Friday, September 30, 2011

CEQA Reform Highlights the 2011 California Legislative Session

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Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
September 30, 2011
CEQA Reform Highlights the 2011 California Legislative Session
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Lisa Kolieb

Sara Kani


Wendelyn Nichols-Julien

Authors: Lisa Kolieb | Sara Kani | Wendelyn Nichols-Julien
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has played a historic role in environmental protection by requiring projects to go through extensive studies to disclose and mitigate environmental impacts. For developers, CEQA can lead to uncertainty, project delays, increased development costs and often frivolous litigation.

For project opponents, CEQA can serve as an effective avenue to modify, delay, and even kill projects. This year, citing the economic recession and high state unemployment, the State Legislature introduced an unprecedented number of CEQA-related bills, many of which were aimed at streamlining the CEQA review and litigation processes to reduce CEQA-related project delays and remove what some view as excessive environmental review for certain projects. The following is a summary of some of the most talked-about CEQA bills this session.

CEQA Streamlining Bills
Three CEQA reform bills were passed by the Legislature on the last day of the session: Assembly Bill 900 and Senate Bills 292 and 226. According to their authors, these bills aim to reduce CEQA-related project delays, development costs, and frivolous litigation that create uncertainty for developers.

AB 900: "Leadership projects" may become eligible for expedited judicial review.
Signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2011, AB 900 (Buchanan), or the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011, was enacted as a short-term approach to spurring the economy and lowering the unemployment rate. It sunsets on January 1, 2015. It allows the Governor to certify certain large projects that meet specific conditions – most notably a minimum investment of $100 million in the State – as being “leadership projects” that would be eligible for expedited judicial review. The Governor’s certification is discretionary and not subject to judicial review. Unfortunately, the number of projects that would qualify for these benefits appears to be limited. The law does not apply to projects that already have a draft EIR in circulation, and will apply only to projects with EIRs certified by June 1, 2014.  Read more

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