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Two Years Of Nothing At The Capitol

I was trying to figure out a way to summarize the 2009-2010 session of the California Legislature when I found a summary upon which I could not improve.

In its September 3 edition of "Framing the Issues," the affordable housing advocacy group California Housing Law Project nailed the situation. Under the headline "No Budget … No Money … No Legacy … Failed Policy," was this:

"Is it too cynical to state that the only good thing to be said about the 2009-2010 legislative session is that it's mercifully over? The Legislature failed to enact a budget this year (although they enacted three last year, none of which worked), failed to address enormous policy issues, including education, pension reform, health care, housing and environmental issues, while frittering away the final days and hours with legislation to ‘save' horse racing, playing word games and the classic pursuits of revenge and name-calling. Cause for cynicism?"

I think we may safely conclude the two-year session was unsatisfactory for affordable housing advocates, although they did win passage of AB 602 with bipartisan support. As amended, the bill would extend the statute of limitations for suing over a housing element from 90 days to five years.

The affordable housing lobby is hardly the only group frustrated by the Legislature's inaction. Very little significant land use legislation won approval during 2010. No substantial California Environmental Quality Act bills passed, despite the opinion of some alleged expert that this was the year lawmakers would roll back CEQA. Even the CEQA funny business at session's end on behalf of Wal-Mart failed. 

Other than a free pass for a football stadium and massive commercial complex in Industry -- although an exemption for another football stadium turned out to be a rumor -- the most important land use legislation of the two-year session was, in fact, water legislation. Lawmakers approved a package of water bills during the fall of 2009 that, among other things, created a new council to unite all Bay Delta policy. However, the package also included an $11.1 billion water bond for the November 2010 ballot. At Gov. Schwarzenegger's urging, lawmakers in early August agreed to postpone the bond election until 2012. Water policy and investment could have been this Legislature's legacy, but even that has been diluted.

So, let's review the Housing Law Project's headline.

No budget? Check.

No money? Check.

No legacy? Not much.

Failed policy? More like no policy.

I recognize California is in a pickle because of a lingering recession over which the Legislature and the administration have no control. But, as experienced managers are inclined to say, you don't ever want to waste a perfectly good crisis. A crisis provides the cover for reconsidering standard practices and for making hard decisions that individuals and organizations would otherwise avoid.

Crisis wasted? Check.

– Paul Shigley

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