SOUNDING OFF:CEQA reform needed now, not later

When California Atty. General Jerry Brown was the Mayor of Oakland, he was well known for his pro-business approach to local government. He championed development efforts that would help Oakland prosper economically. As mayor, he sought to exempt his city’s redevelopment plans from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). He was even a bit cavalier about the law, so venerated by environmentalists, justifying his action by stating, “I haven’t seen any spotted owls or snail darters in downtown Oakland."

This happened not too long ago when then-Mayor Brown was running up against a 1998 campaign promise to revitalize downtown Oakland with 10,000 new residents. He found out firsthand how onerous it can be to have to comply with the strict requirements of CEQA. In order to get around this problem, he turned to Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) and got her to author special legislation to suspend portions of CEQA, solely in regard to projects in downtown Oakland.

Fast forward to 2007. The much-talked-about “Greenhouse Gas" bill (GHG), in the form of AB-32, has been signed into law. AB-32 requires the Air Resources Board to adopt regulations to limit the production of GHG in California and thereby slow down the effects of global warming. No such regulations exist today because the Air Resources Board is not required to publish such regulations until 2010.

Suddenly, Jerry “Moonbeam" Brown, acting in his capacity as Attorney General of California, decides that he is not in favor of suspending CEQA, although he did when he was mayor of Oakland. Instead, he now wants to sue various cities and counties in California for not including in their general plans how they intend to reduce the production of GHG. What does he base such frivolous lawsuits on? You guessed it, CEQA, the same law he tried to negate when he was mayor.


Specifically, Brown has filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County, charging that its updated general plan fails to comply with what he calls an “implied mandate" to include the provisions of AB-32 in the county’s general plan. He has also sent out dozens of letters to other cities and counties across the state threatening to sue them if they do not consider global warming impacts in their transportation and development plans. This is in spite of the fact that the regulations to implement AB-32 have not even been adopted by the Air Resources Board.

How can a local government comply with AB-32 when it doesn’t even know what the rules and regulations are? So, now we have a situation where one government entity sues another government entity, all at the taxpayer’s expense, over rules and regulations that don’t exist.

In Brown’s previous world, CEQA was a pesky nuisance to be circumvented when it interfered with a building project that he wanted for Oakland. Now, when he’s in the position of enforcing CEQA, the story is entirely different. He wants local officials to meet the letter, spirit "” and don’t forget the implied intent "” of the law. As a result, countless projects "” from housing, to schools, to highways "” all face an uncertain future.

The $42 billion in infrastructure bonds approved by the voters last fall to repair and replace California’s aging infrastructure is bound to be tied up in the courts for years. So much for the “Let’s build it now!" slogan that was used to encourage California voters to approve the bonds. Instead we will be wasting money on endless litigation, mitigation and intimidation. All of this brought to you, courtesy of our attorney general.


However, there is some hope this scenario can be avoided. As part of the ongoing budget negotiations, Senate Republicans have insisted that there must be a reasonable CEQA fix to stop these types of frivolous lawsuits. Hopefully a favorable result will be achieved.

The blatant hypocrisy of Brown is galling. Brown needs to understand that you can’t have it both ways. Is he the pro-business crusader he was as mayor of Oakland, trying to use every trick in the book to get his city turned around from its reputation as the “Murder Capitol of the USA," or is he the “New Age" environmental guardian? I certainly don’t know, but I, like you, would like to find out.

Will the real Jerry Brown please stand up?