Environmentalists, unions fear last-minute CEQA changes
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Environmentalists and labor unions are raising concerns that state lawmakers will use the final weeks of this year’s legislative session to make sweeping changes to California’s landmark environmental law.
On Monday, a coalition of 10 groups sent lawmakers a letter warning them about a proposal being “circulated in the Capitol Building” to alter the California Environmental Quality Act, including a key provision that would exempt projects that comply with local planning and zoning codes.
“That would effectively be the end of CEQA as we know it,” said Dave Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that signed the letter.
Though the origin of the proposal is unclear, some lawmakers say changes to CEQA are in the works.
Revising the law has long been a top priority for the GOP and business groups -– and they see leverage with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) in the waning days of this year’s session.
On Monday, Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) became the only Republican to vote for Pérez’s top priority, a bill that would close what Democratic leaders call a corporate tax loophole to raise $1 billion for scholarships for middle-class college students in California. His vote helped the measure squeak out of the lower house.
His support, he said, was based on a “good-faith agreement” with Pérez that lawmakers will also pass a “package of reforms for businesses in California,” including changes to CEQA.
“I put forth my vote on good faith that we’re now going to have negotiations,” Nestande said. “I think the speaker has a commitment to do that.”
Pérez spokesman John Vigna declined to comment on specific proposals, but said lawmakers would probably continue the work they began last year, when they passed a series of bills that made changes to CEQA, including a measure that allowed a football stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles to avoid drawn-out CEQA litigation.
“We have worked on updating our state’s regulatory system to ensure regulations reflect the world we live in,” he said, citing last year’s CEQA bills, “and that work is ongoing.”
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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento