CEQA: The Law That Every Developer Loves to Hate
Environment Litigation Attorney Ryan Leaderman participated in a Q&A to The Real Deal on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law helps protect California’s natural environment, however CEQA has created challenges in the court room against neighborhood groups and unions.
One question asked, "California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature called you and said they’ll sign into law whatever changes to CEQA you want. What do you tell them?" Mr. Leaderman responded by saying: “Completely abolish it, and this is coming from a CEQA attorney! Protecting the environment is very important. In practice, though, at least in highly urbanized areas where I tend to practice, CEQA has little to do with these ideals. There are numerous laws, policies, findings and other requirements associated with project approvals that can protect the environment in a more cost-effective, efficient and equitable manner than the hydra-headed monster that CEQA has become.”
In regards to CEQA changes that are possible, Mr. Leaderman stated: “The Legislature should remove the many exceptions to CEQA exemptions that exist. To use an exemption, one often has to go through the same or similar analysis as in an environmental impact report or mitigated negative declaration to prove that none of the exceptions apply, which largely defeats one of the primary purposes of the exemption. Other near-term solutions are ending anonymous and duplicate CEQA lawsuits.”
Mr. Leaderman addressed what should be done on a local level to fix CEQA-related issues by stating, “In the City of Los Angeles, the tremendous staff turnover in the Major Projects division processing [environmental impact reports] needs to end. There also appears to be a lack of coordination and understanding amongst various city departments, such as the Fire Department, about the consequences of their actions when they review environmental documents."
In relation to the downsides of changing CEQA, Mr. Leaderman stated: “Change creates uncertainty. If there is no case law on the changes, that means that it may take litigation to clear up any ambiguities and uncertainties."