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California’s Environmental Law is Strangling

California’s Environmental Law is Strangling

The Environmental Law That Is Strangling California

Students walk on the University of California Berkeley campus, August 15, 2017.


Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Pat Brown

California’s governor from 1959 through 1967 helped to make the University of California the best public university system in the world. He stated that he had given education the highest priority because he believed the greatness and success of California would depend on educated people. Governor.

Ronald Reagan

Signed the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA, the first comprehensive environmental-review statute ever enacted by a state.

The law was created to ensure that environmental impact was considered in the government’s approval process for construction projects. Although it has achieved that goal, plaintiff attorneys and clients have made it a practice of extracting concessions from developers and stopping projects altogether for reasons that have little or no connection to the environment.

CEQA threatens the Golden States’ status as the country’s most dynamic economy. It also jeopardizes the educational opportunities and economic prospects for the next generation of Californians.

In August 2021, a California court imposed a ban on future enrollment at UC Berkeley. This was in response to a CEQA suit brought by Save Berkeleys Neighborhoods. The university cannot expand enrollment until it has prepared a lengthy environmental impact report that addresses, among other issues, the strain that additional student would put on local emergency service personnel and the noise and waste they create. The university’s request to lift the enrollment limit was denied by the Court of Appeal in February. The order of the lower courts to freeze enrollment was not stopped by the California Supreme Court, which declined to do so on March 3.

UC Berkeley is required to inform more than 3,000 students who are qualified that they will not be attending the university this fall. The school will lose $57 Million in tuition. These ironies are both bitter and many. UC Berkeley’s recent efforts to increase student enrollment serve the progressive goal to provide world-class educational opportunities for historically underserved Californians.

The collision between CEQA and the UC system was predictable. The mudslinging among activists following the Court of Appeals decision, a raft of emergency filings to the California Supreme Court and the introduction of Sacramento legislation to fix the problem was also predictable. The one positive outcome of the battle in Berkeley was that almost everybody in California now agrees CEQA is broken and needs to be reform.

For years, the law has been used as a tool to stop new housing construction, wildfire prevention, green transportation, and other infrastructure needed to support the world’s fifth-largest economic sector. CEQA caused California to stagnate. It has put the Golden State in war with itself.

A proposal from state Sen.

Scott Wiener

To fix the problem, the three public college systems in the states can build housing without having to conduct lengthy environmental reviews. This doesn’t address the problems with CEQA. It just continues the long-standing practice of the Legislature granting exemptions to specific types of activities or projects, such as shelters for homeless people, and streamlining for mega-projects such as new stadiums.

These exemptions relieve enough pressure on politicians to prevent comprehensive legislation. They also relieve pressure on the courts who have presided over the expansion CEQA into a complex and convoluted body law. Society has not benefited by the exemptions that grant justice to those who can lobby the state Legislature. They continue to prioritize local interests over worthy statewide policy goals.

Californians must not allow the serious crisis at UC Berkeley to go unresolved. Sacramento must stop passing more exemptions and streamlining bills. California should require CEQA lawsuits to be filed in California Courts of Appeal rather than in each of California’s trial courts. This would encourage CEQA litigants to take their cases seriously and encourage the appellate courts in California to examine them more closely. It would also limit the most costly litigation tool: delay. The Legislature should also amend CEQA so as to discourage rather than encourage litigation.

It is time for California’s Legislature to update CEQA so it protects the environment, allows for housing, education, and infrastructure.

Mr. Carr is chairman, San Francisco, of the environment and energie practice group at Paul Hastings LLP. He also co-authored The CEQA Gauntlet. This study was published by Pacific Research Institute.

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