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The Environmental Law That Is Strangling California And Prospects For Reform

March 24, 2022

By Chris Carr

This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, threatens the Golden State’s status as the country’s most dynamic economy and imperils the educational and economic prospects of the next generation of Californians. Enacted in 1970, the law was intended to ensure that consideration of environmental impacts would be a part of the government’s approval process for construction projects. While it has done that, plaintiff attorneys and their clients have made an art of extracting concessions from or stopping projects altogether—often for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the environment. CEQA has received national attention over the past couple of months because of a court order capping enrollment at UC Berkeley based on the law. In this article, Chris Carr explains that the UC Berkeley enrollment case is emblematic of how the 50+ year-old CEQA too often gets in the way of California’s highest policy priorities, including critical infrastructure and projects that benefit the environment. A narrow bill to “fix” the UC Berkeley enrollment tragedy passed the state Legislature and was signed by the Governor earlier this month. In the debate over the bill, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, while supporting immediate action to address UC Berkeley enrollment, said: “But let’s not think for a minute that this mess was somehow an anomaly. When it comes to CEQA, this UC Berkeley train wreck wasn’t a bug. It’s a feature.” Statements like this offer hope that the attention the case has generated will lead the Legislature to consider more comprehensive CEQA reform in the months ahead.

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Image: Chris Carr
Chris Carr
Partner, Real Estate Department

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