A paramilitary training camp. An airport runway. An energy transmission line. A drug treatment center. A new jail for women. A dump. A tiger sanctuary. A strip club. 

Pretend it’s your mission in life to successfully construct any one of those controversial projects. Suddenly, finding a place to park Downtown isn’t so hard, is it?

Regardless of how you feel about those prickly projects — whether you love airplanes, hate power lines or are deathly afraid of tigers — you have power over those projects. 

And when I say “you,” I’m not talking to Mr. Developer, Mr. Monopoly, Mr. Defense Department or Mr. “It’s-Not-a-Strip-Club-It’s-A-Cabaret.”  

I mean John Q. Public.

Too many people think controversial projects happen without public input. That the powers that be hunker down in wood-paneled rooms and flip a secret switch that spawns unsightly behemoths, “undesirable” neighbors or places of ill repute.

Not so. Remember that Government Loves Acronyms (GLA) so get to know CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Too many people don’t know the powers CEQA affords them. Next time you hear someone crabbing about a project being “shoved down their throats” ask them how much they know about CEQA.

More than a set of laws, CEQA is a process. It’s the set of standards by which development projects are judged. In San Diego County, you can probably get away with building a birdhouse without taking CEQA into consideration, but not much else.

(Development on sovereign Indian land is excluded, but that’s a column for another day.) 

Get this: CEQA says that that for virtually all projects, any individual has the right to submit concerns to the government in whose jurisdiction the project falls and that government MUST — not should, MUST — ensure a response.  

Think a proposed supermarket is going to put too many cars on your street? CEQA forces the supermarket proponents to listen to you.

Want to know if a guitar from a proposed concert venue might interrupt mating habits of nearby mice? CEQA forces the venue to consider it.

Traffic, crime, water, noise, air quality, archeological sites, the region’s dark sky ordinance which protects expensive research telescopes atop local mountains and on and on … CEQA helps the public get answers.

CEQA is the language of the land-use arena and more than a few developers will probably say that it’s the expensive, time-consuming, frustrating bane of their existence.  

The thing is, CEQA will only work for you if you do your part and take advantage of it. And now that you know, you’ve got one fewer excuse not to engage. 


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