Harper Featured in Orange County Register
CEQA reform should benefit all
By: Matthew Harper September 24, 2016
When it comes to building in California, there is no bigger obstacle to overcome than the California Environmental Quality Act. Before a project can be started, it is put through a rigorous review process, which involves environmental impact studies, legal assessments and many other lengthy, bureaucratic reviews.
The California Environmental Quality Act was passed in 1970 to protect the environment from the impact of overdevelopment. Its goal was to require state and local governments to understand, and whenever possible, mitigate the environmental impacts for all public and private development projects.
Once a policy for protecting the environment, CEQA has in practice become a tool used to delay necessary projects for reasons unrelated to the environment. The CEQA process should be reformed to reduce the costly burdens and frivolous lawsuits faced by projects that are vital to California.
CEQA’s supporters argue that California is a prosperous state with a strong economy. They dismiss the idea that CEQA is being misused to block critical infrastructure from being developed. They ignore the fact that CEQA has been hijacked to promote non-environmental goals such as intimidating businesses into signing labor agreements.
Many others have talked about the need to reform the CEQA process. Democrats understand there are problems with CEQA, but they have only supported CEQA exemptions for their favored projects, like professional sports arenas for the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Rams, and luxury housing developments. I too support these efforts to create jobs and promote construction.
Real reform of CEQA should not only be about giving exemptions, but also streamlining the review process for all important projects.
California is currently in a housing crisis, we are now in the fifth year of a drought with no end in sight and we have more than $59 billion in deferred maintenance for our roadways. However, projects to address these problems are routinely stymied by our burdensome CEQA process.
When it comes to creating more affordable housing, the Legislative Analyst’s Office stated in a report earlier this year that, “encouraging more private housing development can provide some relief to low–income households.” One way we can encourage more housing development is to provide CEQA relief to developers. Eighty percent of CEQA lawsuits target infill housing projects that create affordable housing in urban areas.
Last year, Republicans introduced legislation to limit the length of CEQA litigation on a housing development. This did not change the environmental standards of CEQA, it only reduced the delay a project may face. Yet, Democrats didn’t even let the bill out of committee. Creating affordable housing should be a priority in Sacramento.
Republicans also put forth legislation to streamline CEQA reviews for proposed water storage projects at Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat. Once these projects are completed, they would provide water for almost 3 million California homes every year. Even with support from farmers and residents, this bill was killed in committee by Democrats.
With a $59 billion backlog in transportation infrastructure maintenance, it is important that we find ways to reduce the costs and delays in repairing our roadways. Republicans proposed legislation to streamline environmental reviews for transportation projects, just like Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in 2015. But Democrats voted this legislation down. They said that, “if you want to help, vote for a tax.”
Solving the housing crisis, paving roads and freeways, and getting water to our farms and homes should be the priority in Sacramento. Reforming CEQA to allow those projects to avoid costly delays is a start, but Democrats need to stop picking and choosing which projects get exemptions and start putting all Californians first.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper represents the 74th Assembly District; he is the former mayor of Huntington Beach. The 74th Assembly District includes the cities of Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, Laguna Woods and Laguna Beach.