Finally, An End to Bureaucratic Red Tape and Over-Regulation

Three state senators held a press conference next to California’s 28,000 page Code of Regulations on February 16 to tout a bill they’ve introduced to implement “regulatory reform.”

The bill, SB 366, instructs state agencies to identify any regulations that are “duplicative, overlapping, inconsistent or out of date” and then adopt new regulations and amend or repeal existing ones to correct the problem.

“This legislation will eliminate unnecessary red-tape that is stifling economic development in California while preserving public policies that protect the public and the environment.”

According to Sen. Ron Calderon, a Montebello Democrat, the state’s thicket of regulation is a “fiscal earthquake that has left our economy in rubble.”

The measure he is co-authoring will provide “regulation streamlining that will help create jobs and rebuild a sound and thriving economy.”

Steinberg and Calderon aren’t exactly pioneers in the effort to simplify the operation of government.

The phrase “red tape” first appears in print in the 16th century.

At the time, red tape fulfilled the same antifraud role that wax seals did in antiquity. In England, important documetns were tied with it.

It’s now pejorative connotation is said by some to stem from Henry VIII besieging Pope Clement VII with 85 petitions seeking annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. All 85 were sealed and bound with red tape, as was the custom.

“Skewered through and through with office pens and bound hand and foot with red tape,” wrote Charles Dickens, several hundred years later

Thomas Dewey pledged an ”unsnarling” of Washington’s red tape after he became president in 1948. The incumbent, Harry Truman – himself no fan of the morass of government bureaucracy — got in Dewey’s way, however.

“Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want for bread,” said Thomas Jefferson in 1826.

This quote from the third president was included in then Vice President Al Gore’s September 1994 National Performance Review Chapter 1 – Cutting the Red Tape III.

Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown created the Office of Administrative Law more than 30 years ago. Its goal is to review regulations to ensure they are “clear, necessary, legally valid and available to the public.”

As it has for more than three decades, the office continues to review regulations proposed by more than 200 state agencies to make sure they comply with the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.

In 1977, Brown also signed the state’s Permit Streamlining Act, which, among other things, sets deadlines for local agencies to act in approving or rejecting environmental impact reports.

Calderon’s bill would create a “Streamlined Permit Review Team” comprised of three cabinet secretaries.

The secretaries are instructed under the bill to “coordinate actions on permits, help reduce or eliminate unnecessary inconsistencies, delay, duplication, overlap or paperwork associated with issuance of multiple permits.”

(Are there necessary inconsistencies?)

A permitting agency would need to determine the completeness of an application within 30 days of receipt. Failure to act within the bill’s stated timeframe would be considered approval although according to Section 65958.2 (e) of the bill, the state could arbitrarily give itself as much more time as it wanted in which to act.

GOP Gov. Pete Wilson created the Office of Permit Assistance within his Office of Planning and Research in the 1990s.

In his final year in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger created the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, with a nifty logo. The office claims it, can “readily accommodate expansion and location projects with properly-zoned, infrastructure-rich industrial and commercial sites.”

It’s “permit assistance staff acts as a neutral third-party facilitator and their service is confidential and free. A project manager may be assigned to personally guide an applicant through the permit process.” (Emphasis added.)

No doubt SB 366 will be more definitive.



  1. Ah, the folly of those who would confuse motion with progress. And while the exposition on the origins of the cliche, “red tape,” was imformative and mildly amusing, sadly the discussion of the agencies entrusted with the instant mission of import, namely the review of appropriateness of the myriad regulations that emit from the state evoke a different cliche of officialdom: “rubber stamp”!

    Comment by Normal — 2.16.2011 @ 8:48 pm

  2. Very interesting story. Grear research, Gregg

    Comment by Stan Statham — 2.17.2011 @ 2:53 am

  3. I have a great deal of faith in Senator Steinberg and his efforts to find solutions to California’s problems. This is an example of a vitally necessary project to rid ourselves of over-broad and self-serving regulatory gobbley-gook. And, it is a huge task, to be sure, if it is to be done correctly and with any hope of effective change. Contrary to the observation of one reader that agencies are unable or unwilling to embrace the task, I suspect that the good Senator and his staff will hold the agencies collective feet to the fire until results are achieved. I say, “Bravo” Senators Steinberg, Pavley and Calderon — may the force be with you!

    Comment by Sandy Carey — 2.17.2011 @ 10:12 am

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