Opponents of development projects often weaponize review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) to cause delay and increase costs for project developers in the hope of killing projects. On May 19, Gov. Newsom introduced a legislative package tackling two (of the many) offenders of the “CEQA bottleneck”: drawn-out administrative record preparation and lengthy legal challenges to CEQA review.

The first proposal narrows the scope of the administrative record. Currently, project opponents may choose to prepare the record on their own, purposely dragging out the process for months or even years. Opponents may also argue about the scope of the record. Gov. Newsom’s bill would allow a lead agency to prepare the record, notwithstanding the project opponent’s election to prepare it. It would also allow a lead agency to prepare the record when the opponents fail to prepare it in a timely manner. Additionally, the bill would narrow the scope of the record by excluding “internal agency communications” that were not presented to the final decision-making body.

The proposal contains additional streamlining measures for certain water, transportation, clean energy, and semiconductor or microelectronics projects. Concerning the administrative record, the bill would require lead agencies for such projects to prepare the record while it is processing the project application and preparing the environmental impact report. The leady agency would also be required to certify the record within five days of approving the project.

The second proposal in the bill would (on paper anyway) streamline judicial challenges to CEQA review for certain water, transportation, clean energy, and semiconductor or microelectronics projects. It would require filing of all lawsuits challenging an environmental impact report or challenging any project approvals, within 270 days of the record filing “to the extent feasible.”

While a Senate budget committee rejected the bill on May 25, citing lack of sufficient time to consider the bill before the cutoff for bills to pass out of their house of origin, the bills could return to the legislature. This is not the first time Gov. Newsom has criticized the CEQA review process as a weapon to block development (see his February 25 tweet, available at: https://twitter.com/CAgovernor/status/1629602373319688192?s=20), and may not be his last.

An article on this topic by JD Supra may be found HERE. The Office of Governor Newsom’s Press Release may be found HERE.