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AB-2026 California Environmental Quality Act: judicial challenge: identification of contributors.(2015-2016)

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AB2026:v98#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Assembly  March 18, 2016

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2015–2016 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 2026


Introduced by Assembly Member Hadley
(Coauthor: Assembly Member Baker)

February 16, 2016


An act to amend Section 21001.1 of add Section 21175 to the Public Resources Code, relating to environmental quality.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 2026, as amended, Hadley. California Environmental Quality Act. Act: judicial challenge: identification of contributors.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires a lead agency, as defined, to prepare, or cause to be prepared, and certify the completion of an environmental impact report on a project that it proposes to carry out or approve that may have a significant effect on the environment, or to adopt a negative declaration if it finds that the project will not have that effect. Existing law declares the policy of the state that a project to be carried out by a public agency be subject to the same level of review and consideration under the act as that required of private projects required to be approved by public agencies. The act authorizes specified entities to file and maintain with a court an action or proceeding to attack, review, set aside, void, or annul an act of a public agency on grounds of noncompliance with the requirements of the act.

This bill would make a technical, nonsubstantive change to those provisions.

This bill would require a plaintiff or petitioner, in an action brought pursuant to the act, to disclose the identity of a person or entity that contributes in excess of $1,000, as specified, toward the plaintiff’s or petitioner’s costs of the action. The bill also would require the plaintiff or petitioner to identify any pecuniary or business interest related to the project or issues involved in the action of any person or entity that contributes in excess of $1,000 to the costs of the action, as specified. The bill would provide that a failure to comply with these requirements may be grounds for dismissal of the action by the court.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: NO   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) The California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code) facilitates the maintenance of a quality environment for the people of the state through identification of significant effects on the environment caused by a proposed project, consideration of alternatives, and implementation of feasible mitigation measures to reduce those effects.
(2) The act is premised on transparency in decisionmaking through public dissemination of information about a proposed project’s effect on the environment.
(3) The act empowers the public to challenge a project in court for failure to fully comply with the act’s exhaustive disclosure and mitigation requirements.
(4) Various entities are increasingly using litigation pursuant to the act for competitive purposes to either frustrate a competitor’s project or to extract concessions from a project proponent.
(5) Despite the focus on transparency and public disclosure in the decisionmaking process, shadow groups funded by unknown backers often threaten and bring litigation challenging proposed projects without being required to disclose who is funding the litigation or what financial interests those entities have related to the proposed project.
(6) Project opponents sometimes strategically use litigation to delay a project past its point of economic viability, thereby using litigation to stop projects that could not otherwise be stopped during the decisionmaking process.
(7) California Rules of Court require the disclosure of entities that fund the preparation and submission of amicus briefs to the court.
(8) The state and public have a compelling interest in the disclosure of the identities of entities that fund litigation under the act so they can better understand the identities of those organizations participating in the public decisionmaking process, determine whether the petitioner or plaintiff may be suing for competitive or other nonenvironmental purposes, and protect scarce judicial resources by deterring entities from using lawsuits for competitive or other nonenvironmental purposes.
(9) The courts have a compelling interest in disclosure to determine whether the plaintiff or petitioner is seeking to advance environmental, nonenvironmental, or a mix of environmental and nonenvironmental interests in filing an action pursuant to the act.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to require plaintiffs and petitioners bringing an action pursuant to the act to disclose those persons or entities who make contributions to fund the preparation of the petition and subsequent actions or proceedings and any financial interests they may have related to the proposed project.

SEC. 2.

 Section 21175 is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

21175.
 (a) In an action or proceeding to attack, review, set aside, void, or annul any act or decision of a public agency on the grounds of noncompliance with this division, the plaintiff or petitioner shall include an affidavit identifying every person or entity who made a monetary contribution of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more, or committed to contribute one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more, for the preparation of the petition and subsequent action or proceeding.
(b) The plaintiff or petitioner shall have a continuing obligation throughout the course of the proceeding to identify any person or entity that has made a single or multiple contributions or commitments, the sum of which is $1,000 or more, and that were intended to fund the action or proceeding.
(c) The disclosures required pursuant to subdivisions (a) and (b) shall also include the identity of any pecuniary or business interest that the person or entity has related to the proposed project.
(d) A plaintiff or petitioner may request the court’s permission to withhold the public disclosure of a contributor. The court may grant the request if it finds that the public interest in keeping that information confidential clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
(e) A court may, upon its own motion or the motion of any party, take any action necessary to compel compliance with the requirements of this section, up to and including dismissal of the action or proceeding.
(f) An individual contributing funds to file an action or proceeding pursuant to this division in his or her individual capacity, and not as a representative for an organization or association, has the right to limit disclosure of his or her personal information to an in-camera review by the court.
(g) The information disclosed pursuant to this section may be used to enable a court to determine whether the financial burden of private enforcement supports the award of attorneys’ fees in actions or proceedings brought to enforce this division.

SECTION 1.Section 21001.1 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read:
21001.1.

The Legislature further finds and declares that it is the policy of the state that projects to be carried out by public agencies be subject to the same level of review and consideration under this division as that required of private projects required to be approved by public agencies.