Two Down, One to Go: PCL Backed Bills on Open Space, Water and CEQA on the Move in the Legislature

This week the Legislature passed two bills co-sponsored by the Planning and Conservation League, sending both measures to the Governor’s desk. The Governor has until the end of September to sign or veto the bills. One other PCL sponsored bill awaits action next week.

The first bill passed, SB 1124 (Negrete McLeod) co-sponsored with the California Council of Land Trusts, ensures that San Bernardino County fulfils its obligation to protect lands it purchased with state bond money from Proposition 70 passed in 1988. The County purchased the land two decades ago and promised to protect the land with easements. However, the easements were never placed. As a lead advocate for Prop 70, the Planning and Conservation League pushed to ensure the will of the voters was upheld and taxpayer money was spent in good faith.

The second bill, SB 918 (Pavley) co-sponsored with Water ReUse, will increase opportunities for water recycling in California by directing the Department of Public Health to finally develop criteria for safely using recycled water to recharge groundwater basins and augment surface storage reservoirs. Every year, California discharges more than 4 million acre-feet of used water to the ocean – nearly as much as it receives annually from the Colorado River Aqueduct. Without criteria for safely using recycled water, water agencies face significant uncertainty in attempting to tap into this underutilized resource, and many potential water recycling projects are unable to get off the ground. SB 918 is one of the priorities identified in PCL’s 8 Affordable Water Solutions for California report.

Next week we expect the Senate to take up AB 499 (Hill), which makes clarifying amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to ensure that all parties with a direct interest in a CEQA case are aware of a pending lawsuit and parties with no direct link to the case are not unnecessarily dragged into litigation. Under current law, all “recipients of approval” must be notified of a lawsuit.  Unfortunately, in many cases, those bringing the CEQA lawsuit do not know who exactly these parties are.  However, if any of the recipients are not included in the lawsuit, the case can be thrown out completely. To avoid this, those bringing the lawsuit are forced to over name and serve parties who might or might not be really recipients of approval to ensure they have not missed anyone. This is a burden for business, community groups and local governments. AB 499 fixes this problem.

AB 499 will come up in the Senate next week and hopefully be on its way to the Governor’s desk. The Governor has talked a lot about CEQA reform this year. This bill represents a common sense fix that benefits everyone and continues to protect public health and our environment.