What Would Ideal CEQA Reform Look Like?

Feb 10th, 2013 | Posted by

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about various proposals to reform the California Environmental Quality Act. But the most interesting proposals are those that have been around the longest.

This blog first delved into CEQA back in 2009 when covering an article that argued CEQA could be the biggest obstacle to California high speed rail. At the time, I touted a 2006 study by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association – SPUR – titled Fixing the California Environmental Quality Act. SPUR’s approach was to follow the successful model of Oregon, where for over 40 years sprawl has been effectively if not totally limited in favor of light rail and infill development. SPUR’s goal was to promote greater urban density through smart, holistic planning processes. CEQA is primarily designed as a tool to block bad projects but does nothing to encourage good projects, which is what we need.

As CEQA reform has emerged as a major issue in the state legislature in 2013, observers are beginning to take another look at SPUR’s proposals. Like many sustainability and transit advocates, Metcalf cites the appalling use of CEQA to block San Francisco’s bicycle plan as a good example of the need for change:

“We were not allowed to add a bike rack in San Francisco for three years while we studied the negative environmental impacts of a bike lane,” says Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a group that promotes long-term planning and sustainable infill development. “The goal was to take away space for cars and convert it to transit and bikes. That’s an environmental positive, but not according to CEQA.”

If CEQA reform accomplishes only one thing this year, I hope it’s to ensure that nobody can ever do that again. But for Metcalf, it’s infill development, not bike lanes, that are the primary reason why CEQA needs some kind of change:

“In general, CEQA makes it take many years to get approval to do infill development,” says Metcalf. “That means somebody who’s trying to do a project is paying money month after month for a piece of land while they go through environmental review. It’s not just a couple of weeks. It’s years. Delays of this magnitude are driving up the costs so much infill has become infeasible except in the highest-priced locations.”

To drive more infill across urban areas, Metcalf hopes lawmakers will consider dramatically changing the way CEQA works inside city limits.

“If it were up to me, I’d say inside municipal boundaries, we use planning instead of CEQA to make land-use decisions,” he says, especially now that California cities are working to make their plans consistent with SB 375’s sustainable community strategies—regional blueprints that integrate transportation, housing, and land-use to achieve state environmental goals.

As for environmentalists’ concerns that streamlining the development process this way gives local leaders so much flexibility they could harm the environment?

“I think the environmental movement needs to do a 180 on this and decide that the core strategy we’re going to use to protect the environment in California is to make way more infill development happen, so the next 20 years look radically different than the last 20 years,” says Metcalf.

One argument I have heard is that SB 375, which goes some of the way toward providing the reforms Metcalf suggests, ought to be given more time to play out in practice before further CEQA reforms are proposed. That makes sense.

But I like where Metcalf is going here. He is suggesting that land use planning and environmental reviews should be structured so that projects that are sustainable and environmentally friendly, from rail to infill development are promoted and favored while also containing rules and guidelines to stop projects that promote sprawl, pollution, or carbon emissions.

That requires a shift in approach. Currently, CEQA is structured to require mitigation for environmental impacts. But as Metcalf argues, “The idea that you have to mitigate something that’s good for the environment is crazy.” In fact, many projects that are not good for the environment do get approved under CEQA because they find some way to mitigate – but not entirely eliminate – their impact. A lot of sprawl and freeway construction has been approved under the CEQA process through mitigation, which should raise some questions about whether this is the best way to deal with bad projects.

However, we should be clear that this kind of reform is so far not in the discussion right now among the business groups driving the CEQA reform process. I’ve heard offline some grumbling and frustration from sustainability and transit advocates who would like to play a greater role in shaping a CEQA reform proposal, but who aren’t invited to the table. And the published reports that we have seen about CEQA reform indicate that the changes being proposed are within and potentially weakening the existing framework, rather than moving toward a planning-based model.

All signs indicate that in 2013, at least, CEQA reform will shape up as a battle between large businesses who want reforms, some of which may be good and some of which may be bad, and environmental advocates who want to reject those proposals either because they like the status quo or because they see the emerging reform proposals as being too damaging and loophole-friendly.

