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Gov. Newsom Proposes Efforts to Speed Up More Projects

Tue May 30, 2023 - West Edition #12
gov. ca

( photo)
( photo)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced an effort to save money and speed up the amount of time it takes to finish transportation, environmental and other infrastructure projects across California.

The governor said he has introduced nearly a dozen proposals he said would cut down on paperwork and the process to receive approval permits. He also said the effort would limit the amount of time infrastructure work is caught up in court over environmental lawsuits to no more than nine months. Newsom also signed an executive order that directs some members of his cabinet to pick projects that should be fast-tracked.

The legislative package and executive order build on Newsom's vow earlier this year to change a law called the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law requires agencies to evaluate and disclose significant environmental effects of projects and find ways to lessen those impacts.

Newsom and other critics said the 1970s law has been used to block anything from new apartments, bike lanes, California's High Speed Rail and water projects.

"We're not looking to roll anybody over," Newsom said at the announcement at a future solar farm and renewable energy storage facility in Stanislaus County. "We're not looking to roll over local communities. We're not looking to roll over environmental stewardship."

Sports stadiums have been able to bypass CEQA's hurdles to be quickly constructed, including the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and SoFi Stadium in Southern California. Newsom said he's trying to use similar strategies to transportation and climate work.

"I love sports," the governer said. "I take a backseat to nobody on sports, but I also love roads; I love transit; I love bridges; I love clean energy projects. It's not just about stadiums and we've proven we can get it done for stadiums, so why the hell can't we translate that to all of these other projects?"

Newsom noted he wants to pick up the pace on efforts to expand access to broadband internet, the construction of a reservoir in Northern California and other projects that have been proposed, but are waiting for permits to begin construction.

Housing was left out of the governor's proposal because Newsom's administration said climate and infrastructure projects are eligible for federal money. Speeding up the timeline on those projects makes them more competitive for funds.

Newsom noted some parts of his plan could have benefits to housing construction and said several other efforts are under way in the Legislature to speed up housing production.

Newsom's administration recently filed 11 bills that are referred to as "budget trailer bills" to map out the plan. Specifically, Newsom's office said the bills would streamline the construction procurement process, authorize an expedited judicial review to avoid delays from legal challenges, streamline permitting and establish a green bank financing program to leverage federal money for climate projects.

Republican lawmakers said they were cautiously optimistic.

"I hope he's serious about this because if he is, Central California, the state as a whole is going to see some improvements," said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno.

The governor is proposing to pass the set of proposals through the state's budget process, which would speed up the timeline, but have a less thorough public review process than what typical policy proposals go through at the state capitol. If successful, the Legislature would pass his plan this month and the new rules would take effect immediately.

Restore the Delta, an advocacy group that is opposed to the Delta tunnel project, released a statement recently lambasting the governor.

"Governor Newsom does not respect the people in communities that need environmental protection," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the group's executive director. "We have never been more disappointed in a California Governor than we are with Governor Newsom. We have repeatedly given him the benefit of the doubt."

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