Form and Reform
Fixing the California Environmental Quality ActFebruary 1, 2006
In the absence of strong statewide planning, and in the presence of weak local planning, stopping projects is what California does best. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has become the tool of choice for stopping both bad projects and good ones. Passed in 1970, the law was designed to avoid and/or remedy environmental damage from new developments. But in its current form, it does not achieve its policy outcomes. SPUR has reviewed CEQA from the standpoint of sound planning and environmental quality. Despite a promising model, we contend that applications of CEQA law have created types and patterns of developments that are environmentally worse than before. Viewed broadly, CEQA has contributed to sprawl and worsened the housing shortage by inhibiting dense infill development far more than local planning and zoning would have done alone. To re-form California, we must first reform CEQA.
We do not call for CEQA’s outright repeal but rather its application in truly sensitive open and natural resource settings — and its replacement in urban and suburban settings with a more robust planning process. In this report, SPUR recommends principles and guidelines to reform CEQA.