Evans’ Bills to Strengthen, Improve CEQA Advance

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

(Sacramento, CA)— Two bills to improve and strengthen the nation’s leading community and environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), today passed their first policy committee in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.  The bills introduced by Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), SB 617 and SB 754, received 7-2 and 6-2 votes respectively and will next be heard in Appropriations.

“California has a proud history of supporting the public’s right to know what developments are taking place in their communities and enacting protections to preserve their quality of life and the environment around them,” said Evans.  “When private profits infringe on public well-being, we rely on CEQA for the ability to defend our homes and our health.” 

Signed into law 43 years-ago by then Republican Governor Ronald Reagan, the California Environmental Quality Act has long been lauded for the process it provides to reveal potential health and environmental impacts large development projects will have on the local community and environment.  At times, it is the public’s last defense to ensure that large construction project proponents mitigate or reduce a project’s negative impact on its surroundings. The law has been particularly important for individuals who do not have the means to hire a team of lawyers to monitor and influence large projects planned in communities.

“Senator Evans’s thoughtful, meticulously crafted bills represent clarifications and improvements to CEQA that will protect the public health, promote public participation, and better serve California’s environment,” said Abigail Okrent, Legislative Director, Planning & Conservation League.  “We’re looking forward to continuing to work with Senator Evans on these bills.”

Senate Bill 617 will ensure that new information technologies are employed to make CEQA document filing and access easier. Key components of the bill include:

• Mandates that notices during the environmental review process be posted concurrently online and at the county recorder’s office in the affected county (Electronic notice posting);
• Clarifies that project reviews must examine the impacts of the physical environment on the project, fixing the unwise court decision in Ballona Wetlands Trust (Ballona fix);
• Provides that electronic records of proceedings be posted concurrently with their preparation (Electronic record of proceeding);
• Removes several mooted provisions from CEQA.

The second bill, SB 754, provides a framework to further strengthen the Environmental Act’s public participation process and improve the environmental protections of the law. Key provisions of this framework strengthening legislation include:

• Prohibiting a developer from directly contracting for and overseeing the preparation of the environmental review, thus ensuring an unbiased and transparent environmental review;
• Limits the “shelf-life” of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs)  that may be used in assessing a project to seven years;
• Reinforces archaeological resource protections by raising the ceiling on mitigation, and;
• Provides enforcement for mitigation measures.

“CEQA is and always has been a review process,” said Evans.  “CEQA works and these bills will make the process work even better. They’ll do that without changing any of the law's essential protections while preserving community voices and California's environment.”

State Senator Noreen Evans represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of the Counties of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin (caretaker), Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Senator Evans Chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary.