PCL Capital Insider – April 2024

A Flurry of Legislative Action

2024 will be a fast-paced and chaotic year in the capital: with a state budget crisis, a looming national election, and a flurry of action on bills old and new the legislature and those that follow them will have our hands full. The state Senate is under the new leadership of President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire and a slew of newly appointed committee chairs, and over in the Assembly, Speaker Robert Rivas just assumed his role at the end of June 2023. The priorities of the new leadership and their coalitions in both houses are still evolving. Coupled with the challenges we face, votes and outcomes will grow more difficult to ascertain in advance.

As we continue to advance our 2023 bills into their second year (AB 460, AB 1337, SB 571, and SB 781), PCL is also diligently tracking and organizing around a number of bills introduced at the start of 2024. Here are a few of the bills we are working to support and oppose this spring. Your role in this process is crucial, and we encourage you to stay informed by checking out the current status of these bills through the hyperlinked bill numbers below.

You can follow these bills and others we are watching by visiting our legislative watch page.

Assembly Bills

AB 460  (Bauer-Kahan) Interim Relief – SUPPORT. Gives the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) clear authority to limit water diversions from all rights holders when there is a shortage, both during drought emergency and non-drought emergency years, and increases fines for unauthorized water diversions. Assembly Member Laura Friedman is a co-author. PCL is a co-sponsor of AB 460, and it is one of the reforms outlined in a PCL report on reforming water rights law.

AB 1337  (Wicks) Fair Regulation of Water Rights – SUPPORT. Grants the SWRCB authority to curtail any diverter, regardless of the basis for their right, when water is not available under the diverter’s priority of right.  PCL is a co-sponsor of AB 1337 and it was as well one of our reforming water rights report recommendations.

AB 1889 (Friedman) Room to Roam Act – SUPPORT. This legislation establishes a proactive process to address the impacts of development and human activities on wildlife. The bill also helps to promote the state’s goals to protect biodiversity threatened by climate change. It strengthens recently passed legislation to protect 30 percent of California by 2030 by stitching together currently protected and conserved lands at the local level.

AB 2290 (Friedman) Class III bikeways and the Bikeway Quick-Build Project Pilot Program – SUPPORT. This bill presents a critical step forward in prioritizing the safety and accessibility of active and sustainable transportation, particularly biking and walking, across California. AB 2290 takes needed action to point Active Transportation Program funds towards projects that make alternative transportation safe – therefore possible. AB 2290 ensures that investments in active transportation infrastructure prioritize safety and accessibility for the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.

AB 2614 (Ramos) Tribal Beneficial Water Uses – SUPPORT. AB 2614 Establish statewide Tribal Beneficial Uses (TBUs) for water. As California takes steps to address our long histories of social and environmental injustice and improve our relationships with tribal governments, it is crucial that we give tribal water uses the legal standing we assign to other beneficial water uses in California’s boundaries. This is a tangible way to begin to repair our wrongdoings and make good on our commitments to tribes. AB 2614 defines TBUs and requires the State and Regional Water Boards to enact and enforce water quality criteria to ensure these TBUs are safe and possible. In addition, it mandates tribal consultation on TBU implementation, including water quality monitoring and habitat co-management programs. Having a statewide TBU statute means that tribes across the state will benefit from uniform definitions and implementation requirements. Water is an important part of many tribal practices and cultures. Tribal water use needs range across the state, including ceremonial uses of water, subsistence fishing, and riparian agriculture. AB 2614 will protect and accommodate these nuanced needs and enable the legislature, tribes, and the public to track progress and identify remaining challenges for sustaining tribal uses.

AB 2712 (Friedman) Preferential parking privileges: transit-oriented development – SUPPORT. California is facing two crises in tandem: housing and climate. The cost of living in California is rising, and too many residents are rent-burdened or housing-insecure. Affordable housing options are scarce, and low-wage workers are increasingly forced to the urban periphery, where “lower-cost” housing comes with extended commute time, hefty fuel costs, declining air quality, and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Conscientious parking reform is the simplest, cheapest, and fastest way to correct the harm of a century of car-centric land use planning. Minimum parking requirements drive up the cost of living by hiding the costs of parking – real estate, construction, maintenance – in the price we pay for housing, groceries, and more. Recent studies suggest that hiding the cost of parking in the cost of housing increases rents by as much as 17%.  AB 2712 builds upon the successful groundwork laid by AB 2097, which was enacted in 2022. AB 2097 eliminated minimum parking requirements for homes and commercial buildings within ½ mile of a major transit stop. This legislation has unburdened affordable housing and jobs from the costs of inflated parking requirements and made it easier and cheaper to provide equitable, transit-accessible housing and job opportunities across the state.  AB 2712 refines parking policy further by diffusing opposition to development – including housing – over concerns of crowded street parking in areas affected by AB 2097’s changes. This policy supports low/no parking development, including transit-oriented housing, without overcrowding nearby streets and displacing existing residents from their street parking. By addressing concerns about removing parking minimums and generally increasing support for low-income housing development, AB 2712 fosters inclusive and resilient communities. And, by curbing urban sprawl and induced car usage, AB 2712 contributes to reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), thereby mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and advancing California’s climate goals – a win for everyone. AB 2712 represents a thoughtful, pragmatic, and low-cost approach to parking policy that aligns with California’s climate goals, affordable housing needs, and desire for livable, equitable communities for all.