If the specific proposals that do emerge wind up weakening CEQA protections for legitimate environmental concerns, from fracking to sprawl to carbon emissions, then my suggestion would be to oppose them. It may be necessary to kill a bad proposal in order to help a good one like that described by Metcalf and SPUR becomes a real possibility. We will see what happens as the year and the reform process unfolds.

  1. leroy
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 08:27

    Will HSR be operated by a union workforce? If so, could they strike?

    Peter Reply:

    We really have no idea at this point what the operator’s workforce will look like, but get ready for asinine comments to that question (crap about Pelosi, TWU-Amalgamated, etc).

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed Peter, lots of idiotic Tea Bagger comments…

    Jonathan Reply:

    In context, Peter means Synonykook comments…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course, and of course.

    TehaVegaSkyRail is to California what the America’s Cup is to San Francisco:


    I predict Tutor-Saliba will bid extremely low on the orphan segment with the certainty that the patronage machine is so committed to the Moondoggle they are prepared to empty pockets, do anything, to get it built.

    But apparently BNSF would be ready to purchase it, slightly outbidding the scrappers.

    Peter Reply:

    Thank you!

    Travis D Reply:

    Ha ha ha, you sure called it.

    Peter Reply:

    I have a feeling that synonymouse got the joke the best. :)

    synonymouse Reply:

    The payroll issue has been mostly ignored – it plays directly into the technology level(degree of automation, i.e. driverless)and degree of legacy operation and interface.

    At one end you have all-new and segregated, epitomized by maglev and the like; and at the other blended and Amtrakked. The trend is strongly toward dumbing down, a natural corollary of the execrable route selection and commitment to commute ops uber alles.

    Eventually the centrally planned welfare state with a state-run, highly state subsided passenger rail network with have to deal with the compensation-taxation question. Ergo, Cuba is not know for high pay nor Sweden for low taxes. Take your pick or mix and match.

    synonymouse Reply:

    known for high pay

    synonymouse Reply:

    Dumbing down equals high labor costs. Add a monopoly and you are asking to be played and gouged. BART’s stranglehold on transbay traffic and its unions’ power to threaten a transport gridlock guarantees over the top compensation packages. And of course the politicians are on the take and immediately intervene on the side of the unions.

    Peter Reply:

    Or maybe he didn’t. It was funnier before your three foaming-at-the-mouth comments just now.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What pray tell is so mouth-foaming as inquiring pointedly why would anyone, other than a government agency, want to design a system to maximize the number of high-compensation union employees? You know featherbedding is going to balloon the subsidy required.

    Of course this is why the CHSRA does not want any private people on board – they just could not hot help from blowing the whistle on the obvious workfare.

    Reedman Reply:

    FYI, in anticipation of new transit workers being hired, assemblyman Luis Alejo (D) has proposed legislation to exempt California civil service transit workers from the recently enacted California pension reforms, which cap the salary on which the annuities of new workers are calculated at 120% of the Social Security wage base, and requires new hires to pay half of the cost of their benefits.

  2. Richard Mlynarik
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 10:47

    What does “reform” look like?

    Ideal CEQA “reform” (of those “unreasonable” regulations that cause “spurious” “anti-environmental” “red tape” that need to be “revisited” in a “spirit of “compromise”) looks exactly like strip malls from Yreka to Coachella.

    But hey, maybe a couple a particularly dim dimwits think they’re going to get the promise of a choo choo out of it. Those sorts of people occasionally come in hand for window-dressing, but we don’t let them sit at the grown-ups table.

    joe Reply:

    California is overbuilt with strip malls – so much for CEQA holding them in check. One wonders why you even bother trying to push the meme that CEQA stops strip malls.

    Prop 13 capped corporate real-estate taxes. Cities approve retail like strip malls to generate sales tax. Even taxes on overinflated real-estate like Menlo Park isn’t enough which is why they want to build large retail in their “downtown”.

