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Home News Latest Evans introduces bills meant to improve, strengthen California Environmental Quality Act

Evans introduces bills meant to improve, strengthen California Environmental Quality Act

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NORTH COAST, Calif. – State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) has introduced two proposals for the 2013 legislative session that she said will improve and strengthen the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA.

The bills, SB 617 and SB 754, seek to preserve and protect some of the nation’s leading community and environmental protection laws.

“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.”

The introduction of the bills comes at a time when a number of legislators have reportedly been considering introducing CEQA reform legislation.

Signed into law 43 years ago by then Republican Gov. 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.

“Whatever changes are made to the California Environmental Quality Act this legislative session, it is essential that its core democratic protections of meaningful public participation and community enforcement are maintained or strengthened,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League. “This legislation brought forward by Sen. Evans will go a long way toward improving any shortcomings in the environmental review process without endangering these core provisions.”

SB 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;
  • Clarifies that project reviews must examine the impacts of the physical environment on the project, fixing the unwise court decision in Ballona Wetlands Trust;
  • Provides that electronic records of proceedings be posted concurrently with their preparation;
  • Removes several mooted provisions from CEQA.

The second bill, SB 754, provides a framework to further strengthen CEQA’s public participation process and improve the environmental protections of the law.

Key provisions of this framework strengthening legislation include:

  • Mandates translation of initial notices and executive summaries where there is a significant limited English proficient population;
  • Ensures that illegal actions undertaken to change the land prior to an environmental review do not get to reset the baseline of review;
  • Implements controls on administrative record costs;
  • Prohibits 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.

“Sen. Evans’ proposals will enhance transparency and improve the integrity of the environmental review process. These are the right kinds of CEQA changes for the legislature to consider,” said Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips. “While it is a great relief to see Senator Steinberg and others turning away from proposals that would have essentially gutted this landmark environmental law, we do not plan to let our guard down now. Sierra Club and other leading conservation groups will continue to fight any radical changes to dismantle CEQA.”

“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.”

Evans represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 February 2013 00:46 )