The effort to alter the California Environmental Quality Act is underway. Senator Rubio will lead a committee that proposes to change this cornerstone legislation, as detailed in this Sacramento Bee article.
In response, through his Bakersfield California Op-Ed, Gordon Nipp of the Kern Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club, details the democratic structure of CEQA in its design to inform the public of potential adverse outcomes from development projects, mitigate for significant impacts, and demand redress, through litigation if necessary, when the law is violated.
As changes in CEQA are foreseeable, citizens and interests on all sides need to weigh in to ensure that potential reform is in the public interest.
On Wednesday, September 26 at 6pm, the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) will again deliberate a farmland policy for the county and its cities. As the policy discussion has played out over the course of the summer, and in the midst of impending litigation, issues over economic development and even the identity of the county have been raised.
A Modesto Bee article, “Stanislaus Cities Question Farmland Policy,” cites some of the complex issues that the policy deliberation has raised. In particular, many of the cities in the county are wary of how the policy will affect their municipalities.
Mitigation requirements for the conversion of farmland are at the crux of the controversy. While mitigation for the loss of farmland has been found to be consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act, its implementation on a local level has proven to be difficult to achieve.
Since the Stanislaus LAFCo and its commissioners are among the first to seriously take up this politically volatile discussion on a county-wide basis in the San Joaquin Valley, much will be learned from and built upon their groundbreaking efforts.
The High Speed Rail project promises to bring significant economic stimulus to the San Joaquin Valley (the first segment of the project to be built) and a 2017 deadline for spending $6 billion dollars in Federal funding necessitates an expedited timeline on construction.
HSR Authority Chairman Dan Richards seeks to streamline bringing the project forward in a number of ways including avoiding CEQA injunctions, and rather looking to mitigate for the project’s environmental impacts. While the project promises economic opportunities, it also threatens to increase sprawl development onto farmland by bringing the San Joaquin Valley into potential commuter distance from the Bay Area and southern California.
Meanwhile, California legislators will seek addition federal funding for the project. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the federal government has already pledged $3.5 billion while California’s taxpayers authorized $9 billion. (The HSR Authority’s budget assumes an additional $4 billion in federal funding to complete the project.) Currently, the project is budgeted at $68 billion.
While Congress would need to approve additional funding, members of the California Legislature hope that a potential second-term for President Obama will increase the likelihood of federal assistance on the next segment of the HSR project from Bakersfield to Palmdale.