Public Law

Public Law Journal: Summer 2014, Vol. 37, No. 3

Through the Looking Glass: Why Making "Reverse CEQA" the Law in California Would Significantly Expand CEQA’s Scope While Undermining Its Purpose and Procedures

By Beth Collins-Burgard*

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s arguments are simple and alluring: humans are part of the environment; CEQA has always been intended to protect human health and safety as a part of the environment; and it is nonsensical to have CEQA analyze impacts from a proposed project to humans who already live in an area while ignoring impacts to the humans who will be added with the project. Who can argue with that? This is especially true when the District and its supporters point to potential dangers from siting housing or preschools near freeways, earthquake faults, or toxic waste dumps.

Most people would agree that our goal as a society should be to ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable housing; good schools, libraries, parks, and other public services; and non-polluted, healthy living environments. The District argues that mandating Reverse CEQA will help secure that reality for more Californians. I disagree for three primary reasons:

  1. Mandating Reverse CEQA would significantly change CEQA’s current implementation—by vastly expanding the scope of the analysis required, changing the methodology for performing that analysis, and precluding many projects from using CEQA exemptions and mitigated negative declarations (MNDs—without achieving the significant environmental protections sought;
  2. Mandating Reverse CEQA would increase litigation risks, costs for applicants and public agencies, and delay for projects of all types; and
  3. Mandating Reverse CEQA is not necessary to protect the health and welfare of Californians.

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