Guest Op-ed: Reforming CEQA puts us on the path to affordability

Originally published in the Bakersfield Californian on 08/07/17

By Assemblyman Vince Fong

As I travel through the Central Valley, the constant theme I hear is how unaffordable it is to live and work in California. This concern is growing and I anticipate more families will continue to raise this as an issue as more policies are passed by Sacramento that make every day living even more expensive.

As California becomes more unaffordable, particularly for those living in the inland regions of the state, there is a trend of working class and middle class families and needed small businesses leaving the state.

vince fongHowever, California cannot sustain itself going down this path. We need a strong economy, and we need a healthy Central Valley, which is home base for industries that feed, fuel and power this entire state of 38 million people. The diversity of industries in this state is one of our greatest strengths and we need a vibrant California economy that helps everyone in order to make California truly a “Golden State.”

The reality is that there are real policy solutions that will help get the state back on the affordable track. One needed change is reforming the 50-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, which dictates the environmental assessment requirements for proposed development projects.

There is no doubt that CEQA is one of the most significant factors that makes it so difficult to build the appropriate water, transportation, and housing infrastructure that can adequately accommodate the most populous state in the nation.

CEQA was intended to be a process to mitigate environmental impact of projects, but it has been used as a legal weapon by interest groups to delay and stop projects for reasons that have nothing to do with environmental impact. The abuse of CEQA is well-documented and well-known by policymakers, and CEQA reform is way past due.

For many critical projects, CEQA has been a swamp of lawsuit traps statewide and in Kern County, which has hampered economic development and shutdown services that our local communities need. Projects ranging from needed road improvements to affordable housing projects are routinely challenged and killed through the abusive use of CEQA. Between 2013 and 2015, CEQA was used to derail or delay the construction of nearly 14,000 housing units and at least one 200-bed homeless shelter.

For the housing crisis plaguing this state, the answer is seen in basic economics: we need to increase the supply of housing at a rate that meets the growing demand in this state, which is causing prices to skyrocket. Needed housing would materialize faster and families would benefit by reforming the oft-abused parts of CEQA.

There is a big problem in this state when funding for projects are largely spent on attorneys and consultants to navigate the CEQA process before any construction even starts. Gas tax dollars are being wasted on unnecessary and bureaucratic requirements when we need to fix our roads and build more capacity to relieve unacceptable levels of traffic congestion throughout the state. The answer to this problem is not turning around and imposing the largest gas tax increase in the history of California, which is what Sacramento Democrats did just a few months ago.

The hard-working residents of this state should not have to bail out Sacramento for a problem they created and are unwilling to fix.

The greatest way we make California more affordable is by making commonsense reforms to CEQA, which is only making it more expensive to build roads, housing, and water projects. This leads to higher rents, higher cost of food, and higher cost to commute every day to work. We can make real progress and help hard working taxpayers and small businesses in a big way by making CEQA reform a top legislative priority right now.

Vince Fong of Bakersfield represents the 34th Assembly District.

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