When State Sen. Tony Strickland, Gov. Jerry Brown and California Lutheran University Economist Bill Watkins all agree on a single topic, we’re inclined to pay close attention. That topic is the over-regulation of development projects and the need to streamline California’s notoriously slow CEQA environmental quality rules.
On Sept. 27, Brown signed an act, supported by Strickland, a Simi Valley Republican, as well as Democratic leaders, that would streamline CEQA-related legal appeals to large projects, those with a value of $100 million or more.
The fig leaf for this initiative was a commitment by Denver financier Phil Anschutz to build a football stadium in Los Angeles if it could achieve a faster track through the environmental review process. No politician wants to be the man or woman who kept the NFL out of a triumphant return to the City of Angels. But more important is a parallel bill, signed enthusiastically by Brown, which extends the streamlining of CEQA to any project of over $100 million.
This could allow green energy projects, hospitals, highway expansions and others to proceed at a predictable pace through environmental review.
In comments to the Ventura County Economic Development Association on Sept. 27, Strickland pointed out how the review process continues to put California at a competitive disadvantage. It takes two years to permit a new fast-food restaurant in California, he said, adding that according to CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, the same process in Texas takes just a few months. Strickland called the myriad rules affecting development a nightmare for
Californians who often get diametrically opposed rulings from state agencies. He also called for removing a sales tax on manufacturing equipment that’s putting the Golden State far behind the curve in retaining its semi-skilled and skilled workforce.
Watkins, who heads the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at CLU, said streamlining the permitting process for new real estate projects is key to California’s ability to recovery and address a “structural problem.”
California doesn’t need to walk away from environmental rules that have made the state a leader in green practices. “We just need to be close enough” to the rest of the country “to be able to compete,” he said. For local communities in the tri-county region, Watkins believes streamlining redevelopment rules could be key to rebuilding secondary retail projects, which have been devastated by competition from Internet shopping sites and the weak economy.
Cities that don’t have good alternatives for redeveloping strip malls could be stuck with vacant, blighted, crime-infested centers for years or perhaps decades, he said. That, in turn, could deprive local governments of critically important sales and property tax revenues.