Touting jobs, Brown signs a pair of bills and curses 'too damn many regulations'
By Steven Harmon
San Jose Mercury NewsPosted: 09/27/2011 12:58:18 PM PDT
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills Tuesday that signaled he and other Democrats are willing to relax their concerns about the environment if it means a promise of jobs.
Over the objection of some environmental groups that fear that the landmark California Environmental Quality Act will be compromised, Brown declared that getting people back to work takes precedence.
"We've got to remove some regulations to speed things up," Brown said at a bill signing ceremony in Los Angeles. "We're going to protect the environment, but we're also going to do it in a practical way. There are too damn many regulations, let's be clear about that."
One bill, SB 292, paves the way for a $1.2 billion plan for a new 72,000-seat stadium in Los Angeles and the expansion of the downtown Los Angeles convention center. The other, AB 900, will give Brown the power to approve relaxed environmental rules for projects valued at more than $100 million.
The legislation won't affect the 49ers' plan to build a stadium in Santa Clara, because the deadline to file a lawsuit over environmental issues on that project has passed. It may, however, apply if the Oakland A's attempt to build a new stadium in San Jose and the Sacramento Kings try to build a new arena.
Regardless of its reach, AB 900 concerns some environmentalists who see it as a stark reminder of the diminishing political will for strong environmental standards in the face of the withering economy.
The law allows large projects -- from stadiums to housing projects -- to skip a step in the judicial process if they adhere to green standards in traffic flow, air quality and other factors.
Proponents of the bills say that 23,000 jobs would be created under the Los Angeles stadium legislation, starting when developers break ground in June.
Democratic legislative leaders proclaimed a new era of cooperation among business groups, labor and environmental interests. The stadium legislation was backed by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, an array of labor groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters.
The environmental groups say the Los Angeles stadium project is contained in a natural high-density hub, and requires that it will have the nation's highest standards in air quality, traffic control and public transit.
"We're showing to the world that in California, we know how to bring economic interests and environmental interests together," said Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles.
Yet environmentalists have concerns. They have already bemoaned the weak lineup of green bills that made it through the Legislature this year, a result of California's 12 percent unemployment, the Legislature's fixation on the budget deficit, and a state and national climate that is increasingly hostile to new government regulations.
Among the bills still awaiting action from Brown are a penny per-barrel increase on the fee oil companies pay to fund California's oil spill programs, and a ban on shark fin soup.
The expedited judicial reviews of big construction projects will make it more difficult for citizens to seek changes from the courts, said Kathryn Phillips, director of the California Sierra Club.
"Legislators and now the governor have framed this as though changing environmental laws will change the economy, and that's just not true," Phillips said. "It's an indication that our friends in the Legislature are caving to false notions of having to skirt environmental regulations to show they're doing something to help the economy."
The broader bill, AB 900, provides too much power to the governor, said David Pettit, senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the stadium bill.
"It gives the governor complete discretion to choose projects," Pettit said. "It makes a lot of people, including us, nervous."
Senate President Pro Tem, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who co-authored AB 900 with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, has promised to put together a working group to fix some of the issues, Pettit said.
But Steinberg heralded passage of both bills as an answer to the "old debate" in which the environment is pitted against jobs, business pitted against labor, the environmental community versus the business community.
"CEQA is a great law. Nothing in these bills weaken CEQA. To qualify, a project has to be clean and green and promise to pay high wages," Steinberg said.
"But no matter how great the law, government can and must implement laws fairly and without unnecessary delay," Steinberg said. "Especially when the stakes are so high for the economy and our working people."
The governor doesn't have sole authority to approve projects. He must get a final signoff from a joint Senate-Assembly committee. The first five projects would be audited.
"This is the way we get people working," Brown said. "Nobody likes to protect the environment more than me, and I'm going to protect it."
The Los Angeles stadium bill: SB 292 fast-tracks the L.A. stadium project by requiring that if opponents challenge its environmental impact report in court, as expected, the case will bypass county courts and go directly to the appellate court for a ruling within 175 days.
The broader bill: AB 900 would similarly allow other large projects -- from stadiums to housing subdivisions -- that cost more than $100 million to undergo a similar expedited process if they have no net increase in greenhouse gases and are certified as "silver" or higher on a green-building scale by the U.S. Green Building Council.
MORE ON BILLS
More than 600 bills made it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk in the final days of the legislative session. He has until Oct. 9 to sign or veto bills. If he does neither they automatically become law.
You can find his actions on all the bills on the governor's website. Go to the link, Governor Brown Issues Legislative Update: http://gov.ca.gov/s_pressreleases.php