Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Translating Rubio’s final interview as senator

With politicians, there’s always a super-secret context to everything they say.

Take, for example, former state Sen. Michael Rubio’s comments at last Wednesday’s Fresno Bee editorial board meeting.

I taped his comments. Everything was on the record. Being an army veteran who ate his share of SOS breakfasts, I’m able to find the super-secret context to his statements.

It was Wednesday, Feb. 20. The day began with a CEQA tour. CEQA stands for California Environmental Quality Act.

Many people in California think CEQA needs reform. The law’s intent is good, they say. But CEQA abuses now threaten the economy, they add.

The tour was intended to spotlight why reforms are needed.

Top officials from Clovis City Hall met the media Wednesday morning at the Clovis Crossing shopping center on Herndon Avenue near Highway 168. Then the media drove to the corner of L and San Joaquin streets in Fresno’s uptown, where reporters listened to several leaders from Fresno’s business community.

Michael Rubio

Rubio was to be the star of Wednesday’s show. He was expected later in the week to introduce a bill that would get the ball of CEQA reform rolling.

Rubio didn’t show on Wednesday — illness.

The tour ended with Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes, and Jeff Roberts, Granville vice president, attending a Bee editorial board meeting. Rubio participated by speaker phone.

Executive Editor Jim Boren, Editorial Page Editor Bill McEwen and I represented The Bee.

Here’s what I got on tape. There are 11 separate Rubio thoughts. I conclude each with an analysis of Rubio’s super-secret context.

Keep in mind as you read this that Rubio on Friday, Feb. 22 resigned his job as the people’s elected representative. He had nearly two unfinished years on his oath of office.

Rubio on March 4 will take over as head of Chevron Corp.’s government relations team in Sacramento.

Rubio on Friday told Bee reporter John Ellis that he knew on Wednesday that he’d resign in a matter of hours and go to work for Chevron.

Rubio made no mention of his resignation plans at the editorial board meeting.

Ring, ring — phone call. McEwen picks up the receiver.

McEwen: “This is Bill McEwen. I’m good. We’re ready to go here.”

Phone’s speaker is turned on.

1.) Rubio: “Forgive me for not being able to be there. I got bit by whatever the flu bug that’s going around pretty mightily. It’s been a tough one to go. But I want to thank Darius and his team for highlighting the issues that the state is facing on the California Environmental Quality Act after we’ve been putting forward in Sacramento to modernize it and bring it into line. Some of the best examples, one of which I think is a poster child, is there in the city of Fresno where you have a downtown development project — as I recall, Darius, you can speak to this — I believe is zero on the indirect-source fee related to air emissions. And it’s in a great transit-oriented, downtown infill development and yet somebody is able to sue because for the lack of parking spaces a motorist would have to circle the block and as such it increases vehicle miles traveled and air emissions and it will, now it’s the best thing for the both the city and the world in terms of global warming and reducing greenhouse gasses and delivering municipal-type services, etc. and this project is held up.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

2.) Rubio: “It highlights the fact that in CEQA in the last 40 years we have not been able to bring it line with progressive laws that have been passed in the legislature like AB 32 and SB 375 and it’s time that we do that. So, whether it’s that development that Granville is building downtown or if it were a school or a clinic or a park, there’s got to be provisions within CEQA that allows for safe harbors, increases certainty. And then lastly — and then I’d love to hear about the tour that’s been going on and any questions that you might have — is the Democratic point of view — Democrats carrying this controversial piece of legislation and primarily because I’ve seen a lot of the Democratic constituencies impacted by the misuse of CEQA, whether it’s this downtown infill project that we as Democrats say we want more of in California or if it’s the foster children in San Francisco where transitional youth, an African-American transitional youth project, had their CEQA document challenged and their improvement to quality of life had been delayed, or a senior housing project in Northern California where somebody sued under aesthetics alone, suing they didn’t like the facade of the building and that project was delayed over a year and it nearly jeopardized the project it cost the nonprofit building the senior housing project over a million dollars.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

3.) Rubio: “And these are the classic examples that we now have heard throughout the state and I don’t think that CEQA was ever intended to delay the improvement or quality of life for seniors or foster children or for smart infill development throughout our state that’s going to help us reduce greenhouses gasses and air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley and throughout the state.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

4.) Rubio: “So, that’s why we’ve taken on the effort. We’re working the update on the legislation. We’re working with the pro tem and stakeholders throughout the state. Obviously, there’s a group of people that have come together in strong support of CEQA. There is also a group now that has come together called CEQA Works, a coalition of labor and environmentalists who (cough, cough), who are trying to say that there should be no changes to CEQA. We’re listening to them. We’re still looking at what we can draft in four months, language to roll out and bill (?) an introduction in the next few days as we approach the 22nd bill deadline.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

5.) Rubio: “So, that’s where we are. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, Bill, and talk to the Fresno Bee editorial board.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

McEwen asks if a standards-based approach to CEQA reform might, as some critics suggest, lead to a “race to the bottom” as developers shop around for cities with lax zoning laws. “It’d like to get your reaction to that, Senator.”

