California Should Reform Environmental Review for Everyone

Kevin Drum

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Should California eliminate environmental reviews of homeless shelters?

Aiming to speed up the construction of affordable housing and homeless shelters in California, new legislation would make all new low-income housing projects exempt from a key environmental law that has been used to restrict development….“People are homeless, rents are too high and we just can’t sit here and say the status quo is working,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author. “We have to push hard to get affordable housing done, emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing. We’ve got to say enough is enough.”

CEQA requires developers to disclose a project’s potential environmental effects on the surrounding community and take steps to reduce or eliminate them. Doing so is often a time-consuming and costly process made longer by lawsuits that can last years.

This is a terrible idea. Construction projects don’t suddenly become harmless just because they serve a good cause. Should we also eliminate environmental review for hospitals, concert halls, and animal shelters?

Likewise, CEQA is either a reasonable law or it isn’t. If it is, it should stay. If it’s not, it should be reformed. But if it’s reformed, it should be reformed for everyone. Environmental reviews should be focused on legitimate environmental impacts—impacts that are real regardless of how virtuous your construction project is.

What’s happening here is that progressives are being hoist by their own petard. CEQA in recent years has become an all-purpose roadblock to new construction of all types, something that liberals mostly celebrate when it’s holding up an office building or a housing development they don’t like. But now it’s turning out that CEQA can also be used by NIMBYs to block construction of things that liberals do like. Imagine that. So their answer is to carve out exemptions for the stuff they like and leave everyone else in a legal morass.

I’m in favor of reforming CEQA. California should require rigorous environmental reviews of construction projects, but the requirements for a proper review should be clear and reasonable, not the basis for endless litigation. And this is a pretty good time to do it. If we can find a compromise that both developers and do-gooders can live with, we’ll probably have a pretty good law.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate