In a determined effort to address the long-standing issues plaguing California’s environmental review process and its at-times detrimental impact on construction projects and infrastructure development, Governor Gavin Newsom has unveiled a comprehensive plan aimed at streamlining approvals and expediting the way decisions can be achieved. At a press conference held in Stanislaus County last week, Newsom took decisive action by signing an executive order and introducing 11 trailer bills, urging the Legislature to consider them as an integral part of this year’s budgetary proceedings.
The governor’s agenda, succinctly captured by a report in the Sacramento Business Journal, centers around three core objectives: saving time, reducing costs, and combatting bureaucratic inefficiencies. To devise this strategy, Newsom drew inspiration from a recent report prepared by California Forward, a nonprofit organization, in collaboration with infrastructure advisor and former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. The report presented invaluable insights on how the state could capitalize on federal funding opportunities for upcoming infrastructure ventures, with an estimated potential allocation of a staggering $180 billion over the next ten years. These funds, sourced from federal spending packages like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as state funding such as the gas tax, have the potential to generate approximately 400,000 new jobs within the construction sector.
During the press conference, Governor Newsom emphasized the criticality of acting swiftly and efficiently to access these federal resources, which are currently being absorbed by more proactive states.
“If we get our act together and get these projects truly shovel-ready that we can draw down from the federal government, it’s hundreds of billions of dollars at stake,” the Governor said. “It’s going to other states that are moving more aggressively.”
In line with this urgency, Newsom’s executive order mandates the establishment of an infrastructure strike team tasked with fostering collaboration among various state agencies, federal bodies, tribal entities, and local governments. Their primary objective is to identify significant infrastructure projects and streamline the cumbersome approval process associated with them.
To overcome the hurdles commonly encountered during project approvals, the proposed legislation tackles several critical bottlenecks. These include addressing legal challenges that often hinder progress, as well as overhauling the intricate environmental review process mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. Notably, the reforms will introduce an expedited judicial review process for projects, accelerate the permitting timeline, and streamline the arduous procedures surrounding the retention and review of documents under the purview of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Governor Newsom underscored the absurdity of the current system by highlighting a water infrastructure plan, a previous iteration of the Delta tunnel project, which had an environmental review document spanning a staggering 289,000 pages. He denounced the fact that apart from lawyers and special interest groups vested in manipulating the process, no human being has comprehensively perused this colossal document. Newsom deemed this situation as utterly preposterous and stressed the pressing need for change.
By implementing his proposed measures, Governor Newsom envisions a significant reduction in project schedules, exceeding three years in some cases. Moreover, these reforms have the potential to save hundreds of millions of public and private funds and drastically minimize the volume of paperwork, potentially eliminating hundreds of thousands of pages.
Governor Newsom concludes that better, more efficient methods exist to drive progress in California. By seizing this opportunity for reform and establishing a more streamlined and expeditious review process, the state can propel infrastructure development, stimulate economic growth, and reclaim its rightful share of federal funding.