Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Valley legislators cheer Brown’s State of State call for CEQA reform

As if it wasn’t clear to this point, Gov. Jerry Brown in his State Of The State address today once again talked of reforming the California Environmental Quality Act.

Name-checking the 43-year-old state law was cheered by three San Joaquin Valley legislators, two of them Republicans, the third a key Senate Democrat.

Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, has made it clear he wants serious reform to the law, and he is chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which would hear any reform proposals.

Michael Rubio

The law, better known as CEQA, is a central tenant of California’s environmental protections. But is also under fire for slowing major projects and for stymieing infill development projects.Rubio specifically mentioned a proposed infill project at L and San Joaquin streets in downtown Fresno that has been halted by a CEQA lawsuit.

Brown — who has previously stated the need for CEQA reform — once again seemed to agree, this time using the annual gubernatorial address.

“We also need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act,” according to Brown’s prepared speech. “Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”

Rubio said he was encouraged that Brown chose to not only to bring up CEQA in the speech, but also to add a bit of detail on providing certainty and cutting delays.

“Clearly, it is a priority for the governor and provides great momentum for a coalition that is forming to move forward in streamlining CEQA,” he said.

He said Brown’s support will help embolden the coalition. He said legislation is currently in the works, with plans to introduce it next month ahead of the Feb. 22 deadline for filing bills.

Assembly Member Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said she wanted “a more detailed plan for spurring job creation” from Brown, but was “pleased that he at least wants to reform CEQA and provide more certainty to businesses.”

Anthony Cannella

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, dedicated a whole paragraph to CEQA reform in a written statement.“I believe that the goals of CEQA are valuable to our communities, but reform is needed so that special interests can no longer subvert the system by using it as a tool to unnecessarily delay development through litigation,” he said.

Now, all that remains is pushing that legislation through the Assembly and state Senate and then to Brown.

Many environmentalists will work to kill any such CEQA reform proposals, and might even find allies among the Valley’s agriculture community, some of whom have filed CEQA suits to stop the state’s proposed high-speed rail project.

Valley lawmakers ask governor for more prison money

More than a dozen Valley legislators are joining the region’s counties in urging Gov. Jerry Brown to deliver more money for public safety.

A letter sent to the governor this week by 13 lawmakers identifies the bum deal that the San Joaquin Valley got when it came to slicing up funding for the governor’s prison realignment. The letter asks the governor to reconsider the distribution.

“I haven’t met one person who thinks the current allocation is fair,” said state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, who spearheaded the bipartisan push in Sacramento to get the Valley more money.

Brown’s prison realignment is shifting low-level felons once managed by the state to local jails and probation departments. Many law enforcement agencies are complaining that the shift is bringing too much responsibility and not enough money.

As revealed in the Bee last spring, the 12 counties between Kern and San Joaquin are getting smaller shares of realignment funding this year than they got last year.  Meanwhile,  seven of nine Bay Area counties are getting larger shares.

Fresno County, for example, is getting $12,176 for every offender projected to be shifted from state to county supervision while Contra Costa County in the Bay Area is getting $40,346 per offender.

Brown officials have told The Bee that they’re not taking responsibility for the allocation, saying they passed it off to the county’s statewide lobbying association. The counties, however, have been bickering within the association.

Rubio hopes that, at the least, next year’s state budget will contain a more equitable formula for distributing the funds.

Among the lawmakers signing this week’s letter to the governor are Sens. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assembly members Connie Conway, R-Tulare, Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, Henry Perea, D-Fresno, and Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals.