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Key California environmental law not a barrier to development, new state report says

State Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) is chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which commissioned the study. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
State Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) is chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which commissioned the study. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state’s primary environmental law governing development doesn’t block development from actually happening, according to a state study released Thursday.

The study examined, over five years ending in 2016, how state transportation, parks and other projects were handled under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. The law requires developers to disclose and often lessen their project’s effect on the environment before proceeding with construction. The study found that 1% of projects required detailed analyses under the law and less than 1% of them were sued.

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FOR THE RECORD, 4:45 p.m.: A previous version of this post said the study evaluated state housing projects. No housing developments were examined as part of the study.
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“This extensive review of state agencies clearly finds that CEQA is doing what Gov. Reagan and the Legislature hoped it would do when they passed it in 1970 — providing transparency, accountability and reducing harmful impacts to our environment as we undertake important projects to enhance our state,” said Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which commissioned the study.

CEQA has long been a lightning rod in state politics, with some crediting the measure for preserving the state’s environment and others arguing it has slowed the building of housing, transit lines and other infrastructure.

Results from recent analyses of CEQA have been mixed. A 2016 environmentalist-sponsored report mirrored the results of Thursday’s state study, finding that few projects were sued compared to the rate of development. A 2016 examination from a law firm that promotes overhauling the law determined that litigation between 2013 and 2015 challenged 10,000 homes in Southern California neighborhoods planned for the most growth.

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