Environmentalists and unions band together to fight CEQA changes


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Environmentalists and labor unions are banding together to fight efforts to overhaul California’s landmark environmental law.

Organizers said the new coalition, made up of dozens of advocacy groups and dubbed ‘CEQA Works,’ was formed to counter an aggressive campaign by business groups to make changes to the California Environmental Quality Act. While legislation has yet to be introduced, Gov. Jerry Brown has called on the Legislature to streamline the law to help speed the state’s economic recovery.


Environmentalists fear a repeat of last year, when lawmakers tried and failed to push through last-minute changes that activists said would have gutted CEQA.

‘CEQA is the most foundational environmental law in California,’ said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, one of the coalition’s founding members. ‘We decided we couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore and wait for bad things to happen.’ Signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the measure requires developers to go through a lengthy public process detailing their projects’ potential environmental effects and how those would be mitigated.

Business groups have long complained that activists, labor unions -- even corporate competitors -- abuse the law by filing frivolous lawsuits to delay and kill development. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce are leading an effort to streamline environmental reviews and limit legal challenges.

But environmentalists argue that claims of delays are exaggerated. Less than 1% of all projects in the state face CEQA lawsuits, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Nevertheless, Reznik said the new group will offer its own proposals to update CEQA, including increased electronic record-keeping. ‘I think there is a recognition that things can be improved in CEQA,’ he said. ‘We’re not just the group of no.’



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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento