CEQA Reform World Turned Upside Down by Rubio Resignation

 

 

The CEQA reform landscape – which looked pretty robust all winter – was turned upside down on Friday.

First, state Sen. Michael Rubio – chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality and the leading advocate for strong CEQA reform in the legislature – abruptly resigned to take a government relations job with Chevron. Then, a few hours later, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg introduced a placeholder CEQA reform bill that hinted at less-than-sweeping reform. However, the bill does call for statewide significance thresholds for land use impacts – a potentially significant shift.

Without a CEQA champion in the Legislature, it seems likely that some CEQA reform will be passed this year. Instead, it is likely to nibble around the edges of CEQA processes – an approach that critics sometimes say creates a more complicated law, not a simpler one. Gov. Jerry Brown said Saturday he was counting on Rubio to carry the ball on CEQA reform this year and was disappointed that he was resigning.

The bill, SB 731,  does contain language that supports an annual $30 million in funding to the Strategic Growth Council in order to continue the local planning grant program currently funded by Proposition 84 funds. 

Steinberg acknowledged that SB 731 is a placeholder. Currently, the bill is barely one page long and contains very general “intent” language. The bill currently calls for statewide significance thresholds on noise, aesthetics, parking, and traffic levels of service as well as land use impacts. The bill also calls for a variety of procedural changes, including limiting “late hits” and “document dumps,” defining “new information” more specifically, and directing trial judges to focus only on inadequate portions of environmental documents rather than remanding the entire document for review.

Considered an up-and-coming star among conservative Democrats, the 35-year-old Rubio served on the Kern County Board of Supervisors before he was elected to the Senate in 2010. Last August, he made headlines by proposing major CEQA reforms late in the legislative session. . Within 24 hours he held a press conference with Steinberg backing off the reforms and promising to reintroduce legislation in 2013. He was expected to lead the charge for CEQA reforms this year.

He said he resigned because the legislative position leaves him with little time to spend with his young family. The Chevron job certainly pays many times his $95,000-a-year legislative salary. It is unclear whether his ability -- or lack thereof -- to move CEQA and other reforms through the legislature was also a factor.