EDITORIAL: Legislature should fix CEQA, and stop cutting special deals

If Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg wants to do an end run around the California Environmental Quality Act to expedite the proposed new arena in downtown Sacramento, why shouldn't those changes apply statewide to similar urban projects?

The precise language of Steinberg's bill is unknown, but Steinberg says that at least one of the bill's key provisions would apply statewide. That part of the bill responds to a recent trial court ruling that struck down a provision of a 2011 CEQA reform law that allowed certain major construction projects to proceed straight to appellate court when faced with litigation.

In April, an Alameda Superior Court judge ruled that stripping trial courts of jurisdiction on CEQA cases was unconstitutional. Steinberg says his bill would create an expedited trial court proceeding lasting no longer than 90 days for certain eligible projects. Those projects would have to meet a certain minimum investment threshold, create new jobs and have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. While Sacramento's downtown arena would be eligible for the expedited trial court review, so would other projects in the state.

However, there are two key provisions in the bill being drafted that are unique to the Sacramento Kings arena project. One would allow eminent domain proceedings to run concurrently with CEQA review. The other would make it more difficult for arena opponents to sue to stop or delay the project.

Steinberg says the tight deadline to keep the Kings in Sacramento makes his legislation necessary. The National Basketball Association wants the arena built by 2017.

While Steinberg's motives are laudable, he again is pushing a late-in-session law change that gives the public little chance to vet the proposal. In addition, cities up and down California also have important developments on the drawing boards. Like the proposed arena, many are infill projects that create jobs, reduce sprawl and have few negative environmental impacts.

Why do an end run around CEQA at all? Why not fix CEQA -- so we don't have to debate this laudable but easily abused law, year after year?