On January 18, 2013, Senator Ellen Corbett introduced Senate Bill 123 which, if enacted, will require the presiding judge of each superior court to create an environmental and land use division. The specialized division would hear cases regarding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), air quality, climate change, hazardous materials, and other biological resource subject areas. The cases would be decided by judges trained in environmental and land use law.
State law already requires courts in counties with a population over 200,000 to have at least one judge with CEQA experience. SB 123 essentially removes the population limit in existing law, expands the types of environmental cases that may be heard by this division, and requires the Judicial Council to establish rules regarding “educational requirements and other qualifications” for the judges.
Requiring judges that handle CEQA matters to have yet-to-be defined educational and other qualifications will not reduce CEQA litigation abuses. Counties with populations over 200,000 already have designated judges with CEQA expertise, yet the results of CEQA litigation are no more predictable in these counties than those without such judges. (See Thomas Law Group CEQA Litigation Study, http://thomaslaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/CEQA-Lit-History.pdf.)
SB 123 fails to move CEQA in the direction necessary to modernize the statute and reduce abuses. California courts are severely under-staffed and under-funded. In the end, SB 123 would do little to streamline CEQA and would merely create additional financial strains within the already overburdened California Judicial Branch.
Written By: Tina Thomas, Christopher Butcher and Andrea Lutge (law clerk)
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.
The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.