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Legal Matters: What To Expect On Environmental Reform

There's hope we could see changes to the California Environmental Quality Act this year (it's a hope that tends to surface regularly), and some streamlining of CEQA could help to move projects along at a somewhat faster pace. But don't get your hopes up too high, Allen Matkins land-use partner David Blackwell tells us.


As part of our series of conversations with David (last time was affordable housing), we bring you his thoughts on CEQA and what we might expect this year.

Bisnow: What are the biggest issues with CEQA?

David Blackwell: The biggest issue is that even moderate legislative reform is unlikely. As such, we must deal with a statute that is a basis for virtually every administrative and judicial challenge to sizable development projects, even if the challengers could care less about the projects’ potential environmental impacts. Gov. Brown has referred to reforming CEQA as "God’s Work," but it is evident that we should not place much faith into meaningful reform.

Bisnow: What proposed changes might we see this year?

David Blackwell: Substantive changes to CEQA will be shaped more this year by decisions from the appellate courts and the California Supreme Court than by the legislature. These courts issued many significant CEQA decisions in 2015, and there are several important CEQA cases pending before the California Supreme Court, including Cleveland National Forest (regional plan's greenhouse gas consistency), Friends of Eel River (preemption), College of San Mateo Gardens (subsequent review standards), Sierra Club v. Fresno (judicial review standards) and Banning Ranch (identifying sensitive habitat areas).

New legislation will continue to focus on specific issues rather than broader reform, and may address some of the 2015 judicial decisions such as last month’s CBIA v. BAAQMD decision by the California Supreme Court that reduced application of the “CEQA in reverse” doctrine.