    You want to stop strip malls, reform Prop 13 and reform CEQA.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    There are strip malls in California.
    So, by GilroyLogic(tm), if we gut CEQA uh … meme … corporate … Menlo Park … Prop 13.
    Therefore, gut CEQA!

    The logic is irrefutable.

    joe Reply:

    CEQA didn’t regulate strip mall construction. That’s plainly obvious. They built malls everywhere.

    Local governments and cities encourage strip malls for the revenue. They’ll continue to approve them – time and time again.

    The root cause is Prop 13 capping corporate and residential real-estate taxes.

    Here’s an example with about an order of magnitude difference Gilroy vs Menlo Park:

    The city of Menlo Park’s sales tax distribution was down 15% in 2011 from 2010; the latest three month average was $325,835 compared to $384,051. That doesn’t seem surprising given the sluggish economy.

    Gilroy sales tax revenues began recovering quicker than those in many other cities in the region as a result of our strong retail base, and this positive trend continues,” City Administrator Tom Haglund said. “Additionally, we have experienced fewer dramatic up and down swings, than those of some other cities in Santa Clara County.”

    Sales tax revenues for the quarter topped $3 million, and increased by almost $67,000 from 2011.

    joe Reply:

    Oh My. I should have just referenced Wikipedia.


    Critics of the current sales tax regime charge that it gives local governments an incentive to promote commercial development (through zoning and other regulations) over residential development, including the use of eminent domain condemnation proceedings to transfer real estate to higher sales tax generating businesses.[13]

    So CEQA reform isn’t going to create more Strip Malls. CA’s perverted tax structure favors strip malls over residential development. You want to stop strip malls – reform the tax code. Reform Prop 13.

  3. Joseph E
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 12:02

    “PUR’s approach was to follow the successful model of Oregon, where for over 40 years sprawl has been effectively if not totally limited in favor of light rail and infill development.”

    Oregon’s approach has not been nearly strict enough to effectively limit sprawl. Oregon has set up Urban Growth Boundaries around the Portland metro area and around smaller cities, but the law requires there to be a “20 year supply” of developable land available. In practice, then means plenty of land of industrial and residential sprawl on the outskirts. http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/urban_growth_boundary/

    Even in Portland, which has the most success with infill development recently (in the Pearl District, and other central residential neighborhoods), there has been tons of sprawl in the outer parts of the counties, and across the river in Washington state where there is no urban growth boundary and few limits on development. And in Portland, as in most West-Coast cities, there is a very limited supply of land zoned of more intensive infill development. Basically there are a few hundred blocks available along some major bus and train routes, and in the former industrial district across from downtown, but not nearly enough area for infill development to meet the potential demand for new housing, industrial and commercial space.

    On the other hand, Portland has done much better than most other inland cities in the country. Considering that there is plenty of flat farmland SW and S of the city, within a 30 minute drive of downtown, you would expect much more exurban sprawl in those areas than has actually happened. Instead the sprawl was directed toward Washington state, where the 2 Columbia river bridges limit traffic into Portland and have been slowing sprawl (along with high gas prices) for the past decade.

    If CEQA reform is to be done right, zoning needs to be reformed to stop agricultural land from being developed beyond the edge of cities (an urban growth boundary for every urban area might actually help with this, if made tight enough), and zoning need to be removed or relaxed in urban areas to allow denser infill development along corridors that can be served by transit or at least where local services are in walking / biking distance.

    Otherwise, CEQA reform will just make it easier for Caltrans to build nonesense like the 405 widening (100 million per lane-mile!), a 710 tunnel, new walmart supercenters at the next freeway offramp, etc…
    It might be best to give exceptions to local and intercity transit projects from CEQA, and instead provide a better, less lawsuit-oriented forum for local interests to be heard. But can this be done politically?

  4. Nathanael
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 12:52

    Ideal CEQA reform would be to declare that certain things are NOT “negative impacts”.

    Slower car travel? NOT a negative impact.
    More pedestrians in your neighborhood? NOT a negative impact.
    Obstructed view? NOT a negative impact.

    In short, negative impacts *to the ecology* should qualify as negative impacts. Nothing else should. Environmental review is inappropriate for issues which have nothing to do with ecology.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, and ideal zoning reform would declare that density restrictions are not allowed and property value preservation is not a rational basis for law. That’s why ideal reform will not pass.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Completely agree.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Wait, are those things actually proscribed by the “California Environmental Quality Act”?!

    Ok, I suppose it’s not unusual that the name of a law is completely unrelated to its contents, but that’s ridiculous…

    Jonathan Reply:

    well… drastically slower car travel, leading to more pollution — including more particulate emissions from the %&!^ non-regulated diesel trucks stopping and starting — clearly _IS_ an ecological impact. A health issue, even.

    I’d argue the fix for that is strong regulations on all vehicle emissions.

    Mattie F. Reply:

    Although if we all drove hybrids, drastically slower car travel would be more fuel efficient.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Less car travel leads to less emissions, though.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Drastically slower car travel does lead to lower emissions.

    It’s only “can’t drive 55” “Top Gear” Clarksonite wankers with zero arithmetical or observational ability who claim otherwise.

    Pushing air out of the way is expensive, and the expense goes as velocity squared and always has and always will, no matter what mindless sociopaths might claim.

    Derek Reply:

    That’s true. Fuel economy peaks at around 25-60 mph, depending on the vehicle, so emissions would be lowest at these speeds.

    What leads to greater emissions, besides excessive speeds, is stop-and-go traffic. Because maximum capacity of a freeway occurs at 60 mph, reducing the speed limit will keep traffic flowing smoothly and further reduce emissions.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Anyone with a high-school reading level would understand that “drastically slower” .. “stopping and starting” meant stop-and-go traffic.

    That’s beyond Richard M, it would seem.

    blankslate Reply:

    These types of changes were already made in 2009. See pages 50-51 of this document.

    The threshold:
    “Cause an increase in traffic which is substantial in relation to the existing traffic load and capacity of the street system (i.e., result in a substantial increase in either the number of vehicle trips, the volume to capacity ratio on roads, or congestion at intersections)?”

    …was changed to:
    “Conflict with an applicable plan, ordinance or policy establishing measures of effectiveness for the performance of the circulation system, taking into account all modes of transportation including mass transit and non-motorized travel and relevant components of the circulation system, including but not limited to intersections, streets, highways and freeways, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and mass transit?”

    “Exceed, either individually or cumulatively, a level of service standard established by the county congestion management agency for designated roads or highways?”

    …was changed to:
    “Conflict with an applicable congestion management program, including, but not limited to level of service standards and travel demand measures, or other standards established by the county congestion management agency for designated roads or highways?”

    “Result in inadequate parking capacity?”

    …was deleted.


    “Conflict with adopted policies, plans, or programs supporting alternative transportation (e.g., bus
    turnouts, bicycle racks)?”

    …was changed to:
    “Conflict with adopted policies, plans, or programs regarding public transit, bicycle, or pedestrian facilities, or otherwise decrease the performance or safety of such facilities?”

    CEQA already provides communities very substantial leeway in defining thresholds for environmental impacts. The problem is that very few agencies have taken the initiative to update their thresholds since the 2009 reforms.

    In my opinion, all the talk of CEQA reform is overblown. It is how CEQA is applied that is the problem, not CEQA itself.

  5. jimsf
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 18:33

    Well according to these folks on the interweb, there is no need for trains at all and Americans need to get over their railroad romance. I guess we should all never mind.

    did you know that planes are faster than trains and that no one lives near downtown train stations! They all live next to the airport.

    I wonder if anyone has told the 1.6 million residents of manhattan.

    joe Reply:

    Let’s see

    Cato Institute
    1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20001-5403

    Cato Institute is a 7 to 11 minute walk to one of four DC Metro Stations.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think Reason (the magazine, not the foundation) has a similar location. Stephen Smith had a lot of fun with how almost everyone there takes Metro to work.

    thatbruce Reply:


    O’Toole does mention in the article that his current home is in Camp Sherman, Oregon, and makes the suggestion that having a high speed line from there to the Cato offices in DC would have at least one customer (himself). However, he is performing his usual conflation of line end points with travel patterns, and makes his suggestion even more preposterous implying that ‘his’ line will only connect the two endpoints, skipping any points in-between just like most airplane flights.

    Take the Los Angeles to Miami line, which duplicates the route of I-10. By using O’Toole’s usual conflation logic, the only travelers on I-10 would be those traveling the full length from Miami to Los Angeles or vice versa. “No-one does that! What a colossal waste of resources it was to build it.”

    Everyone knows that this isn’t how the road network works, but applying that logic to other modes of transport is beyond most critics.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And O’Toole is a steam railroad enthusiast–which means he has to know about rail history, including sleepers. So why the comment about “20 hours in a coach seat?”

    I tell you, the so-called “conservative” bunch looks dumber and dumber by the day–and I’m plenty conservative myself!

    Thank you, Mr. Twu; the “conservative” bunch has needed such a good nose-twist and nerve-pluck for a long time!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I wonder what Mr. O’Toole’s song would become if we applied the same economic metrics to the road and air systems we do to rail? What would he say about that?

    Oh, I forgot, he said it wouldn’t matter, the road would always be there. . .

    Still, requiring full and visible payment by the motorist would certainly change things.

  6. jimsf
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 21:01

    I would get rid of ceqa and replace it with a uniform planning code ( just like we have a uniform building code in ca) and include a requirement that cities create a solid browth boundary and maintain greenbelts between cities where possible ( too late in some cases)
    then incentive individual solar on residences and business in a big way.
    require cars in cali to meet higher cafe standards.
    Invest in advanced highway tech to better accomodate electric and hybird vehicles.
    Invest in advanced highway tech for traffic management.
    Require employers to offer flextime to reduce ruch hour demand.
    Require more affordable rental stock and housing options below market rate in dense areas ( so people wouldn’t have to move so far away to afford housing)

    The problem with creating limits on development is that you can’t take away peoples property rights and value without some kind of compensation. But you could offer some kind of irresistable incentives.

  7. Jo
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 21:41

    Okay except for the advanced highway technology. I favor electric and hybrid vehicles, and safer highways, but how are you going to pay for the highways, advanced technology, and maintenance? After capital cost, HSR brings in funds for maintenance and even enhancements. Highways – after capital cost, do not bring in any funds in themselves. Electric vehicles do not bring in gas taxes. You would have to start charging highway tolls or charge by milage (something I favor) – but good luck. Even if we do figure out a way to pay for it, is this advanced highway technology going to allow cars to go 200+MPH, not to mention match the comfort high speed trains provide?

    jimsf Reply:

    highway tech isnt really that expensive and with the advances in car tech, its a pretty simple leap to smart highways and smart cars. Even easier than that are simple steps such as more of the digital signage that caltrans has put in all over the state which I happen to find very useful. giving drivers more information, on conditions and routing can help ease congestion. cars aren’t going away. ever since the first guy rode a camel or a horse, humans have wanted personal means of transport in addition to group travel. That isn’t going away. convert all of the millions of cars to electric today, and you still have to deal with congestion and hsr and transit can’t be the solution for all situations. Its works for some but can never work for all nor should it.

    Jo Reply:

    Ok. I guess the point I was trying to make is sometimes society does what I consider any crazy fool thing to accommodate the automobile – such as drive up windows at junk food places, strip malls, vast acres of parking lots, 8+ lanes of freeway. This is the type of stuff that I think we should get away from.

    I Remember the MTBE debacle, the gasoline additive that was supposed to clean the air, but ended up being a huge water polluter. It raised gasoline prices about 9 cents a gallon at the time. Since that time for example I have always thought they should have left gasoline alone, and instead of raising gasoline 9 cents a gallon and this going to the oil companies, they instead could of just raised the gas tax 1/2 cent a gallon and that right there would have paid for HSR – again any crazy fool thing to accommodate the automobile. In other words we need a more balanced approach, and HSR, transit, etc need to be a part of it.

    Jo Reply:

    …. which to me is where CEQA reform comes in and saves us from these crazy fool things – a little more moderation if you will.

    jimsf Reply:

    Yes a balanced approach, to transportation and to energy.
    Maybe one thing we could do in cali is to create an energy extraction tax that would specifically fund a compensation account. That way, property owners could be either compensated or bought out in situations where, say, a city wants to put in a green belt or growth boundary that would render a property owners investment worthless. It would be like buying up lands for public use, just like the parks. And once a solid statewide planning code was in place, future purchasers of any property would know in advance what the terms and limits are. The fund could be used for existing owners who would be unfairly affected.

    Jo Reply:

    It is no secret that California needs tax reform. Energy taxes should be part of that tax reform.

    Derek Reply:

    Don’t worry, motorists are perfectly willing to raise taxes on non-motorists to help pay for motoring infrastructure. Soon everybody will drive electric cars so highways will be financed completely through regressive sales taxes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Thomas Edison invented a means to determine how much electricity someone was using. Tax the “fuel” that way. No you don’t need whiz bang GPS enabled micro processor driven wi-fi enabled doohickeys in every car, you need electric meters.

    Derek Reply:

    So every time I cook dinner, I’m paying for the roads. What an ingeniously evil plan!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Why would you have your stove plugged into the car’s outlet? You’d have your stove connected to the meter that doesn’t pay road taxes. Just like when I burn what is more or less diesel fuel in my boiler I use fuel that doesn’t have road taxes levied on it. Put the meter in your house and you’d pay the taxes when the meter reader comes around. Put the meter in your car and you’d pay the taxes when you stopped by a meter reading station. Far less time than filling up your tank with distilled dead dinosaur.

    Derek Reply:

    I think I’d put the meter in the house but plug into the cheaper 110V outlet right next to it.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and then someone will be asking, at your annual inspection, how you put 10,000 miles on the car without using any electricity.

    Peter Reply:

    There are no annual inspections in California. We only have smog checks, but no other inspections.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and electric cars are never ever gonna have their speedometers and electric meters checked like the fossil fuel powered cars have to go get a smog check.

  8. Reedman
    Feb 11th, 2013 at 22:35

    The fix to CEQA is two words:

    Loser pays

    You would have a lot fewer lawsuits from either side if they had to pay for their opponents lawyers when they lose in the courts. It’s how the rest of the world keeps their courts from being clogged with civil litigation.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


  9. jimsf
    Feb 12th, 2013 at 11:48

    Oh well lo and behold… turns out california is planning to go not just in a green direction but a “smart” direction. Using statewide coordination and planning and tech. Very nice.

    jimsf Reply:

    the california interregional blueprint

    jimsf Reply:

    here is the summary

    which includes
    Expansion of transit capacity, frequency, and connectivity
     Higher proportion of funding for biking and walking projects
     More investments in managed lanes
     Focus on land use efficient development
    Support for streamlined California Environmental Quality Act review of eligible projects
     Greater coordination between government agencies and stakeholder groups
     Challenged by limited funding
    While SCS implementation effects will be most noticed at the local and regional level, they will also influence
    the design of the statewide transportation system and alter travel patterns. The Interim Report suggests that the
    statewide system could undergo these changes:
     Enhanced statewide door-to-door travel options
     More complete streets on State highways passing through urban areas
     Increased conversion of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes on multiple
    interregional routes
     Eased congestion on interregional routes in urban areas
     Faster implementation of Transit Oriented Development projects

  10. jimsf
    Feb 12th, 2013 at 17:02

    Has everyone already seen this hsr doc. train wars

    jimsf Reply:

    omg the cows are going to be “terrorized!” according to locals. ( they aren’t terrorized by freeways, or trucks or tractors or amtrak or cropdusters or having their cow parts attached to automatic milk sucking machines or standing around in acres of cowshit and stench- only by high train trains)

    Also only american cows are terrorized, not french, spanish, british, or chinese cows. This is probably due to low level of education and high level of ignorance enjoyed by cows educated in america.

