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What You Need Know About Latest CEQA Changes

Wed May. 21st, 2014 News and Media

Gregory Weiler talked with Law360 about the California Judicial Council’s recent approved changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, which fast-track a small number of CEQA suits.

Under the new rules, CEQA suits for qualifying projects, of which there are currently only a handful in the state, now have to be completed within 270 days, as opposed to the typical three to five years. Some lawyers say the fact that the legislature was hoping for broad CEQA reform and came up with this limited change is a sign of just how powerful the CEQA lobby groups are, while others say this change may be a sign of bigger reforms to come.   

Weiler says these small changes are not feasible, and warn that fast-tracking more CEQA litigation could have a deleterious impact on the environmental review process.

“It’s fascinating,” Weiler said. “I’m just so anxious to see how they’re going to jamb this together in 270 days.”

Only three projects have thus far been certified as environmental leadership projects: NextEra Energy Inc.’s McCoy solar project in Riverside County, Apple Inc.’s campus in Cupertino, and the Soitec Solar Development LLC solar project in San Diego County. Certification is pending for a mixed-use project on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

While the new rules will expedite litigation for these projects and the Kings stadium should they face CEQA suits, they won’t affect scores of other projects up and down the state that will undoubtedly face CEQA litigation.

“If somebody challenges, you’re in a sausage grinder that can go on for two to five years,” said Weiler. “You can delay a project indefinitely. Delay is potentially death [to a project].”

Weiler says broad reform of CEQA is crucial to California’s economy and important to the development community. 

“There seems to be a lot of bipartisan support for CEQA,” Weiler said. “They’re going to try again to do CEQA reform. … In light of these Judicial Council rules, to get a similar cap on other litigation would be fantastic, even if it was 18 months.”

Gregory Weiler is a partner who practices in Palmieri Tyler’s Real Estate Group.