When Michael Rubio abruptly resigned from the state Senate in February, what appeared to be a core component of his rising influence, a reworking of portions of the California Environmental Quality Act, came to a screeching halt.
This was not welcome news for those who believe that in far too many cases, CEQA is used as a NIMBY (not in my backyard) tool or an idealogical wedge to disrupt development, rather than for the environmental protection purposes it was intended.
Rubio, a moderate Democrat, was spearheading what he thought would be a major rewrite of CEQA, to the displeasure of environmentalists but with the support of many Republicans and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. But the bill that came out of Rubio's work alongside Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate president pro tem, was considerably watered down from what many had expected, and Rubio resigned that same day.
Now, a Modesto-area Republican state senator, Tom Berryhill, has stepped in. He said he intends to continue with the work Rubio abandoned when he bolted for a lucrative oil industry job. "A great idea is a great idea," Berryhill said in a news release. "It is not Democrat or Republican; it is just a good idea that should have been passed last year if it weren't for the Democrat leadership sidelining it. Frankly, I am here to get stuff done. My district still has double digit unemployment. This is a jobs issue to me."
Like Rubio, Berryhill is not targeting the entire CEQA, an effective and important piece of legislation intended to protect California's diverse and fragile environment. The concern is the political use of CEQA by groups that use the act as a hammer, stalling and eventually killing projects they oppose with litigation. The ripple effect can be extensive -- a chief casualty, of course, being job creation.
That's the gist of the reform Rubio sought, and presumably what Berryhill will pursue. "CEQA would continue to mandate comprehensive environmental review, disclosure and informed public debate for all environmental impacts of any proposed development," Berryhill announced. Rightly so.
Here in Kern County, where the jobless rate is 13.6 percent, it shouldn't matter whether CEQA revisions are pushed by a Democrat or a Republican, or whether reform is championed by a homegrown politician or one who represents Californians 200 miles to the north. What matters most is that CEQA be used as it was intended -- as a tool to preserve environmental quality, not a legal stall tactic. Parsing one from the other in the language of a new bill might be difficult -- one man's legitimate opposition is another man's sabotage -- but the Legislature owes us its best effort to sort it out.