Even California Democrats See Need for Regulatory Reform

Golden State lawmakers reluctantly face the economic facts.

Although many of California’s legislative Democrats are eager to “test drive” the new two-thirds majorities their caucuses hold in both chambers—i.e., pushing the limits of their power to advance their progressive agenda—others are focusing on a sensible reform that almost everyone knows is slowing job growth.

Passed in 1970 at the height of the nation’s push to clean up the environment, the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA (pronounced See-Kwa), created a convoluted bureaucratic process to “mitigate” environmental harm from major new projects. One can argue whether the high costs the act imposes in terms of delays and reports have helped preserve the state’s ecology, but there’s no question it delays the construction of just about everything.

CEQA has been a boon not only to enterprising consultants who prepare foot-high stacks of Environmental Impact Statements, but for lawyers, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) groups, environmental activists, and labor unions that manipulate the process for cynical reasons that have nothing to do with identifying and reducing potential environmental harm.

Local NIMBYs use it to stop anything that might be built in their neighborhood. Some environmentalists are adamantly “no-growth” and use it to oppose any and all projects. We know what lawyers get out of it. Unions routinely file CEQA suits—or threaten to do so—to coerce developers into approving union-only Project Labor Agreements. You can only impose so many new costs on a project before it becomes less feasible to build it.

For example, in one case of CEQA abuse, a gas-station owner used the process to slow down the expansion of a competitive gas station across the street. In another case, local residents used CEQA to delay by two years (and add about $3 million in costs) the construction of a low-income senior-citizens housing project in Berkeley. This type of thing is as ridiculous as it is commonplace.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that the current economic recovery—or whatever one wants to call the modest economic rebound that might be taking place—is not resulting in the creation of many new jobs, especially in California. The Democrats’ new group of self-styled moderates, who hold immense power in the Capitol now that the GOP is essentially dead, have made job creation their top priority. So CEQA is a reasonable target.

Republicans have long pushed for regulatory reform, understanding the role excessive regulations play in dampening economic growth. Oddly enough, then, one of the first orders of business in the new Democratic-dominated Legislature is an issue that Republicans should applaud.

Gov. Jerry Brown set the stage for CEQA reform in his State of the State address: “We also need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act. Our approach needs to be based on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”

In his first terms as governor, Brown devoted himself to undermining the kind of big infrastructure projects championed by his dad, Gov. Pat Brown. As Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) has written about Jerry Brown: “He enacted volumes of environmental regulations that created severe impediments to home and commercial construction, empowering an incipient no-growth movement that began on the most extreme fringe of the environmental cause and quickly spread.” In his recent tenure as attorney general, Brown used the state’s cap-and-trade law (AB32) to gum up the works in new development by claiming that the projects would heighten the global-warming problem.

So what gives?

These days, Brown and his Democratic allies have unchecked power in the Capitol and they don’t want anything getting in the way of the projects they favor. The most obvious example is High-Speed Rail. If CEQA has any redeeming features, it is this—it applies to public projects also and forces the government sector to deal with the same regulations it imposes on the rest of us. If that weren’t the case, there would be no push for reform.

But, again, this is a great bipartisan issue. As former California governors Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and George Deukmejian argued in a recent column, “Sadly, documented cases of CEQA abuse include examples where CEQA has stood in the way of renewable energy projects, infill housing, schools, hospitals, universities, public transit, and needed infrastructure. In fact, CEQA is often a direct barrier to the sustainable and environmentally friendly growth that California aspires to achieve.”

Even with such high-powered support, reform isn’t a slam dunk given expected opposition from environmental groups.

Gov. Brown has recently been in a highly publicized rhetorical match with Texas Gov. Rick Perry over their respective states’ business climates. Perry has had much success in luring California businesses to his lower-tax, lower-regulation state. Brown has chided Perry and champions the new balanced budget here as evidence of the Golden State’s rebound.

Instead of wasting time in a rhetorical battle, Gov. Brown should acknowledge that California is a tough place to do business and focus on those reforms that actually make California a better place to create jobs. CEQA is a great starting point.

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  • derpules||

    What we need here is regulations to regulate the regulators...hugh derp!

