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News Posted on January 16, 2013

King Hall Hosts Planning and Conservation League Annual Environmental Symposium

UC Davis School of Law hosted "CEQA: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow?", the Planning and Conservation League's 2013 Symposium on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), at King Hall on January 12.  The event drew about 200 people to the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom and featured remarks from Professor of Environmental Practice Richard Frank '74, Susan Brandt-Hawley '77, Kevin K. Johnson '80, and California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg '84, who delivered the keynote address.

Darrell steinberg '84 and Rick Frank '74The Sacramento-based Planning and Conservation League, one of California's most prominent environmental organizations, hosts an annual symposium on environmental topics, and this year focused on CEQA, the 1970 law that serves as the foundation for California's environmental regulation. 

Professor Frank, who is Director of the California Environmental and Policy Center (CELPC) and a former member of the Board of Planning and Conservation League Board of Directors, served as moderator for an opening keynote panel discussion that featured California Senators Michael J. Rubio and Noreen Evans as well as Planning and Conservation League President David Mogavero and Caroline Ferrel of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment.  Setting the stage for the day's discussions, Professor Frank summarized the factors that have led to increased discussion of possible changes to CEQA.

"The legislative changes to CEQA since 1972 have been incremental and quite modest in their nature," he said. "Now for the first time in over 40 years, we are seeing a real questioning and reexamination of the premise of CEQA and its focus. We're seeing questions arise such as: Is CEQA being misapplied?  Is it blocking environmentally friendly projects such as infill development renewable energy?  Is it being used as a policy and litigation tool by interests that are not focused on environmental concerns?  Is it or is it not a drag on the economy?  Whether we call it a CEQA update, modernization, reform, recalibration, or in the view of some, a weakening of CEQA, it is a timely dialogue that is underway at the present time."

In his keynote address, Senator Steinberg shared his general support for CEQA while also suggesting that this year is the right time to make necessary changes to the law.  He highlighted stakeholder's concerns with CEQA, including complaints that the law has too many "litigation hooks" or points in the process where progress can be delayed by lawsuits, its procedures take too long to get through, and the potential for competitors to use it for goals unrelated to its original, environmental-quality purpose.  Senator Steinberg emphasized that he prefers an "update" rather than a "reform" to CEQA, noting that, "If you believe that even the great laws - and CEQA is a great law - require an update, then you shouldn't fear updates to CEQA."

Senator Steinberg also highlighted the recent announcement of a balanced budget in California, which he said will provide opportunities to make real achievements in other areas in his remaining two years in the state Senate.  He closed by saying that he wants to make sure we do our very best to update CEQA in the right way, with the broad support of the moderate business community and the environmental community.

Professor Frank also moderated a panel on "CEQA functional equivalency: what it means for current reform efforts," which featured retired environmental litigator Bill Yeates, Mike Levy of the California Energy Commission, and Sharon Duggan, EPIC staff attorney.  Kevin K. Johnson of Johnson Law moderated a panel on "Using CEQA for a cleaner energy future," and  Susan Brandt-Hawley spoke as part of a panel on "CEQA, cultural & community preservation."

King Hall previously has hosted two significant CEQA events:  a 1980 symposium that proved influential in the state Supreme Court's precedent-setting decision that preserved Mono Lake (National Audubon Society v. Superior Court) and the "CEQA at 40: A Look Back, and Ahead" symposium that drew more than 350 environmental officials, policy experts, environmental law practitioners, faculty, students, and alumni in November 2011.

Conference Program: "CEQA: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow?"