CEQA Survives Another Legislative Onslaught – October 4, 2016

The Year in Review

CEQA Survives Another Legislative Onslaught

Legislators began 2016 by introducing 23 bills affecting the California Environmental Quality Act in the regular session.  Only two, plus a hold-over from 2015, survived to be signed by Governor Brown.  PCL took a support or neutral position on all three.

“Thankfully, key lawmakers value the transparency, public participation, and clean air, clean water, and other community benefits of CEQA as much as their constituents do,” said PCL Executive Director Howard Penn.  “They passed bills that reflect Californian’s unwavering support for strong environmental protections and rejected those that don’t.”

The first of the successful measures, SB 122 by Santa Barbara democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, requires the state’s Office of Planning and Research to include additional CEQA documents in its public database and allows project applicants to request lead agencies to prepare the “administrative record” while a project moves through the CEQA process.  This latter change will shave months off the trial court phase of any suit brought against a project.  PCL supported this measure and lobbied for its passage.

Brown also signed SB 1008 (Lara), which extends the sunset date on a CEQA exemption for the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System to January 1, 2020.  The exemption will only apply to publicly-owned sites where telecommunication infrastructure is already located, such as existing police, sheriff or fire stations that contain antenna support structure.  PCL did not take a position on SB 1008, believing that the bill’s location requirements and NEPA review were sufficient given the project’s urgency.

Lastly, Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, successfully steered AB 2087 through to signature.  This bill allows public agencies to create “regional conservation investment strategies” to guide and coordinate investment in conserving species.  Mitigation credits created pursuant to the bill can be used to address impacts identified in an Environmental Impact Report.  PCL supported AB 2087.

Democrats in the senate and assembly environmental quality committees also rejected ten bills that would drive large holes into environmental review requirements or intimidate potential CEQA plaintiffs.  AB 1589 (Mathis), for example, would have exempted any drought-related projects from environmental review as long as the governor’s state of emergency is in place.   SB 1248 (Moorlach) would have required plaintiffs to disclose the name of anyone who contributes $100 toward the costs of a case.

“Overall, the legislature rejected ideologically-driven exemptions or other changes to CEQA,” said Penn.  “They do seem more willing, however, to consider small tweaks or district-specific CEQA changes, especially those authored by democrats.”

Text, votes, and analyses of all bills are publicly-available at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

Threat Still Looms in Transportation Special Session

While the regular legislative session ended on August 31st, the “special” or “extraordinary” session on transportation – called by Governor Brown last year – is ongoing through the end of November.  In this special session, legislators are considering a major exemption from CEQA, along with a package of tax increases for road repair, road expansion, transit, and active transportation.

Passage of the revenue portion of the package would require a 2/3 vote.  If all democrats agree to vote for the package, three republican votes will also be needed.

One republican demand is a significant CEQA exemption for road maintenance and repair.  No bill language is officially “in print,” but the senate and assembly transportation leads have released their joint proposal in draft form.

PCL has significant concerns about the CEQA portion of the draft proposal, including its unprecedented scope.  We will be discussing those concerns with policymakers this month.

No action is expected until after the November 8 election.

Progress outside the CEQA bubble

Besides our victories to revise and protect CEQA, PCL is pleased to report on five other meaningful pieces of legislation we supported and the governor signed into law:

SB 1000 (Leyva) is one of the most significant changes to land use law this century.  When it takes effect in January, SB 1000 will require every city and county’s General Plan to identify heavily-polluted communities and incorporate land use changes that address their residents’ needs.  Brown signed this bill despite loud opposition from cities and counties that vociferously guard their control over land use.
SB 1069 (Wieckowski) also wrests some land use control from localities by requiring them to reduce the regulatory barriers to building “accessory dwelling units,” also called second units or granny flats.  The bill could reduce building costs by tens of thousands of dollars and accommodate new compact housing to address the state’s overwhelming demand.
SB 32 (Pavley) is the next bold step in California’s quest to model effective climate change regulation for the world.  It requires greenhouse gas emissions in the state to decrease by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
AB 2763 (Gatto) allows ride-sharing drivers from Lyft, Uber and other ride-sharing companies to take out short-term leases on cars.  Encouraging short-term leases allows more ride-sharing opportunities on the road and ultimately reduces the number of cars on the road, vehicle miles traveled, and parking spaces needed, all helping with our congested roads, highways, and urban parking needs.  Additionally, several innovated companies are starting to lease electric vehicles to ride-sharing drivers which will additionally help with air quality and GHG requirements.
AB 1716 (McCarthy) creates the Lower American River Conservancy to receive and spend grants, donations and other resources for the benefit of the Lower American River.

Text, votes, and analyses of all bills are publicly-available at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

What’s next?

The regular legislative session begins anew on December 5th, when new and returning legislators are sworn in for the 2017-18 session.  Bill introductions start immediately, and we’ll be reviewing every single one of them for their effect on CEQA, land use, and water policy.  Stay tuned!