Little Hoover Commission Offers Recommendations for CEQA Reform

May 8, 2024
For Additional Information Contact:
Ethan Rarick, Executive Director
(916) 445-0926

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) remains an essential tool to protect the state’s environment, but can be improved through targeted, limited reforms, the Little Hoover Commission concluded in a recent report.

The new report, CEQA: Targeted Reforms for California’s Core Environmental Law, recommends six reforms to CEQA, including a raising of the standing requirement for filing a CEQA lawsuit, a restriction on late submission of public comment, and a broad exemption for infill housing. The Commission also recommended in-depth study of several issues related to CEQA.

CEQA was signed into law in 1970 with the goal of protecting and enhancing the environmental quality of California. It requires agencies to review projects to assess potential impacts to the environment, disclose those impacts to the public, and mitigate them to the extent possible. CEQA has been an important player in countless environmental victories, especially in disadvantaged communities that often bear the brunt of negative environmental impacts. 

“CEQA is a successful landmark law that gives Californians a voice in how best to protect our great state,” said Commission Chair Pedro Nava. “With this report, the Commission seeks to identify small adjustments that could be made to help improve CEQA and ensure it is accomplishing what it was meant to.”

The Commission began a series of public hearings in March of 2023 to consider input from stakeholders, academic researchers, environmental experts, and policymakers regarding the current state of CEQA and whether changes to the law are necessary. The study culminated in a comprehensive report in which the Commission offers suggestions for potential reforms to improve the functioning of CEQA.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

  • In order to lessen the use of CEQA for non-environmental goals, the Commission recommends strengthening the requirements needed to sue for alleged violations of the law. The state should adopt the standing requirement of the National Environmental Protection Act.
  • The Legislature should revise CEQA to limit the submission of public input that occurs after a public comment period.
  • The state should exempt all infill housing from CEQA review.
  • The state should provide funding for additional judicial training regarding CEQA.
  • The Legislature should reaffirm that courts should show greater deference to statute and CEQA guidelines.
  • The state should develop clearer parameters for significance thresholds and mitigations.

The report also recommended in-depth study of five additional topics related to CEQA:

  • The creation of specialized CEQA courts.
  • Translation of CEQA documents.
  • Bonding requirements for plaintiffs.
  • The effect of Vehicle Miles Traveled analysis.
  • Locking in analytical models for some reasonable period of time.

“Over time CEQA has been through piecemeal change,” said Janna Sidley, who chaired the Commission’s subcommittee on CEQA. “The Little Hoover Commission conducted an extensive study and is now providing six recommendations which improve the process while keeping a sharp eye on protecting California’s natural resources.”

“We hope this report helps reinforce CEQA’s original purpose while streamlining its processes,” said Dion Aroner, who also served on the CEQA subcommittee.

The Commission’s full report and recommendations can be found on the Little Hoover Commission website.