By Tommy Hough
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's going to be a relatively light year for legislation at the Assembly with fewer bills than usual. With the deadline for bill introduction in Sacramento still several weeks away, we aren't entirely sure what will be introduced just yet, but one of the more intriguing bits of policy is a bill to be backed by a group of legislators led by Sen. Scott Wiener, Sen. Monique Limon, and Assemblymember Robert Rivas to ban fracking. That's a Very Big Deal, and something we should encourage to ensure is done without gratuitous loopholes.
There will likely be a bill to establish a greater protective buffer for health purposes between oil and natural gas drilling sites and homes, workplaces, and schools. A bill on this matter passed the Assembly last year as AB 345, but was stopped in the Senate Natural Resource and Water Committee by intense lobbying by the California Building Trades Council and oil industry.
One of the more notable environmental bills to come out of the last session was AB 2731, which went into effect on New Year's Day. AB 2731 concerns the NAVWAR site near Old Town that's been identified as the nucleus of the new SANDAG "Grand Central Station" transportation hub proposal in conjunction with the city, airport authority, and port. NAVWAR is an acronym for Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.
If you're wondering, yes, NAVWAR is the former SPAWAR, i.e. the Space and Naval Warfare System Center, which changed its name in 2019. The final version of AB 2731, signed into law in October, essentially creates a path for the project to move forward with judicial streamlining that exempts it from adhering to CEQA, i.e. the California Environmental Quality Act., and instead relies on an environmental review to be conducted by the U.S. Navy.
Whatever you may think of SANDAG and the Five Big Moves proposal, we all agree a modern, clean-energy transportation system is critical for our region, but there's no reason why these kinds of capital projects should be excused from the basic environmental oversight and rules we ask of everyone who builds in this state to adhere to. Not only is the landmark passage of CEQA in 1970 what keeps California looking and feeling like California, but the basic components of CEQA are part of what we use to base our expectations and goals on in implementing and measuring the progress of the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan. We must always resist efforts to weaken CEQA, whether in Sacramento, or on a project-by-project basis.
I was very pleased to see San Onofre State Beach at last receive the full protection the park has long deserved, and needed, as the result of Gov. Newsom signing into law AB 1426 in October, which my friend and fellow environmentalist Stefanie Sekich-Quinn from Surfrider has been leading the fight on throughout her career. There must never be a freeway, or any kind of development, considered again through the Donna O'Neill Conservancy and San Onofre's San Mateo Campground along the length of San Mateo Creek, the very last intact watershed in Southern California south of Los Angeles that empties onto the beaches that make up the Trestles surf break at the mouth of the creek along the San Diego and Orange county line.
There were several other bills in the last session I'd like to see have their "day in court" and move forward. One is Sen. Toni Atkins' SB 1100, which addresses the myriad of problems facing the state as the result of climate change and sea level rise. I've been saying for years, going back to my time at the San Diego Surfrider chapter, that our region must begin to plan for a managed retreat from the sea, in both low-lying areas and steep seaside bluffs.
Also, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia's AB 2839 would establish a California Deserts Conservancy within the Natural Resources Agency to protect, conserve, and manage ecosystems and resources in California's desert regions in both the Mojave (high) and Colorado (low) deserts as a compliment to the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. Such an initiative could lend additional funding and preservation measures, as well as enhanced Indigenous management, to places like the Indio Hills along the San Andreas Fault in the Coachella Valley Preserve.
Regarding state regulatory agencies, the California Energy Commission is expected to adopt a new round of Title 24 building codes designed to cut energy use. Environmental groups are pushing for the code to be updated to set a more rigorous standard that will electrify new buildings, and end the inclusion of natural gas in new buildings built after 2022.
The California Air Resources Board is developing new standards to encourage trucking companies to transition fleets to zero-emission electric vehicles. This will be especially important for trucks in and around our ports, including San Diego and Long Beach. This has also been one of the key issues in the discussions over new comissioner appointees to the Port of San Diego.
Speaking of electric vehicles, the governor proposed his 2021/22 budget last week, which includes a proposal to expand incentives for electric vehicles. That's consistent with the need to quickly transition the transportation sector to curb the effects of climate change and reduce air pollution. In my opinion the city, county, and other communities should incentivize, if not make it easier and more affordable overall, for motorists to purchase hybrids or emission-free cars as a component of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
Newsom's budget also calls for new fees as part of proposed reforms to the Department of Toxic Substances Control. The fee and reforms will require a two-thirds vote of the legislature for passage, but the governor hasn't shown much ability to work with the legislature thus far, so getting the department's fees passed will be a test of his commitment and ability to win legislative support.
Another proposal in the budget is to increase fees on pesticides, one of the most destructive sources of poisons and toxins in our watersheds, bays, and lagoons. The cumulative amount of toxins and heavy metals that enter Mission Bay every year at Rose Creek, for example, is bad enough, but the problem is compounded by "toxic events" when rainfall activates poisonous runoff. While fees are used to support pesticide regulation and enforcement, this too will require a two-thirds vote.
Finally there's the implementation of Gov. Newsom's executive order to conserve 30 percent of state lands and coastal waters by 2030. The reason, as the governor puts it, is to fight species loss and ecosystem destruction. That's great, we're all in favor of it, but we'd like to see more on the implementation as California would join 38 countries in a commitment to conservation in doing so. Apparently there are implementation plans for the "30 by 30" proposal, as well as for a similarly-issued an executive order in September to require all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host and media personality, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant and communications professional, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.