Logo courtesy of California Senate Republicans

California Senate Republicans criticize delays to critical fire prevention programs as fires sweep through state

In 2018, the Butte Fire Safe Council determined that Berry Creek was in a high-risk fire area and secured $836,365 in grant funding to cut back roadside vegetation, clear evacuation routes and create fuel breaks in ridge-top areas – approximately 120 acres of vegetation would be cleared (KRCR – ABC 7 News).

Unfortunately, the project was never started because of a California law called the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

State Senator Jim Nelson in a press release stated:

“We lost another community because of powerful environmental extremists and inaction of the Newsom Administration and the California Legislature on CEQA reform,” said Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama). “Anger doesn’t begin to describe my reaction to this nonsense. Delays caused by CEQA resulted in human and animal lives lost, billions in property damage and triggered millions of dollars of state spending that could have applied elsewhere.”

The town of Berry Creek was a high-risk area as determined by the Butte Fire Safe Council in 2018. A grant of $836,365 was given to cut back vegetation and clear the access roads as part of an escape route. The money was also intended to create fuel breaks in ridge-top areas.

CEQA delayed the clearing of 120 acres of dry brush by 18 months.

Looking back to 2009, Democrats have used legislation to streamline or exempt projects from CEQA that either built sporting arenas and stadiums for billionaires, mandated union labor or required approval from the Governor. During that same time Republicans introduced a large number of CEQA reforms, trying to address issues with levees, dams, exit routes to ensure that residents are able to escape during an emergency, protect water quality, housing and forest management. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the Republicans proposals were either killed in committee by Democrats or pulled by the author knowing that their bill was going to die.

Republican CEQA Reform Legislation:

AB 2444 (Gallagher, 2020) – Exempts from CEQA projects that thin vegetation and trees that are exhibiting signs of disease or pest infestation, by mechanical thinning, piling, pile burning, chipping, prescribed fire, cultural fire, or grazing. NEVER HEARD IN COMMITTEE

SB 1289 (Chang, 2020) – Exempts specific housing projects from CEQA. SENATE EQ FAILED TO SET THE BILL

AB 231 (Mathis, 2019) – Exempts from CEQA a project to mitigate drought conditions for which a state of emergency has been declared by the Governor. This would only apply to recycled water pipelines and groundwater replenishment. FAILED IN ASSEMBLY NATURAL RESOURCES

AB 394 (Obernolte, 2019) – Exempts egress routes near a residential subdivision from CEQA. This only applies to projects where the egress route is specifically recommended as an action to improve fire safety by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the community currently has insufficient egress routes. VETOED BY GOVERNOR NEWSOM

AB 431 (Gallagher, 2019) – Exempts the following activities from CEQA: 1. Improvement of evacuation routes from Paradise, 2. A sewer system for Paradise, and 3. Projects to provide water service in Paradise. PULLED FROM HEARING

AB 1901 (Obernolte, 2018) – Extends the sunset date to January 1, 2023 on an existing exemption to CEQA for specified projects that make repairs, provide maintenance, or minor alterations to roadways. PULLED FROM HEARING IN SENATE EQ

AB 3020 (Flora, 2018) – Would have exempted projects that mitigate an emergency or reduce the threat or intensity of a wildfire from CEQA. PULLED BEFORE HEARING

AB 1273 (Gallagher, 2017) – Exempts from CEQA, until July 1, 2023, the repair of critical levees of the State Plan of Flood Control that are within an existing levee footprint and undertaken in order to meet public health and safety standards. FAILED IN SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES

AB 1589 (Mathis, 2016) – Creates a CEQA Exemption (CEQA) for projects to mitigate the drought for which the Governor has proclaimed a state of emergency. FAILED IN ASSEMBLY NATURAL RESOURCES

AB 2438 (Waldron, 2016) – Exempts from CEQA the installation of new recycled water pipelines of less than eight miles in length within a paved public street, highway, or right-of-way. FAILED IN SENATE EQ