  • Virginian||

  • Sandra M. Jones||

    until I saw the draft which had said $5415, I accept that...my... friends brother actualey erning money in their spare time at their computer.. there neighbor has done this for only fifteen months and recently paid the mortgage on there villa and bourt a great Audi Quattro. I went here, www.Ace60.com

  • Way Of The Crane||

  • Sevo||

    ..."The most obvious example is High-Speed Rail."...
    Moonbean's choo-choo is the only reason this gasbag has any interest in reform; the enviros can cut the unions off at the knees with CEQA.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yep. If it was just affecting business, there would be no action on this.

    Also - Scott apparently got the Cavanaugh portfolio.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Oh, wait, this was Steven Greenhut. Never mind.

  • Scott S.||

    Steven and I are of like minds on all this stuff (plus we both used to work at Freedom Communications), so easy mistake.

  • Almanian!||

    Now we see the Borg inherent in the system...

  • ChrisO||

    It is vitally important to preserve all that precious fucking desert scrub land.

    The biggest "environmental" problem in California is providing enough fresh water for everyone.

  • Left-Libertarian||

    Surprise, surprise nothing about the Interstates, Union Pacific, WWII Aircraft Manufacturing, Hollywood copyright and patent laws, Walter Folger Brown, the CAB, Mexican War, Santa Anna, Spanish Imperialism, Sir Francis Drake and Upton Sinclair. What else should I expect from the vulgar right-libertarians at Reason.

  • Sevo||

    Left-Libertarian| 2.8.13 @ 3:00PM |#
    ..."What else should I expect from the vulgar right-libertarians at Reason."

    Gee, dipshit, you left out Elvis' alien love child from your idiotic rant.
    Not to mention a question mark.

  • Moridin||

    Gee, dipshit, you left out Elvis' alien love child from your idiotic rant.
    Not to mention a question mark.

    WIN

  • ||

    Technically, CEQA applies only to public projects, but that includes the issuance of discretionary permits. So where the agency has discretion whether to issue the premit or not, CEQA is implicated. If issuance of the permit requires no zoning or other variences, issuance of the permit may be ministerial and would not involve CEQA.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "If CEQA has any redeeming features, it is this—it applies to public projects also and forces the government sector to deal with the same regulations it imposes on the rest of us. If that weren’t the case, there would be no push for reform."

    Mystery solved. I thought I had entered the Twilight Zone (the original - sparkly vampires need not apply), and Democrats were for limiting government power. Turns out they're for removing a limit on government power.

    Let's see if this "reform" will apply equally to government and private projects. I'm guessing the government gets more of a break than private citizens.

  • Peyton32||

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  • grey||

    I’ve always known liberals were wrong when they pitched the virtue of State spending – but other than ethically, I didn’t understand why a private dollar was better. Since learning, I’ve been eager to say it in my own words. The tax dollar would have been spent by the individual or lent as capital to the betterment of someone else in the market and the person who spent the dollar would have been left with something of value. So it’s a zero sum when the State spends that dollar since it would have been utilized in either case. The State may not provide any utility to the person taxed, nor will that dollar benefit the person year after year in the way of interest or utility of some item purchased. Then subtract the loss of perpetual profit from the entire economy to the government structure to administer a tax and spend. Meaning, the State may leave behind no capital or utility in the economy. But, if the original person had been left with their capital, they may use or lend that dollar to an increase in overall productivity. So the economy may grow beyond the original capital: if I lend my capital to someone and they buy a machine, produce more goods, create more profit, hire more people, then the economy will grow. Labor and private capital then is the economy - more of each means a larger real economy. Private capital, begets more private capital, more jobs, higher wages, cheaper goods, higher standard of living. What is California missing about this concept?

  • Quimby||

    Julian. I see what you mean... Alfred`s c0mment is unimaginable... I just got a great Jaguar XJ from making $6847 this past four weeks and-even more than, ten grand this past-month. this is certainly the most-comfortable work I've ever done. I started this 3 months ago and right away startad bringin home over $72, per-hr. I use the details on this website,, http://www.FLY38.COM

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