The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides for significant public input on public projects, analysis of a project’s environmental harms, and the opportunity for private actors to sue if they believe they will be negatively impacted by a project. Increasingly, this landmark legislation is being abused to manipulate the public process, resulting in harmful delays to projects that may be essential to the state’s housing and climate goals. Policymakers must consider the extent to which this tool of direct democracy and accountability has become a tool for special interests and individuals to exert veto power over public projects. In the case of the recent UC Berkeley enrollment lawsuit, the potential for CEQA abuse to result in clear negative impacts has reignited an important conversation about the role of the law. Reforms are necessary to ensure that CEQA can fulfill its original intent as a protection against environmental harms, rather than as a tool for private actors to delay or defeat public projects.
Rigel Robinson is a Berkeley City Councilmember. His district encompasses the UC Berkeley campus. Councilmember Robinson extends his gratitude to UC Davis professor Christopher S. Elmendorf, whose input helped shape this piece.