In a state where environmentalism is considered a religion, how do you explain a bill sailing through the legislature with super-majorities in both houses that specifically assists construction of $100 million plus projects by speeding up environmental lawsuits?
Money talks when it comes to big private projects backed by big money developers and construction trade unions. In the case of this bill, which is tailor-made for Governor Jerry Brown (it is repealed the day he leaves office, January 1, 2019), it means the money people will have to chat with the Governor to get their privately financed mega-projects ruled eligible for “streamlining,” which could cut as much as three years off project development schedules. Public works jobs are specifically excluded by the provisions of the measure.
The bill aims to make potential lawsuits under the state’s main environmental law governing development wrap up within nine months, by extending for two years the expedited California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) judicial review procedures established by 2011’s AB 900, which was passed to allow Sacramento to “streamline” a number of projects, including a couple of solar energy projects, Apple’s new campus, a Frank Gehry-designed huge mixed-use project on the eastern edge of the Sunset Strip at 8150 Sunset Boulevard, the Golden State Warrior’s new arena and reconstruction of San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.
Beyond Lawsuit Benefits
In addition to the big price tag ($100 million plus), the project contractors will have to pay prevailing wage or operate under a project labor agreement and, of course since this is a California law, meet targets for greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy.
Some Los Angeles projects might qualify under the terms of the law according to legislative analysts:
- A $1-billion redevelopment of the Crossroads of the World complex in Hollywood.
- A $200-million hotel and residential development at the corner of Yucca Street and Argyle Avenue in Hollywood.
- The redevelopment of Barlow Respiratory Hospital near Dodger Stadium that would add 400 single-family homes to the property.
“This is great news for our economy and the many communities throughout the state who were seeking certainty about much-awaited projects in their hometowns,” said Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), the bill’s author in a statement. “SB 734, which is supported by business and labor, will help large job-producing green projects avoid delay and keep Californians working.”
The bill received bipartisan in both houses of the legislature. Assembly. Republicans have tried to reform the state’s CEQA law for many years, saying it as an impediment to development.
“We really need to do this for all projects in California,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto).
The Legislature passed the bill with an urgency clause, which means it will take effect immediately after the governor signs it. At press time Governor Brown had not yet done so, but chances are good that he will since he approved the underlying AB 900.
Politics and Strange Bedfellows
The registered suppers of the bill included the State Building and Construction Trades Council and the California Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents included environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club of California, who have offered token resistance to the measure saying they don’t believe the restrictions are strong enough to merit a break from the normal rules. The Judicial Council, a policy making body of the state court system, is against the bill because prioritizing lawsuits against these projects could slow down other cases.
Other opposition included the Air Conditioning Trade Association, American Fire Sprinkler Association, Associated Builders and Contractors – San Diego Chapter, California League of Conservation Voters, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of California and the Western Electrical Contractors Association