The coalition of groups that will fight efforts in the state
legislature this year to overhaul the California Environmental
Quality Act is taking shape. It includes environmental
groups, some Democratic lawmakers - and labor unions.
You might expect unions to support changes that would
streamline CEQA. After all, the faster development projects
start, the faster construction jobs are available. But at a
Capitol news conference yesterday to oppose efforts to weaken CEQA,
several of the speakers had names and titles like Robbie Hunter,
the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council
Hunter and other labor leaders say they oppose what they call
"deregulation" of CEQA. "Deregulation is never in the interest of
the ordinary working person - the everyday worker," he says.
"That's who we are. We're the ones that always pick up that
tab for deregulation." Labor leaders say unions must be
environmentalists - to protect their workers and communities.
But Republican State Senator Tom Berryhill says unions - and
developers - use the threat of a CEQA lawsuit as leverage in
negotiations to achieve their goals. And he points to a
union-backed bill a few years ago that streamlined CEQA for a
proposed Los Angeles football stadium. "When they have a
billion-dollar stadium that they want to build, they waive all CEQA
(requirements) at the drop of a hat," Berryhill says. "But a
small businessman or woman that wants to open a new business, and
they have a developer that's across the street or a union that
wants higher wages - routinely, this stuff's thrown in court on
frivolous lawsuits for many, many years, sometimes."
Governor Jerry Brown and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg say
they want to speed up CEQA's legal process without weakening its
environmental protections. If they succeed, they'll do so
over the objections of the unions who are among Democrats' biggest