Spring is here, and it seems the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government have all been busy trying to “clean up” CEQA and related areas of the law in one way or another. Recent items of interest include:
- Federal NEPA/CEQA Integration Handbook Draft Released for Public Comment. The Council for Environmental Quality and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released on March 5, 2013, for public review and comment, a draft handbook entitled “NEPA and CEQA: Integrating State and Federal Environmental Reviews.” The non-binding handbook is intended to provide a framework for federal and California agencies to efficiently coordinate joint NEPA/CEQA review for California projects requiring federal approval. The public comment period will end on April 19, 2013.
- Judicial Developments. In an interesting unpublished case, the Court of Appeal recently upheld the Los Angeles City Council’s adoption of a Community Plan Implementation Overlay (CPIO) Ordinance against a group’s CEQA challenge on the ground that it was not a “project” triggering CEQA review. (LA Neighbors United v. City of Los Angeles (3/18/13 2nd Dist., Div. 4), 2013 WL 1099017.) The CPIO Ordinance amended the City’s Municipal Code to include procedures for establishing CPIO districts, but was expressly intended merely to implement the City’s General Plan Framework and is subordinate to the individual community plans which control the intensity and location of infill development. According to the Court: “Since the CPIO ordinance does not itself set any land use policy or regulation, or determine the need for, location and number of CPIO districts, it does not have any reasonably foreseeable effect on the environment. It is therefore not a [CEQA] project.”
- Proposed Reform Legislation to Create Dedicated CEQA/Land Use Courts. As I’ve said before, legislative CEQA reform seems to be “in the air” this year. In addition to the proposed CEQA reform bills introduced by Senator Steinberg (SB 731), and Senator Berryhill (SB 787 – a reintroduction of former Senator Rubio’s “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act”), and the “opposite-of-reform” bills introduced to Senator Evans (SB 617 and SB 754), Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) has now thrown her CEQA reform hat into the ring with SB 123. This bill would create a specialized court system to handle CEQA cases and other disputes involving “specialized subject areas” related to environmental issues and land use planning. The idea – to allow CEQA and other land use/environmental cases to proceed more expeditiously before courts with specialized expertise to adjudicate them – is certainly an intriguing one. That said, it is also a proposal that seems to me unlikely to go anywhere for a number of reasons, including the current abysmal state of funding for California’s judiciary. Questions remaining unanswered are: Who would pay for the new courts, and how much? How would the judges be trained? What specific types of cases would they handle? What advantages would the system really offer over current statutory provisions designed to expedite CEQA litigation and train judges? And is this really the best Legislative “fix” for the many problems begging for CEQA reform?