6.) Rubio: “First on the standards approach, if we, I fundamentally disagree with the notion that it would create a race to the bottom. What I want to do is create a race to the top. And that is what people devise now are documents, EIRs, that are legally defensible rather than focus on compliance. So if we had an approach where we develop thresholds and standards. We do it all the time actually. In CEQA, by the way, there is an appendage G that has guidelines spelled out. And we set standards for football stadiums and baseball parks all the time. So that this notion that we can’t do it I find troubling because we do it all the time for people who have projects that are over $100 million who want to build entertainment sport venues. But as you have a downtown project like Granville does it’s no good for you. I don’t quite understand.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

7.) Rubio: “First, under a standards approach everyone should be required to do a full-blown EIR. That, as a result, eliminates this race to this bottom because it encourages public participation and everyone’s got to do it. Once it’s determined by the local government or the lead agency that they have met the one standard, so as you know, in doing the EIR, you’ve got dozens and dozens of issues that you have to do studies on. Let’s say we’re studying your greenhouse gas impact. If you have zero greenhouse gas impacts, and meet AB 32 like Darius’s project does, then it should mean something. And what I’ve argued is, tell me what it should mean. I think it ought to mean once you’ve met the standard and it shows you’ve met the law, then you can’t sue the city of Fresno that that standard is insufficient. You should sue the California Air Resources Board because they’re the regulatory body over that state standard. That’s the standards approach. What do Mayor Swearengin and her staff know about quantifying CO2 and GHG (?) impacts, etc.? They don’t. What they do is they look to CARB and say: Tell us what this developer should build to build and meet your AB32 scoping plan and the standard that you’ve developed. CARB then informs them and prescribes when the developer should meet and that’s what they’re expected to do. There’s a process put in place here. When that developer meets that law, it should mean something. And if you want to challenge it, then you sue the regulatory body, not the lead agency. Now, once you’re done on that one issue, Granville and any other applicant still has to do everything within the law so, if there’s a toxic drift issue for some weird tool that is being used, that ought to be weighed and considered and analyzed under CEQA and status quo remains. Because the beauty in CEQA is it fills in the gaps and allows the local governments — and this is the most important part in this whole race to the bottom — it empowers local governments to establish those ordinances to consider the unique needs that communities and neighborhoods have in their area. And so, that’s what we’re looking to accomplish.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

8.) Rubio: “You brought up a second component and that is the plans. We always said that any plan that you meet, you should be able to tier off of. That’s in CEQA today, Bill. If you go in and the city of Fresno does a specific plan for downtown Fresno, and you want to build a school, a new advanced engineer-science facility on a corner in downtown, and they just completed in the last five years a specific plan or an area plan for downtown, and they did a traffic study, Bill, I think you ought to be able to use that traffic study since they just did a study and it was recent within the last five years. Because that study would be consistent with AB32, with SB 375, with all the new progressive planning laws because it’s recent.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

Boren speaks. “Senator, can I jump in here? It’s Jim Boren…Isn’t this a battle between the Democratic Party? The fact is the stakeholders that oppose this are within the Democratic party. They’re your constituencies, and this is going to be solved at the leader’s office. The Republicans are all in. You’re going to have to persuade your Democratic colleagues, is that correct?”

9.) Rubio: “Jim, you’ve hit the nail on the head. (cough). That’s why I’m grateful that the President Pro Tem is willing to take a leadership role on this and the Governor is as been as public as he’d been.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

Boren: “So, if it fails, it’ll be because of Steinberg, right?”

10.) Rubio: “That’s right. My job has been to bring it up to this point and I’m handing the football off, if you will, to those in leadership to lead this effort.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

Boren: “It seems to me, watching politics in Sacramento for so many years, this is one of those old Democratic fake-outs where they act like they really want to do this and in the end they really won’t or it’ll be watered down.”

11.) Rubio: “You know, Jim, your outlook on things always really inspires me. But, you know, I’ve got to at least try.”

(Rubio’s super-secret context: Chevron $.)

Responses

Mark says:

You nailed it George. But he said it was for his family. I might buy it if he didn’t have the Chevron bribe, I mean job, way before he even announced his resignation.

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