Who Is CEQA, and why do so many people hate her?

by Jennifer Scheetz

In order to understand the environmental issues of California, you must have intimate knowledge of CEQA. The first time I heard this, I wondered who she was.

But she’s not a she. She’s the highly-maligned California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. (Whose next environmental foray was to immediately dismantle the White House solar panels upon moving in with Nancy.)

If you’ve ever been to a dinner party and heard someone complaining about those awful tree-huggers who obstruct California progress, you’ve heard of CEQA. Most complaints focus on its costly, impeding regulations. But what does CEQA actually do? CEQA requires state and local agencies to study the potential environmental impact of all new projects, public and private, then explain how to prevent it. That’s it.

So, to complain about CEQA is like complaining that a bank asks for a business plan before lending you money.

Still, CEQA angers many people. To them, it’s just another way government is getting in the way.

But what CEQA-naysayers are really complaining about is man. We are our own worst enemy, are we not? Timeliness in all things is possible. But when one person doesn’t like another person’s project, the law offers infinite road blocks.

One tactic is called document dumping, the filibuster-like tactic of submitting what is hopefully damaging evidence at the last minute. Golden State Water Company did it to Claremont when the city considered the environmental impacts of going to local control of its water. For this time-waster, however, hope may be on the horizon. Senate Bill 1451, authored by seven Democrats (Richard Roth of Riverside, among them) seems to demand true reform by specifically addressing this ploy. 

But, SB 1451 won’t solve all of CEQA’s issues. One of the biggest wastes of time and money is all the court time spent fighting for CEQA-exemption. If this is you, and you’re building a stadium to house a professional sports team in California, have no fear. You’ll get an exemption quicker than an eyelash-fluttering motorist gets out of a traffic ticket (though I can’t speak from experience, as it’s never worked for me). Everyone else, however, will rack up the legal fees.

I get it. Of course, the mice want the cat to go away so they can play, and California happens to have a lot of mice. But at some point, the mice are going to realize they’ve grown a fifth leg because they’ve been playing in toxic sludge. Then who’s to blame?


Demystifying Sustainability is a project of Sustainable Claremont (sustainableclaremont.org), email info@sustainableclaremont.org. Follow them on Facebook and on Twitter #GreenClaremont.


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