What is SB 973?
SB 973 (proposed language here) is legislation introduced by Senators Vargas and Garrick seeking to address an unfavorable court ruling for the City of San Diego through a new, broad amendment to one of the state’s most important environmental statutes: the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 973 would exempt a loosely defined group of temporary events from environmental review under CEQA.
What led to SB 973?
The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF) filed a lawsuit challenging only the City of San Diego’s longstanding failure to conduct environmental review of the annual 4th of July La Jolla Cove fireworks show. CERF provided hundreds of pages of evidence detailing both the sensitive and pristine nature of this stretch of coast, as well as the negative impacts of fireworks shows on water quality, air quality, human health, marine mammals, and marine bird species (from excessive noise and light). The court found for CERF, ruling that the City failed to comply with CEQA when it approved the La Jolla Cove fireworks show.
When the City of San Diego lost the case, it chose to interpret the Court’s ruling to apply to every special event and park use permit issued in the City. The City believes it has a better chance of addressing the problem outside of the litigation by using unrealistic scare tactics with event planners and the public.
Why is SB 973 unnecessary?
1. A CEQA exemption already exists for “minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects on the environment.” (CEQA Guidelines sec. 15304(e)).
2. The problem is unique to the City of San Diego, and is not of statewide concern. The only reason the City cannot utilize the section 15304 exemption efficiently is because it chooses not to. The City has already made numerous changes to its Municipal Code that address the vast majority of event permits on City land. It would not be difficult to provide protection for the rest of the non-fireworks special events under section 15304 with a few simple changes to San Diego’s Municipal Code.
3. The City is already in the process of conducting environmental review for its major special events. The City has indicated in numerous court filings it intends to comply with the court’s ruling by conducting a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to address the potentially significant impacts from its large special events, thereby ensuring that future event applicants are not burdened with unnecessary costs or delays.
4. Exempting special events from CEQA altogether would undermine the legislative mandates of the Act by inducing the City to abandon its Programmatic EIR, thereby allowing certain events with credible scientifically proven impacts to occur without analysis, mitigation, consideration of alternatives, or disclosure of impacts to decision makers and the community.
Legislative history can be accessed here.
This is scheduled for hearing at the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality on April 23. CERF’s comments in opposition can be found here.