Sacramento is set to embark on possibly the most significant civic project in the history of the city. The downtown sports and entertainment complex is a necessary component to keeping the Kings in California. But more than that, it’s a vital civic amenity that will renew our city center, create jobs and stimulate our region’s economy.
That’s why the passage of SB 743 is critical to Sacramento’s future. The bill introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg will help streamline the process set forth by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for developments meeting certain specifications. In doing so, it will help prevent the state’s environmental law from being exploited by special interests and competing businesses seeking to delay and derail projects – including the construction of a new downtown arena.
It’s no secret that the arena project hinges on a tight deadline. In a recent editorial (“Fix CEQA, end carve-outs for special projects” Sept. 3), The Sacramento Bee underscored the urgency of this undertaking, writing that “opponents seeking to block what Steinberg rightly calls a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ could easily delay the project, possibly leading to the loss of the Kings and a chance to revitalize downtown.” But The Bee also questioned why the Senate leader couldn’t reform CEQA in its entirety to prevent abusive practices and facilitate projects like the arena.
There is little doubt, among liberals and conservatives alike, that CEQA is in need of reform. While SB 743 is not the comprehensive overhaul of CEQA that some are seeking, it is a key step in the right direction. Some may argue that SB 743 does not go far enough. Specifically, these well-meaning opponents take issue with the fact that two of the bill’s provisions are unique to the Kings’ arena project and do not apply to other projects in the state.
Frankly, I agree that comprehensive CEQA reform is necessary, but it will not be accomplished in a single day, or with one single bill. Given the critical nature and timing of the downtown arena project, it would not be politically feasible to meld comprehensive CEQA reform into SB 743.
Here in Sacramento, we have a great opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of streamlining the CEQA process. Our success locally will help pass comprehensive, statewide CEQA changes in the second year of the legislative session.
We need to pass SB 743 to create vital economic growth and new jobs in the Sacramento area. But equally importantly, we need to help pave the way for meaningful CEQA reform for all California communities.
Michael Ault is executive direct of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.