Were Flimsy Laws on Beer, Basketball Purposefully Written Poorly?

| Photo Collage: DJ Waldie/MS Images

Legislation ballyhooed to please California's beer heads won't. And legislation to make an NBA basketball complex cheaper to build in Sacramento will make mega-projects easier to build everywhere. Are SB 743 and AB 647 the politics of unintended consequences or examples of legislation intended just to dazzle and distract?

Grumbling about Growlers

Drinkers of locally brewed beer have taken to bringing home their craftsman suds in a 64-oz. "growler" (rather like a big glass jug) emblazoned with the brewer's logo. For brewers, growlers are good advertising and good business, since most breweries refused to fill a competitor's container. Drinkers with roving tastes were forced to buy a growler (ranging from $12 to $25) from each of the breweries they patronized.

Craft breweries have reasons for their reluctance that range from the perfect artistry of their beer to the poor quality of the other guy's growler.

AB 647, authored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) and signed by a beaming Governor Brown (growler at his elbow), was supposed to make things easier for the cosmopolitan beer drinker. The new law seemed to open the bar tap to any growler from any brewery or even a no-brand, generic growler.

But AB 647 turns out to be far less. It mostly clarifies Alcoholic Beverage Control Board policies, including labeling requirements for "foreign" growlers.

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New clarity for ABC officers is fine, but all the hoopla led some beer drinkers to think breweries would be now required to fill up anyone's growler. They aren't. Brewers remain free to fill or not to fill the growlers of their competitors.

AB 647 gave ABC what it needed (regulatory clarity) and craft brewers what they wanted (no regulation compelling them to fill competitors' growlers). Thirsty beer drinkers, jug in hand, didn't get much of anything.

Chipping Away at CEQA

SB 743 is the kind of legislation that looks so cynical an instructor would blush to reveal it to innocent civics students. Written at the very end of the last legislative session for Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to carry, SB 743 is supposed to speed up the environmental review process for a new sports complex that will keep the NBA's Kings in Sacramento (until some better offer comes along).

What seemed to be a typical example of crony capitalism benefiting multi-millionaire Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé turns out to be something worse.

"Sometimes the path is a little tortured, not exactly what you planned, but you also take advantage of the moment," Steinberg told Sacramento Bee reporters following a meeting with other legislative leaders in the governor's office in September. "We (combined) a great opportunity for Sacramento with the imperative to modernize the environmental statute statewide."

What Steinberg means is that a worried legislature declined to make fundamental changes in the California Environmental Quality Act in 2013, despite both his and Governor Brown's efforts to get CEQA out of the way of big developers.

The alternative was legislative bait and switch. "In negotiations with the governor, there was a determination ... to take the meat off the plate of [CEQA legislation] and put it in SB 743," Steinberg's spokesman said.

Hardly unintended consequences, since more than 100 mega-projects statewide were found to come under the exemptions to CEQA review permitted by SB 743 (which interlock with exemptions authorized by earlier legislation). Under the guise of doing business with downtown Sacramento interests and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, SB 743 conveniently delivered another poisoned pill to environmental review under CEQA.

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