My Turn | Working for California, working for the Sierra

Tom Mooers
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Martis Valley is known throughout the state as a special place where people work together to turn development threats into conservation opportunities, where landowners and conservationists cooperate to secure a shared vision for the Tahoe-Truckee Region.

That success would not be possible without an engaged public, committed conservationists, and creative landowners. And it would not have come to be without the California Environmental Quality Act.

Signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan 43 years ago, the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, has been providing a framework for successful planning up and down the state — whether to secure public access to the beach in Chula Vista or to prevent over-hunting of bears in Modoc County.

The fundamental principles of the law are to require public disclosure of the potential environmental impacts of development proposals and to facilitate public participation in refining the vision and implementation of such projects.

But this fundamental environmental law is under attack; special interests seek to gut CEQA for narrow purposes. The good news is that state residents recognize its broad importance — a recent poll showed that 64 percent of California voters oppose weakening what is one of our most basic and effective environmental laws.

Locally, we appreciate CEQA because, ten years ago, it ensured that Placer County’s Martis Valley Community Plan would be shaped by thorough environmental assessment, robust public participation, and consideration of alternative blueprints.

In Martis Valley, the environmental review process required under CEQA gave Sierra Watch the opportunity to engage not just biologists, traffic engineers, and other experts but, most importantly, hundreds of citizen volunteers in public planning. And it required consideration of a range of alternative visions for Martis Valley, including one based on our Conservation Priorities.

Granted, from 2001 to 2004, the hearings got long, the documents piled high, and, sometimes, tempers flared. But after four years of discussion and debate, we were able to achieve something remarkable: consensus.

CEQA provided a forum for truly collaborative discussions; the result is a shared vision among landowners, conservationists, and local jurisdictions that includes permanent protection of priority conservation land — such as Waddle Ranch Preserve, support for responsible development projects, and even funding for local workforce housing.

So when special interests attack the California Environmental Quality Act, they’re attacking the kind of collaborative decision-making that makes Martis Valley a model for cooperative planning. And they’re telling those of us who want to get involved in securing a great future for our shared Sierra to, well, take a hike. Clearly, we deserve better.

To learn more about the effort to defend the California Environmental Quality Act, go to

Tom Mooers is executive director of Sierra Watch. Learn more at

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