconvened on Monday afternoon and quickly passed the bill after only brief pro forma public hearings.
Please don’t think that SB188 is the only bill that got this treatment from our Legislators and the Governor. There are various means of manipulating legislation. Usually, these manipulations are done on controversial legislation. This is not the way the people’s house is supposed to work.