AB 2578 (Bigelow, 2016) – Expands an existing CEQA exemption for water distribution pipeline repairs that address water leakage. Creates a new CEQA exemption for projects undertaken by a local agency in response to a drought that are necessary to acquire water supplies, extend service, or provide water for drinking and sanitation to individuals and communities with groundwater wells that have run dry or where the only available groundwater exceeds primary or secondary drinking water standards. PULLED FROM HEARING

AB 311 (Gallagher, 2015) – Streamlines CEQA litigation review for specified major surface water storage projects funded by Proposition 1 (The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014) by requiring resolution within 370 days, including appeals. FAILED IN ASSEMBLY NATURAL RESOURCES

SB 240 (Stone, 2015) – Provides a CEQA exemption for specified renewable energy projects of limited duration on disturbed land that provides electric service through the Local Government Renewable Self-Generation Program. FAILED IN SENATE EQ

SB 389 (Berryhill, 2015) – Creates the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act which integrates newer and more objective environmental and planning laws into the CEQA review process. FAILED IN SENATE EQ

SB 487 (Nielsen, 2015) – Provides several important CEQA exemptions for the formation of groundwater sustainability agencies, the preparation, adoption, and amendment of a groundwater sustainability plan, and a project that implements a plan or coordinated plan under the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). PULLED FROM HEARING.

SB 11 X1 (Berryhill, 2015) – Creates a CEQA exemption for minor roadway repairs that do not lead to a significant change in an existing use and are not near a waterway or wetland. COMMITTEE NEVER SET FOR HEARING.

AB 1849 (Logue, 2014) – Exempt from the requirements of CEQA, the maintenance, repair, or replacement of an existing levee. PULLED FROM HEARING.

SB 787 (Berryhill, 2013) – Integrates newer and objective environmental and planning laws into the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process. FAILED IN SENATE EQ

Democrat CEQA Legislation:

SB 450 (Umberg, 2019) – Exempts projects that convert existing motels or hotels into supportive or transitional housing facilities from CEQA. CHAPTERED

AB 734 (Bonta, 2018) – Provides for streamlined judicial review under CEQA for the Oakland Athletics Sports and Mixed-Use Project. CHAPTERED

AB 987 (Kamlager-Dove, 2018) – Provides streamlined judicial review under CEQA for the development of the Los Angeles Clippers Arena and related infrastructure. CHAPTERED

AB 1826 (Budget, 2018) – Provides streamlines CEQA review to a visitor center that is part of the Capitol Annex project. CHAPTERED.

AB 246 (Santiago, 2017) – Extends the sunset date from January 1, 2018 to January 1, 2020 by which the Governor has to certify a project as an environmental leadership project that is eligible for streamlining under CEQA. CHAPTERED

SB 734 (Galgiani, 2016) – Extends an expedited CEQA litigation review process (AB 900) for two years for qualifying projects. Establishes a new requirement that projects using this expedited litigation review process must pay construction workers at least the prevailing wage, and requires multifamily residential projects to sell parking unbundled from the residential units. CHAPTERED

SB 836 (Budget, 2016) – Provides streamlined CEQA review to the Capitol Annex project. CHAPTERED.

SB 1008 (Lara, 2016) – Extends an exemption under CEQA until January 1, 2020 for the design, site acquisition, construction, and operation of antennae and other radio equipment within the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (“LA-RICS”) that meet specified criteria. CHAPTERED

SB 743 (Steinberg, 2013) – Streamlines the CEQA and eminent domain process to speed the development of a downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings. CHAPTERED

AB 900 (Buchanan, 2011) – Creates prospectively, an optional, streamlined judicial review in CEQA for certain high-level projects certified by the Governor before sun setting January 1, 2015. CHAPTERED

SB 292 (Padilla, 2011) – Streamlines CEQA administrative and judicial review of the environmental impact report (EIR) and approvals granted for a project related to the development of a proposed National Football League (NFL) stadium (Farmers Field) in City of Los Angeles. CHAPTERED.

AB 81 X3 (Hall, 2009) – Provides a special exemption from CEQA, for the construction of a new NFL sports complex within the City of Industry (Majestic Realty). CHAPTERED

* The list of Republican and Democrat bills above is not an exhaustive list.

This article was released by the CA State Senate Republican Caucus.