CEQA exemptions for sports arenas, but not water

No one needs to be reminded that California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades, if not centuries. Out of this crisis comes Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, with an excellent idea.

Mr. Gallagher introduced AB 311, intended to expedite vitally needed water storage projects in our state — in short, give these projects the same legal framework protections that were granted to a number of public projects in California, including football stadiums and basketball arenas.

During the committee hearing on AB 311, according to press reports, Santa Barbara Assemblyman Das Williams, chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, displayed his arrogance when he said that if people want to push such proposals they should identify a “specific project” and bring both sides together to identify mitigation measures impacting the project.

Mr. Williams knows, given his own voting record, that the process by which projects are granted final environmental approval in California was hijacked by the environmental community long ago. In fact, things have gotten so litigious in our state that the Legislature has moved to give a broad array of projects (public and private) exemptions from this burdensome and often exceedingly costly process.

Examples of total exemptions from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act include a wine train in Napa; state prisons; right-of-way acquisitions for low-speed commuter trains between San Francisco and San Jose; conversion of rental mobile home parks to “resident-initiated” subdivisions or condominiums for mobile homes; local coastal programs or long-range land-use development plans by the California Coastal Commission; the repair of critical levees of the State Plan for Flood Control as specified; certain railroad grade separation projects; certain seismic retrofit projects for existing local bridges; and even projects for restriping of streets or highways to relieve traffic congestion.

But wait, there’s more.

During the 2013-2014 legislative session, the wizards under the dome granted another exemption — for projects so badly needed, given our current state of crisis, that one must wonder what took so long to be enacted.

AB 417 by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, granted a statutory exemption from the requirements of CEQA for “bicycle transportation plans.” It should be noted that Mr. Williams wholeheartedly supported this exemption by voting three times in support of the Frazier measure — twice on the Assembly floor and once while simply a member of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, which he now chairs.

Mr. Williams knows the reason Mr. Gallagher shouldn’t name a specific project. The state water bond that Mr. Williams voted in favor of in the closing days of the 2014 session specifically gives the California Water Commission the responsibility to identify projects that meet the requirements for bond funding.

The streamlining process of Mr. Gallagher’s bill could only be applied once a project is selected by the commission. But if the chairman is incapable of remembering which exemptions or streamlining measures he supported for the betterment of our state, then maybe he should step down and let someone more competent sit at the head of the class.

The author is executive director of the Sacramento County Republican Party.

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