Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told his fellow legislators Wednesday that he's still trying to find a middle ground on reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, but he's determined to enact something by the end of the legislative session next month.
"Let's get something done," Steinberg told the Assembly Local Government Committee.
On a 5-0 vote, the committee approved the current version of his reform measure, Senate Bill 731, on assurances that it's a "work in progress."
The current version still lacks support from business groups and some local governments seeking big changes in the four-decade-old law and union and environmental groups that oppose big changes. Gov. Jerry Brown has also made CEQA reform a major cause and has given Steinberg his own list of reforms.
Steinberg told the Local Government Committee that while the present version of the bill, which has passed the Senate, has "significant, substantive provisions" to streamline procedures and reduce litigation, and he is willing to make changes, but is unwilling to go as far as the business coalition is seeking. He complained that the business demands are "a moving target."
Business groups have complained that CEQA's provisions are being abused by environmental and union groups, often for purposes that have nothing to do with environmental protection. But supporters of the law see it as a powerful tool to block development projects they don't want.
Steinberg told committee members that he's particularly interested in making it much easier for developers of high-density, transit-friendly "infill" projects to win environmental clearance. He is the author of legislation that requires local governments to favor projects of that ilk to reduce sprawl and pollution.
Steinberg said he wants new provisions on infill projects that are "much less prescriptive, much less specific" to "jumpstart economic development." He also tied CEQA reform to another bill he's carrying this year, Senate Bill 1, which would re-create a form of redevelopment aimed at "sustainable development." The Local Government Committee approved that measure.
The hearing on SB 731, drew dozens of interest groups on both sides, but most said they wanted Steinberg to continue seeking consensus without flatly endorsing or opposing his bill as now written.
PHOTO: Houses go up in a south Sacramento infill project south of Franklin Boulevard and Mack Road on Dec. 13, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Jay Mather