    That explains all those tea party signs in kings county.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Linked through the Train Wars site under “Other Stuff”–“In Cows We Trust:”


  11. Jo
    Feb 12th, 2013 at 17:54

    Democrats in the California legislature have proposed an oil severance tax which is projected to raise $2 billion a year. They propose that the funds go to California parks and higher education.

    joe Reply:



    “Evans said the 9.9 percent severance tax she wants the oil industry to pay is about in the middle of what other oil-producing states impose.”

    “Other experts say such a tax would not lead to higher energy costs for Californians, primarily because the price of oil is set in the world market.”

    Alaska under Sarah Palin raised the tax to ~25%.

    I don’t see Brown working against the tax.

    Jo Reply:

    Double the tax to 20% and use the other half for HSR.

  12. blankslate
    Feb 13th, 2013 at 11:39

    In fact, many projects that are not good for the environment do get approved under CEQA because they find some way to mitigate – but not entirely eliminate – their impact.

    Nothing gets “approved” under CEQA. CEQA is a disclosure process, not an approval process.

    In fact, many projects that are not good for the environment do get approved under CEQA because they find some way to mitigate – but not entirely eliminate – their impact. A lot of sprawl and freeway construction has been approved under the CEQA process through mitigation, which should raise some questions about whether this is the best way to deal with bad projects.

    What you seem to be advocating is for decision makers to stop approving projects that disclose “Significant and Unavoidable Impacts” in their EIRs, rather than a reform to CEQA itself. Once again, CEQA is a disclosure process – City Councillors, County Supervisors, and other decision are the people who actually decide what to do about the impacts that are disclosed in the EIR.

  13. Rich
    Feb 13th, 2013 at 16:21

    Blankslate has it exactly right.

    Most of the rest of the discussion, including the starting article here is about what “outcomes” people want from CEQA. Advocates of smart growth want it to streamline infill. HSR advocates want it to streamline the train. Anti-sprawl advocates want it to stop the exurbs. Shopping mall developers want it to streamline…shopping malls.

    I would posit that CEQA is the WRONG tool to achieve planning outcomes. To echo ‘blankslate’, CEQA is not an approval process. It is designed to disclose environmental impacts. It is not designed to stop one kind of project and support another.

    If we want different land use outcomes, then we need to look at land use law. To do that, you have to confront the local control paradigm in which local cities and counties have jurisdiction over land use decisions. Do we want to take away the local land use prerogative by telling them where and what kind of development “we” the people of California want? SB 375 didn’t do that – its fundamentally a carrots and few sticks law that left in place local land use prerogatives. It is in planning and land use law where the big fights should be fought.

    It is very frustrating to see CEQA used as “back door” planning by advocates (of all stripes), who can’t get what they want by going through the front door of the decision-making process, so they use CEQA as blackmail to try and get their way through legal leverage. This is bad for all projects.

    There are actually many good things that can be done with CEQA reform that can help it be more rational, streamlined, and effective. Get rid of the “fair argument” standard that gives access to courts for nearly anyone who can string a sentence together – make it about evidence instead. Mandate legal appeal timeframes to avoid the endless delays. Allow documents to get better through the CEQA process instead of the endless do loop of recirculation if you change something (even if its for the better). Require public comment period for final documents, but don’t require lead agencies to respond to comments from outside defined comment period. Create specialized CEQA courts so we don’t so much arbitrary ruling from judges who may or may not know what they are doing. Limit the administrative record to only the CEQA document and its reference and not all the crap that the lawyers try to bring into the record that are not material to the CEQA document. Bring some discipline into the whole thing. Stop trying to come up with fancy streamlining processes – just use statutory exemptions for the things the legislature decides we want to do without environmental review and call it a day. Keep it a disclosure process.

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