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Senate panel advances Borgeas CEQA reform bill

On a narrow 5-4 vote, a CEQA reform bill pushed by Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) was advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee late Tuesday night.

Borgeas’ Senate Bill 659 would allow courts to award attorney’s fees to a prevailing party in CEQA lawsuits if it finds that the losing party engaged in bad faith tactics that were merely employed to unreasonably delay a project. The bill is limited to awarding attorneys fees for CEQA suits concerning in-fill housing projects.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairwoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has squared off repeatedly with Borgeas over the CEQA issue.

Jackson, a major supporter of CEQA, took her sparring with Borgeas to theatrical heights during a committee hearing aimed to “dispel myths” about the law.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Jackson heavily condemned Borgeas for collaborating with Senate Democrats to reach a consensus on the bill, which would help alleviate California’s housing crisis, arguing that “This is not how we do business here.”

Borgeas ultimately scored the support of Democrats Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), and Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) along with fellow Republican Brian Jones (R-Santee).

In addressing the bill Tuesday, Caballero criticized Jackson’s narrow view of CEQA and the damaging impacts it has had on housing affordability in the Central Valley.

CEQA reform advocates argued that California’s bar on awarding attorney’s fees in CEQA suits has allowed for the law to be abused by labor unions as leverage to extract contract concessions, and opponents of projects (often referred to as NIMBYs) to drive up the cost of construction beyond economic feasibility.

With Borgeas’ bill, many believe that it forces litigious interests to have skin in the game when suing to block much-needed housing projects across California.

The bill was opposed by the Sierra Club, California Labor Federation, and Consumer Attorneys of California.

It is supported by the California Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, California Apartment Association, California Association of Realtors, Rural County Representatives of California, California Building Industry Association, and California Business Properties Association.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.