Sacred sites bill activated

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, June 13, 2014 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

A two year bill from 2013, AB 52, Native Americans: CEQA, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D- Los Angeles), was amended and activated late last week.

CMTA is part of a coalition in opposition to AB 52, but we are not opposed to the goal of protecting tribal cultural sacred places. To that end, many of us worked closely with the Legislature and California tribes during the 2003-2004 legislative session to pass SB 18 (John Burton, D-San Francisco).  SB 18 established meaningful ongoing government to government consultation regarding the protection of cultural sacred places by requiring local city and county governments to consult with Native American tribes about proposed local land use planning decisions, including the adoption or substantial amendment of general plans, specific plans, and the dedication of open space for the purpose of protecting cultural places.

AB 52, however, is a dramatic expansion of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that inserts religion into an environmental statute and grants Native American Tribes broad, irrefutable authority to determine anything is a “Tribal Cultural Resource” entitled to CEQA protection. The current language in the bill presents significant obstacles for new public and private development across the state and opens up new avenues for CEQA litigation.

Some of the most troubling aspects of the bill include:

  • AB 52 contains no definition of what constitutes a tribal cultural resource/
  • This bill allows tribes to wait until a final project approval hearing to trigger consultation, setting up a “document-dumping” type dynamic;
  • AB 52 prohibits the lead agency from sharing tribal cultural resource information with the project proponent;
  • There is ambiguity about whether a lead agency may make a Statement of Overriding Considerations for impacts on tribal cultural resources as they can for all other resource areas; and
  • It creates new statutory standards of review not applied to any other resource area; a requirement that the Native American Heritage Commission consult on every project application that is submitted in the state; and, expansion of protections beyond sacred sites to “cultural landscapes” and “associated environments.

As currently drafted, AB 52 will not only create a disincentive to economic development and recovery, but also hinder the construction of affordable housing, schools and universities, and infrastructure projects such as renewable energy, roads and highways.

AB 52 was heard in the Senate Government Organization Committee this week and was held over after a significant showing of organizations in opposition.  While the bill isn’t dead, the author was asked to attempt to satisfy the concerns of the opposition.

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