13_Perspectives

13_Perspectives - CHAPTER 12 Perspectives CEQA: A...

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CHAPTER 12 Perspectives PERSPECTIVES CEQA: A Legislative Perspective Byron Sher .................................................................. 163 CEQA: A Judicial Perspective Cruz Reynoso .............................................................. 164 Conclusion: Securing the Future of the Golden State Herb J. Wesson, Jr. .................................................... 165 162
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PERSPECTIVES • PERSPECTIVES • PERSPECTIVES • PERSPE CEQA: A Legislative Perspective By Byron Sher The California Environmental Quality Act is the state’s single most comprehensive environmental statute, one that is often counted on to fill in the gaps of other environ- mental laws. More than any other state law, it contains essential processes that allow each individual to fight for a clean and healthy environment. CEQA requires lead agencies to analyze and, where feasible, to mitigate the environmen- tal impacts proposed projects, including cumulative effects and growth inducing effects. In this way, CEQA has prevented much unnec- essary harm to the environment. Countless projects have been improved through the CEQA process. Others were halted because the CEQA process re- vealed their true environmental costs or unearthed feasible and less damaging alternatives to achieve the goals of the project. Perhaps more importantly, CEQA gives individual Californians a voice in their environmental future. Public agencies are required to disclose the details on the environmental consequences of proposed pro- jects. The public has a right to comment. The comments of the public must be responded to in writing. An individual can enforce this process in court. CEQA thus protects not just the environment, but informed self-government. CEQA has been in effect for three decades. It has been amended; but the legislature has always protected the fundamental principles of environmental review, mitigation, and public participation. Exemptions from CEQA have been proposed, sometimes for projects from an individual legislator’s district. Exemptions, if granted, would shield a project not just from an environmental analysis, but also from public oversight. Fortunately, few exemptions have been enacted. One of the most persistent CEQA issues has been the “fair argument” standard. Under the fair argument standard, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be prepared if there is a fair argument based upon some substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment. This standard has been frequently attacked for requiring too many EIRs. Yet the standard is fundamentally sound. It is applied early, before much information about the project is public. To require that the public produce evidence about a project when the public has little access to information is manifestly unfair. Such a rule would actually create an incentive to avoid disclosure, undermining one of the core values of CEQA. California has a dynamic, diverse and prosperous economy. As we enjoy that prosperity and look forward to additional economic growth, there is tremendous pres- sure to focus on the short term. But we ignore long-term consequences at our peril. CEQA is the one statute that compels us to examine the long-term
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13_Perspectives - CHAPTER 12 Perspectives CEQA: A...

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