Newsom’s budget trailer bills get pushback from state legislators

At the height of the fight over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget trailer bills (see “How a bill shouldn’t become a law,” my June 1 column), he took time to sit down for a New York Times interview with a sympathetic Ezra Klein. Newsom unloaded on ungrateful environmental groups for the reception he got for his last-minute infrastructure bill package. 

“This rigidity and ideological purity is really going to hurt progress,” he said, referring to us, in contrast with the governor’s sense of urgency as a can-do, practical sort.

The column’s headline was lifted from the governor’s most piquant complaint: “People look at me all the time and ask, ‘What the hell happened to the California of the ’50s and ’60s?’”

I’m going to guess that nobody ever looks at the governors of West Virginia, Texas, or Mississippi and asks what the hell happened to the West Virginia/Texas/Mississippi of the ’50s and ’60s, because, of course, that’s where they still are: Go ahead and build anything, anywhere; blow the tops off of mountains, never mind endangered species, vanishing wetlands, clean air, clean water, and too bad about the folks next door. I’m sure that’s not what the governor was going for with his invocation of the “good ol’ days,” and nothing in his trailer bills goes to that extreme, but much points in that direction, specifically at the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Let’s listen in (as Klein should have) on a small sample of the comments made by state legislators during the four-day period they had to discuss the governor’s trailer bills. Remember, these are state legislators, not ungrateful, rigid, ideologically pure environmental groups:

“It is starting to feel that we are being jammed by design. When we move a process forward in this manner, one of the things we miss out on the most is stakeholder input. Our communities are stakeholders and they don’t have time when the legislative process or the CEQA process is truncated. I am still struggling to find and determine what criteria and evidence is being used for statements to be made that this has to be moved forward in such a quick timeline.” —state Sen. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara)

“These proposals, regardless of their policy merits, are not related to the budget. They are also not strictly focused on expediting projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions or otherwise have a climate benefit. These proposals raise a number of questions from overall priorities to basic drafting issues, as well as the justification for pushing them and the eligible projects through an abbreviated public process.” —Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley), chair, Assembly Natural Resources Committee

“You’re saying these proposals are the product of stakeholder engagement, that you developed these proposals based on stakeholder input, that this is what stakeholders want, and that you went to our districts and talked to our constituents. I’m saying never in my life—outside of government workers and government officials—have I had a stakeholder say to me: ‘Please limit the public record.’ If this is coming from my constituents, I would like to know.” —Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-Morro Bay)

“When we start thinking about accelerating a process, streamlining processes, sometimes our most marginalized populations and minority contractors and others tend to get left in the dust.” —Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Perris)

“If we say go ahead and build those plants, and let’s do it in a hurry, you’re asking us to run on hope. And we have learned our lesson that when we operate that way, we end up either red-lining communities or creating low-wage jobs.” —state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), chair, Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement committee

“If we are going to give CEQA flexibility, then there must be a discernible and narrowly tailored focus on environmentally beneficial projects.” —state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), chair, Senate Environmental Quality Committee

“There is a difference between streamlining and expediting. Expediting means you’re going to do all the process and all the steps in a faster way. Streamlining is a decision to say we’re going to omit pieces of the process.” —Limón 

“This is not OK. I will partner with this administration to the best of my ability, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be silent in the face of a pattern that is not good for the people of California.” —state Sen. Steve Padilla (D-San Diego)

There are many more of these than will fit in this space.

As you read this, legislators are wrapping up budget negotiations with the governor, because the new fiscal year starts on July 1 (though extensions are not unheard of). Whatever the outcome, this is not the first time the governor has used budget trailer bills, executive orders, or other means to circumvent the legislative process and rush through large projects and significant policy changes with minimum review, debate, or public awareness.

It should be the last.

Andrew Christie is the executive director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Respond with a letter to the editor by emailing it to [email protected].

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