August 23, 2004 - From the August, 2004 issue

TPR Readers Weigh In On CEQA: There's Consensus That Reform Is Needed

The need to revisit the design and execution of the California Environmental Quality Act is increasingly being discussed among all stakeholders of proposed developments throughout California. TPR presents this collection of our readers' response to the question, "What is your prescription to the effective and responsible reform to CEQA?"

The development community wants certainty, and CEQA is a law full of uncertainty. As a lawyer, it is frustrating (and embarrassing) that state courts can overturn CEQA documents upon which which tens of lawyers and consultants have expended hundreds of hours.

The only solution to this "true CEQA reform" is the adoption, on the state guideline or local level, of meaningful "thresholds of significance." Impacts must be quantified and mitigation standardized so that each EIR is not reinventing analysis and mitigation over and over again on a case by case basis.

-Clare Bronowski, Esq., Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, LLP

Exempt redevelopment of already urbanized land for densities that are already permitted by the underlying zoning and adopted planning policies.

Issues such as traffic, solar access, cultural historic properties, aesthetics and economic development impacts are properly evaluated in the local land use administration comprised of community advisory process, planning professionals, and appointed/elected officials. CEQA effectively relieves these individuals from accountability for making tough decisions by turning all involved to their prescribed expectation to weigh and opine on the issues to handlers of a process subject to legal challenge. The buck has to stop at the local level.

When I chose to go into planning it was from an awareness that there was a profession responsible for a progressive facilitation of change, one that was predisposed to cities, yet not disdainful of the dynamic process through which cities evolve. There were serious macro environmental issues that gave rise to CEQA and related laws such as the Coastal Act. Take some time to remember their origin in plans to run a network of freeways through the Santa Monica Mountains, including a causeway extending from the 10 freeway across Santa Monica Bay to pass through Topanga to the Valley; replacement of Santa Monica Pier with a bridge to a Mission Bay style island resort look at what happened to the Long Beach waterfront once one block from Pine Street. Look at how Ocean Park Boulevard was planned as a super-arterial leading to the Ocean Park redevelopment. The Coastal act was passed in 1970, just in time.

The irony is that these landmark laws which arose from gross/out-of-scale regional development plans, are now besmirched by their application at the micro scale of lot-by-lot development. Strip the laws back so the significant complex gathering, evaluation and dissemination of impacts they support is being properly and effectively applied to the big plays they were intended to address.

-John Given, CIM Group

For infill development proposals, provide for expedited CEQA review and greater certainty in the approval process for qualifying projects.

For development in unincorporated areas and expanding incorporated areas, institute a smart growth planning process that protects open space, identifies areas for future development, and encourages balanced, mixed-use developments.

-Gary Binger, Urban Land Insitute

Developers aren't the only ones who have problems with CEQA. The process is identical whether you are trying to build an oil refinery or restore a free-flowing salmon stream. Most environmental restoration projects should be taken out of CEQA altogether. So should urban infill projects that meet basic environmental criteria. Santa Monica is experimenting with making approval of certain types of infill housing development projects non-discretionary; this isn't CEQA reform but it takes CEQA out of the picture.

-Mary D. Nichols, UCLA Institute of the Environment


First, REALLY engage people in planning for development and infrastructure AND in planning for conservation of natural land and water resources and farms, ranches and forestlands and do it for all cities in a County and the County. (That means local governments have to work together)

Reform the sequential review of plans and projects by state and federal agencies through, and have them work together, openly, in concert with counties and cities together to integrate their own infrastructure plans, resolve conflicts between different mandates and integrate funding needs and sources for both development and conservation into the county/cities plan. Continue to engage people fully in this process.

Do a full CEQA analysis on each City County plan which focuses on the ecologic and environmental sustainability of the growth, infrastructure and conservation together and engage the public and state and federal regulatory agencies fully in the analysis.

Have CEQA be the last, not the first in a series of approvals that would be made by local, state and federal agencies, after all of the balancing has been done.

Have federal, state and local jurisdictions, including special districts and school districts adopt these connected growth, infrastructure and conservation plans tied to an implementation strategy for funding.

Submit the core funding to the electorate for approval tied to implementing the plan.

Put laws in place to require and finance the reevaluation of these plans at a ten year cycle, reporting to the electorate on how they are working and what, if anything needs to change, again fully documented by a CEQA analysis. Develop changes and also put them and any new financing to a vote.

The only real reform in CEQA is to do real planning at least at a county level, with cities, state and federal regulatory agency as well as local public participation in a plan that provides conservation and development, housing and infrastructure and the means to implement it. Then the reactionary CEQA analysis on each project would either be waived or limited to unique site specific issues.

-Madelyn Glickfeld, former California Coastal Commission member

As California has grown over the last 30 years, CEQA has been an important tool in identifying and planning for the impacts of new development. But today, as the state continues its growth inland and further, the need to make it work better and more efficiently should not be ignored.

-Carol Whiteside, President, Great Valley Center


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