Senate Bills

SB 571 (Allen) Fire safety regulations: development projects: ingress and egress route standards – SUPPORT. PCL sponsored SB 571 to mandate that new development projects in high-risk fire areas have an evacuation plan meeting specified standards. California is at a confluence of crises: a severe housing shortage and the most destructive wildfire seasons in state history. As climate change continues to increase the threat of further destruction, new developments must be designed with clear-eyed objectivity regarding the risks. Our need for increased housing will necessitate continued development across the state, including in areas of heightened risk for wildfires, unfortunately. SB 571 ensures that these imperiled communities are designed with the reality of a potential wildfire emergency in mind by calling on the State Board of Forestry to establish regulations for evacuation route requirements for new developments proposed in fire-sensitive areas. In doing so, SB 571 charges the Board to articulate the necessary amount of ingress and egress routes required to safely evacuate this new development through consideration of the size of the development, potential wildfire behavior, and how the development will impact traffic in existing communities in the event of evacuation.” The bill does not prescribe where and where not to build; it mandates that safe evacuation be planned ahead of time.

SB 781 (Stern) Methane emissions: natural gas producing low methane emissions – SUPPORT. PCL sponsored SB 781, which would not only require California’s prioritization of reducing methane, but also facilitate timely transition to the import of only natural gas that has been certified to have low methane emissions.  Methane is a potent short-lived climate pollutant, with about 30 times the climate-forcing impact as CO2 over 100 years (100-year global warming potential, or GWP) and over 80 times the impact over 20 years (20-year GWP). The science unequivocally underscores the need to immediately reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which include black carbon (soot), methane (CH4), and fluorinated gasses (F-gasses, including hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs). They are powerful climate forcers and harmful air pollutants that have an outsized impact on climate change in the near term, compared to longer-lived GHGs, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Action to reduce these powerful “super pollutants” today will provide immediate benefits as the effects of our policies to reduce long-lived GHGs further unfold. The steps outlined in SB 781 would represent some of the most significant and rapid greenhouse gas reduction efforts in California’s history.

SB 1003 (Dodd) Electrical Corporations’ Wildfire Mitigation Plans (WMP) – SUPPORT. SB 1003 amends the Public Utilities Code (PUC) to require electrical corporations to demonstrate that undergrounding is the most appropriate mitigation measure when and where it is chosen. It requires the utility-submitted WMPs to examine the amount of risk reduced by employing more rapidly deployable alternatives instead of costly and lengthy undergrounding options. In doing so, SB 1003 will save rate-payer dollars while advancing the more rapid deployment of wildfire mitigation measures, thereby saving property and lives.

SB 1227 (Wiener) Real property development: San Francisco: downtown revitalization zone: welfare tax exemption and California Environmental Quality Act exemption and streamlining – OPPOSE. SB 1227 would strip vulnerable communities in San Francisco of necessary protections that every other community in California enjoys. It provides no actual affordable housing requirements, is overly broad, and could set a pernicious precedent for other jurisdictions seeking blanket exemptions from California’s premier environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act. Representatives of the Planning and Conservation League and Communities for a Better Environment have joined in an opposition article.

SB 1402 (Min) 30×30 goal: state agencies: adoption, revision, or establishment of plans, policies, and regulations – SUPPORT. SB 1402 would require that state agencies, departments, boards, offices, commissions, and conservancies consider the 30×30 goal when adopting, revising, or establishing plans, policies, and regulations. Last year, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Newsom signed SB 337 (Min), which put the 30×30 goal into statute. California has taken important first steps to implement this goal. In 2022, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) finalized its Pathways to 30×30 Report, which sets forth strategies to implement the 30×30 goal. The California Legislature and Administration have made critical investments in land and water conservation to further the 30×30 goal. Despite all this excellent work, one of the critical missing components is ensuring that the commitment to meet this 30×30 goal is rooted in California’s many plans, policies, and regulations, including the California Water Plan, Adaptation Strategy, and Scoping Plan for Achieving Carbon Neutrality. It is common sense to make sure that a statewide policy is considered by state agencies when updating, adopting, or revising their plans, policies, and regulations.

To follow these bills and more…visit PCL’s legislative watch page.

Stay tuned for PCL’s next Capitol Insider in May with the latest details on these bills and many more!