Governor Vetoes State Budget, Continues to Press Legislature to Exempt Caldecott Project from Environmental Review

Friday, January 9, 2009

The “In My Opinion” article on the front page of the January edition of the Rockridge News told of Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to exempt major highway projects, including the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore Project, from environmental review.  Since then, the Governor has continued to press legislative leaders to exempt these projects from all environmental requirements.  One new element is a proposal for a “superpanel” made up of three of the Governor’s cabinet appointees that could overrule any environmental condition placed on a project by a state regulatory agency.  Another, and perhaps even more controversial, provision would not only exempt the projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but would void any court order or judgment holding that a project had violated CEQA.  There are significant questions of whether this last proposal is even constitutionally valid.

With the governor’s veto of the Democrat-passed budget bill, the threat has become less pressing.  However, the danger is far from over.  Assembly Speaker Karen Bass was quoted in the Sacramento Bee as saying, “So far, legislative leaders have compromised, … … We’ve compromised by easing environmental restrictions for transportation projects.” To his credit, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that he found the prospect of attempting to overrule the courts disturbing and rejected a retroactive CEQA exemption. Neither of our local legislators, Assembly Member Nancy Skinner or Senator Loni Hancock, has taken a public position on the governor’s proposal.  The governor and Republican legislators can be expected to continue to press to let the Caldecott project get built in disregard of its impacts, and the Democratic leadership has hinted that more “compromises” could be in the works.