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Supervisorial candidates debate environmental issues

Candidates seeking to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky offered competing views on how to cut carbon emissions, clean storm water, replenish local water sources and lure more Angelenos out of their cars during a wide-ranging debate on environmental issues.

The four competitors invited to Saturday night’s debate sponsored by the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters agreed that whoever replaces Yaroslavsky on the Board of Supervisors should be a strong regional guardian of the environment.

But they split on an issue important to environmentalists: whether the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s landmark law requiring environmental analysis of development projects, needs changes.

All three of the candidates who have served on city councils -- West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, former Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver and former Malibu Mayor Pam Conley-Ulich -- said they support reform because the law is too often used to delay projects.

“Rather than being used as a tool to protect the environment, it’s been used as a tool to delay development,’’ said Duran, who’s served on the West Hollywood council for 14 years. Shriver, who advocated for affordable housing during his eight years on the Santa Monica council, said the CEQA slowed down the process of getting new projects off the ground.

“Affordable housing is so expensive because it takes 10 years to build,’’ Shriver said. The legal process involved in the law should be expedited while preserving environmental protections, he said.

Conley-Ulich reserved the harshest judgment, calling the law “a payday for lawyers ... they get paid the longer [an environmental analysis] gets stretched out.” She said that if elected, she would urge her fellow supervisors to lobby Sacramento for change.

Former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl strongly disagreed with the other candidates. After serving in the state Assembly and Senate for 14 years, including a stint chairing the Natural Resources Committee that overseees the CEQA, she said she sees no need to amend the 44-year-old law.

“Here’s the thing,” Kuehl said. “CEQA does not stop any building. CEQA is about assessing the enivornmental impacts... What they’re complaining about is that all of these wonderful developments have been held up because they had to obey the California Environmental Quality Act. Well, I would say boo-hoo.”

The Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters is an influential group that advocates for candidates with environmental credentials. The league has not yet made an endorsement for Yaroslavksy’s seat -- covering the Westside and the San Fernando Valley -- in the June 3 primary.

For the Eastside seat held by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who like Yaroslavsky must vacate her position because of term limits, the league is backing former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Kuehl recently received the backing of the Sierra Club.

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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