California’s proposals to build more, faster gaining support

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California Construction News staff writer

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the permitting and project review reforms in a that he says will build California’s clean energy future while creating thousands of jobs.

Proposals are gaining support in the industry and were heard by both the Assembly and Senate last week.

“With California set to invest $180 billion on infrastructure projects over the next 10 years, thousands of good-paying union jobs are on the line,” said Joel Barton, California Association of Electrical Workers. “The Governor’s proposals will maximize historic federal funding while delivering projects that generate clean electricity, boost water supply and rebuild our roads. Infrastructure, climate action and good jobs go hand in hand – we’re eager to see these proposals passed.”

Measures will facilitate and streamline project approval and completion to maximize California’s share of federal infrastructure dollars and expedite the implementation of projects that meet the state’s ambitious economic, climate, and social goals.

Through investments over the past two state budgets, as well as funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), California will invest up to $180 billion over the next decade in clean infrastructure, which will create 400,000 good jobs while helping meet the state’s climate goals.

By streamlining permitting, cutting red tape, and allowing state agencies to use new types of contracts, these proposals will maximize taxpayer dollars and accelerate timelines of projects throughout the state, while ensuring appropriate environmental review and community engagement.

“California needs to build a staggering amount of transmission and clean energy projects over the next decade to support our electricity needs and meet the state’s climate goals. To succeed, the state must expedite the deployment of energy infrastructure projects that will ensure our grid can deliver fully decarbonized power reliably and affordably,” said Alex Breckel, director of clean energy infrastructure deployment, Clean Air Task Force. “Bold policies included in Governor Newsom’s infrastructure package—specifically the infrastructure strike team, CEQA judicial streamlining for clean energy, and green bank financing—will help keep California on track toward building a clean energy future.”

Projects that could be streamlined include:

  • Hundreds of solar, wind, and battery storage projects
  • Transit and regional rail construction
  • Clean transportation, including maintenance and bridge projects
  • Water storage projects funded by Proposition 1
  • Delta Conveyance Project
  • Semiconductor fabrication plants
  • Wildlife crossings along the I-15 corridor

“The Governor’s proposal represents an important step forward in our collective effort to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure project delivery in California,” said Mark Kempton, Executive Director, California Infrastructure Delivery Coalition. “By streamlining procurement, improving collaboration, promoting innovation, and reducing time to delivery, the proposed progressive design build authority will provide better value for the public dollar and undoubtedly contribute to the betterment of our state’s infrastructure.”

Newsom signed an executive order to stand up a strike team to accelerate clean infrastructure projects across the state by implementing an all-of-government strategy for planning and development.

“We’re in strong support because water and other infrastructure upgrades are urgently needed,” said California Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Brenda Bass. “Projects like canal repairs, water treatment facilities, water storage options, groundwater recharge projects will all benefit from streamlining. Projects need to move in a timely manner to save taxpayer dollars.”

The legislative package and executive order will:

  • Speed Up Construction: Current construction procurement processes drive delays and increase project costs. The Governor’s proposals include methods to offer a streamlined process for project delivery to reduce project timeframes and costs.
  • Expedite Court Review: Legal challenges often tie up projects even after they’ve successfully gone through environmental review. These proposals would authorize expedited judicial review to avoid long delays on the back end and advance projects without reducing the environmental and government transparency benefits of CEQA.
  • Streamline Permitting: Makes various changes to California law to accelerate permitting for certain projects, reducing delays and project costs.
  • Address cumbersome CEQA processes across the board: Streamlines procedures around document retention and review.
  • Maximize Federal Dollars: Establish a Green Bank Financing Program within the Climate Catalyst Fund so that the state can leverage federal dollars for climate projects that cut pollution, with an emphasis on projects that benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities.

“Housing is a crisis and that’s where we are with climate – and you have to stop letting perfect be the enemy of good,” said Scott Wetch, on behalf of the State Association of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the California State Pipe Trades Council, the Western State Council of Sheetmetal Workers, California Coalition of Utility Employees and the Elevator Constructors Union.

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