What a difference a mayor makes | March 22, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 22, 2013

What a difference a mayor makes

by Jeb Bing

What a difference a mayor makes. For the last eight years, we've watched as former Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, an avowed environmentalist, championed causes and state, federal and local legislation on climate, water and energy controls. She took credit for making Pleasanton one of the greenest cities in the country and carried her message to Washington, Canada and even in a march on New York City's Fifth Avenue.

Tuesday, her successor Jerry Thorne said enough's enough and fired off a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, with the City Council's support, asking him to start unraveling some of the most onerous provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). He's not alone. Other city and county leaders, and even the governor, himself, say it's time to loosen requirements on the state's 43-year-old landmark environmental law that Gov. Ronald Reagan initiated as a way to protect California.

Thorne believes CEQA has its merits but in recent years has been hijacked by zealots who would like to slow down, if not stop, all development. They're succeeding all too often, the mayor said, and their controlling hands are now into all aspects of California life even if there are no environmental issues. CEQA rules and regulations slowed the development of Stoneridge Creek, the major upscale retirement community now being built on Staples Ranch, and for years delayed, and almost stopped, the extension of Stoneridge Drive to Livermore, a project he and Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio pushed to complete. The new roadway will open in October.

"As mayor of the city of Pleasanton, I urge you to adopt legislation that would modernize CEQA," Thorne states in the letter sent Wednesday. He wants the legislation to force CEQA regulators to recognize that effective laws already exist for many potential environmental impacts. Reforms to the CEQA act should eliminate the need for multiple, duplicative CEQA review for projects that already comply with approved plans. If Pleasanton grants permits after determining that projects meet city, state and federal environmental standards, there's no need for CEQA to start its own review process, as it's now doing many times, Thorne said.

Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, agrees. His group is part of a broad coalition that now includes Pleasanton in pushing for moderate reforms to CEQA. These reforms, Thorne said Tuesday, will preserve the original intent of the law while eliminating some of its misuses that hurt job creation, community development and the environment. Brown, recalling the problems he had with CEQA as mayor of Oakland, has made a strong commitment to modernize CEQA, a commitment Thorne and the Pleasanton Council in their letter asks him to keep.

Thorne said Tuesday that in the 43 years since CEQA was enacted, many additional environmental regulations and standards have been enacted, yet public and private projects are still commonly challenged under CEQA even when a project meets all other environmental standards in existing law. Several bills have recently been introduced in the state Legislature that would reform CEQA, and Thorne hopes his letter will bolster action by the lawmakers.

Particularly onerous and costly to cities are lawsuits by environmentalists, often one after another, that challenge adopted environmental standards such as those already in place in Pleasanton. As mayor, Hosterman was a strong environmental advocate who favored CEQA and other regulations. Now it's Thorne's turn to streamline the process, keeping the environmental quality standards already in place but making it difficult for environmental zealots to use the courts and lawyers with a vested interest from stretching good and needed development into eternity.