Alan Autry was disastrously wrong when he was the Developer-Fool mayor of Fresno during the boom years, a radio talk-show blowhard forever urging the public to do “the right” thing (wink, wink).
Now Autry is urging the state Legislature reform the California Environmental Quality Act. Promises of reform were part of the last elections but a year went by and no bill passed to “reform” one of the most popular laws in the state.
So, the veteran “communicator,” pro footballer and actor, spells it out simply in his home newspaper, the McClatchy Company’s local outlet in Fresno. And, as always, he is simply wrong.
CEQA is not responsible for either the building boom, which occurred after the act was already well established, or the bust which created an economic depression called everything but an economic depression throughout America and beyond. The depression and accompanying unemployment was caused by what is euphemistically called “The Credit Crisis,” in fact the largest fraud in financial history, perpetrated by everyone from Wall Street investment banks to the lovely, innocent maidens from any town anywhere in the world from which immigrants had come to the Valley. They worked out of local real estate offices selling incredibly over-priced houses with fraudulent mortgages to their neighbors from the Old Country. They disappeared with the dry wall hangers.
CEQA was no measurable threat to the building boom in Fresno. It may be of concern to gas-well speculators in Fresno County because of fracking. West Side agriculture has already polluted drinking water. Fracking will make that water even worse.
Proceeding from a premise devoid of historical content, Autry continues down the wrong path in this bit of flak for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. -- blj
Autry: Environmental law needs to work for all…Alan Autry. Alan Autry is a former mayor of Fresno.
As California continues its slow climb out of the recession, now is a good time to look at how this state can create a better climate for job growth.
In particular, environmental regulations from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) have made it difficult for job growth in California. To be fair, California can and should look for ways to protect the environment. But for too long this state has been forced to choose between protecting the environment and creating jobs. This is a false choice. California can do both.
That's why it's important for the Legislature to reform CEQA. The basic problem with the current law is it allows special-interest groups to stop economic growth and abuse the law, which was never its true intent. As a result, CEQA has been great for special interests and lawyers. And while it has helped protect our environment, CEQA has been pretty bad for jobs.
That's why we need real reform that works, which is what Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, declared that he was aiming to accomplish. However this effort was derailed, resulting in nothing more than an exemption to build a Sacramento arena. And this is not the first time a legislator has pushed through a special-interest exemption for a powerful pet project. A similar proposal is in the works for an arena in the Bay Area, and Los Angeles and City of Industry also have received exemptions.
What about the struggling Central Valley? For too long, the hardest-hit economic regions in California have been pushed aside, while CEQA exemptions are made for metropolitan areas that have stronger economic activity. We cannot forget about those who are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet — those who need economic opportunity the most. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for Fresno fell 0.1 percentage points in July to 12.5%. For the same month, the metro unemployment rate was 3.8 percentage points higher than the California rate.
We encourage Sen. Steinberg and others to go back to the drawing board and propose legislation that will not only benefit the Sacramento arena proposal, but benefit all Californians with new jobs and economic development regardless of where they live in the state.
The current approach does not send a signal of stability, but instead demonstrates that if you have enough resources or clout, the Legislature will grant you an exemption. What's needed is a real reform plan that sends a clear signal to businesses that they can invest and build in California without delays or legal fights.
What would a balanced approach look like?
First, CEQA should focus on fostering an informed debate by the public and decision makers about how applicable environmental standards reduce project impacts.
Second, it would eliminate CEQA duplication. The law should be returned to its original intent and not require duplicative CEQA review for projects that already comply with approved plans for which an environmental impact report (EIR) has already been completed — particularly since existing laws also require both plans and projects to comply with our stringent environmental standards.
Third, it would focus CEQA litigation on compliance with environmental and planning laws. CEQA lawsuits should still be allowed to be filed for failure to comply with CEQA's procedural and substantive requirements. However, frivolous lawsuits would be limited.
Finally, it would enhance public disclosure and accountability. CEQA should continue to mandate comprehensive environmental disclosure and informed public debate for all environmental impacts, including those covered by standards set in other environmental and planning laws.
If these four steps were taken, it would give our state — and our struggling Central Valley — the kind of CEQA reform that we need, one that would both strengthen the environment and strengthen the business climate as well. Let's do it right now for the entire state. But just as important, let's do it right.