PCL Capital Insider – June 2024

Successes and Challenges on the Legislative Front: HCF Protected and Chaos in Wildfire Policy

First, a big win!

Habitat Conservation Fund (HCF) is saved, and its previous funding is restored! Last week, the administration’s proposed budget trailer bill suggested eliminating the HCF and taking back $45 million already committed to the fund in previous fiscal years. PCL, our legal advisors and allies, and you, our members, quickly responded; we let legislators and the Governor know that the citizen-created HCF is needed to support wildlife in the face of climate change and that the will of the voters stands with California’s critical habitats. Proposition 117, passed by the electorate in 1990 and sponsored by PCL, created the fund that has since disbursed almost one billion dollars for wild habitat conservation across our state. Thank you again for helping protect the legacy of Prop 117!

PCL continues to advance many of the bills we support, and we have seen wins in defending against lousy legislation and poor policy. Plenty of challenges remain, however, and we will certainly have our hands full of good work! Below are the highlights of some of the critical environmental bills this session—the good, the bad, and the ugly.


AB 460 (Bauer-Kahan) Civil Penalties—SUPPORT. Passed Senate Judiciary on June 25th, next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. AB 460 continues to advance but has been amended to remove its original provisions on interim relief. The bill now gives the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) clear authority to increase fines for unauthorized water diversions. As a result of the amendments, most, but not all, of the bill’s opposition has dropped off, with some in support of the new language. Assemblymember Laura Friedman is a co-author. PCL is a co-sponsor of AB 460, and it is one of the reforms outlined in PCL’s 2022 report on reforming water rights law.

AB 1889 (Friedman) Room to Roam Act – SUPPORT. Passed Senate Natural Resources and Water on June 25th, next to Senate Appropriations. 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 as they migrate toward cooler climates. AB 1889 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 2091 (Grayson) California Environmental Quality Act: exemption: public access: nonmotorized recreation – Oppose Unless Amended. Passed Senate Natural Resources and Water on June 25th, next to Senate Appropriations. AB 2091 would create a CEQA exemption for opening access to pre-existing trails in newly acquired parcels, so long as the trails are used exclusively for nonmotorized recreation, as defined, in areas acquired or managed by a public agency for open space or park purposes. Increased access can have very significant impacts on sensitive lands that warrant review, but increasing more equitable access to open space is also a priority to PCL. PCL is engaged in positive discussions with the author and sponsors to ensure that the essential criteria p are in the bill to limit the scope and use of the exemption to only land managers that have adequate planning and resources in place to handle the potential impacts of the increased access responsibly.

AB 2290 (Friedman) Class III bikeways and the Bikeway Quick-Build Project Pilot Program – SUPPORT. In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Suspense. 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 toward projects that make alternative transportation safe and, therefore, possible. AB 2290 ensures that investments in active transportation infrastructure prioritize safety and accessibility for the most vulnerable road users.

AB 2712 (Friedman) Preferential parking privileges: transit-oriented development – SUPPORT. Passed the Senate Local Government on June 11th, next to the Senate Housing Committee. California is facing two crises in tandem: housing and climate. California cannot meet its long-term climate goals without reforming its land use patterns to curb VMT growth. Affordable housing won’t indeed be affordable as long as low-wage households are displaced to the urban periphery and priced out of transit access and proximity to economic opportunities. Where transit is an option, mandatory parking minimums impose artificially inflated prices on residents that they do not need and potentially cannot afford. AB 2712 would, for a large development taking advantage of the removal of parking minimums near transit access, exclude tenants and clients from nearby preferential permit parking districts, to prevent crowding the curbs that existing neighbors rely on. By addressing concerns about removing parking minimums under AB 2097 and generally increasing support for nearby low-income housing development, AB 2712 supports affordable infill housing and resilient communities. 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.

SB 1003 (Dodd) Electrical Corporations’ Wildfire Mitigation Plans (WMP) – SUPPORT. Up on July 2nd in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. 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. Undergrounding comes with significant costs to both ratepayers and habitat, and does nothing to reduce wildfire risk in the 50 to 100 years it will take to implement. SB 1003 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. Died in the Senate. SB 1227 would have stripped vulnerable communities in San Francisco of the necessary protections that every other community in California enjoys. It provided no actual affordable housing requirements, was overly broad, and would have set a pernicious precedent for other jurisdictions seeking blanket exemptions from California’s premier environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act. PCL, Communities for a Better Environment, and several other groups joined in opposition, and, as a result, this extremely harmful bill did not make it out of the Appropriations Committee.

SB 571 (Allen) Fire safety: ingress and egress route recommendations: report – SUPPORT. Set for hearing in Assembly Natural Resources on July 1st. PCL originally sponsored SB 571 to mandate that new development projects in high-risk fire areas have an evacuation plan that meets specified standards; the bill has now been modified to require a report to be developed by an inter-agency workgroup to recommend those 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. Unfortunately, our need for increased housing will necessitate continued development across the state, including in areas of heightened risk for wildfires. The report the bill would generate would not prescribe where and where not to build; it would help to ensure that safe evacuation is planned ahead of time.

SB 1255 (Durazo) Public water systems: needs analysis: water rate assistance program – SUPPORT. Passed the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on June 25th, set for hearing on Monday, July 1st in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. Access to safe and affordable drinking water is a human right. SB 1255 would require water systems with over 3,300 service connections to provide universal low-income rate assistance for water and some wastewater bills in a way that does not conflict with Proposition 218. In further service of drinking water goals, SB 1255 would require the SWRCB to update the annual needs assessment under the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) Program to include a triennial assessment of the cost to make water affordable for small water systems in California.

SB 1255 would also require the SWRCB to update its existing Drinking Water Needs Assessment, using existing information it already collects, to identify the affordability needs of small water systems under 3,300 service connections. The bill will empower many water systems to finally start to address the water affordability crisis and provide California with a better understanding of the needs of small water systems. SB 1255 is a critical step in fulfilling California’s Human Right to Water.

SB 1402 (Min) 30×30 goal: state agencies: adoption, revision, or establishment of plans, policies, and regulations – SUPPORT. Passed Assembly Water Park & Wildlife on June 25th, next to Assembly Appropriations. 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 critical 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 also made critical investments in land and water conservation to further this implementation. Despite all this excellent work, a critical missing component remains: ensuring that our commitment to meeting 30×30 is maintained across 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.


AB 1337 (Wicks) Fair Regulation of Water Rights – SUPPORT. Pulled from consideration – not moving forward in 2024. AB 1337 would have granted 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 was a co-sponsor of AB 1337. Based on the projected water supply impacts from climate change, there is no doubt that PCL and our allies will seek to reintroduce this modest but critical legislation in the future.

AB 2614 (Ramos) Tribal Beneficial Water Uses – SUPPORT. Died in Assembly Appropriations on Suspense. AB 2614 would have established 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 defined TBUs and required the State and Regional Water Boards to enact and enforce water quality criteria to ensure these TBUs would be safe and possible. In addition, it would have mandated tribal consultation on TBU implementation, including water quality monitoring and habitat co-management programs.

AB-3150 (Quirk-Silva) Fire safety: fire hazard severity zones: defensible space: State Fire Marshal – OPPOSE. Passed the Senate Government Organization Committee next to Senate Appropriations. &  SB 610 (Wiener) Fire prevention: wildfire mitigation area: defensible space: State Fire Marshal: real property disclosures: fire protection building standards – OPPOSE. The next hearing is set for July 1 in Assembly Natural Resources. AB 3150 would give the Office of State Fire Marshal the authority to amend the current high fire hazard zones map and other regulations now in the authority of the Board of Forestry. SB 610 a late gut and amend, would pretty much throw out California’s current High Fire Hazard zone maps and hand all the Board of Forestry’s authority over to the State Fire Marshal to start over. In a clear attempt to reduce fire safety restrictions in favor of more development, this could cause chaos for homeowners, insurers, and local officials alike. PCL strongly opposes this approach to fire safety regulatory reform that would needlessly put human life in harm’s way and bring even more instability to California’s home insurance market.

SB 312 (Wiener) California Environmental Quality Act: university housing development projects: exemption – OPPOSE. Set for hearing on July 1st in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. SB 312 seeks to extend and expand the existing exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for university housing development projects carried out by the University of California. As it stands, the bill would exempt massive projects – the most units ever exempted from environmental and community review – and strip away much of the criteria negotiated for SB 886, which originally enacted the exemption. While supporting university housing is commendable, the exemptions laid out in this bill raise significant concerns regarding the erosion of previously negotiated protections and the extreme potential for unchecked development outside of any form of community participation or review. California’s university system must do better to plan for housing its students and we should be holding them to the highest standards, not reducing them.

SB 781 (Stern) Methane emissions: natural gas producing low methane emissions – SUPPORT. Stalled in the Assembly. PCL-sponsored SB 781 would not only require California to prioritize a needed shift away from methane, but also facilitate a timely transition to the import of only certified low-emission, low-methane-leakage natural gas. Methane is a potent 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 potent “super pollutants” today will provide immediate benefits as we wait for the effects of our policies to reduce long-lived GHGs to unfold. The steps outlined in SB 781 would represent some of the most significant and rapid greenhouse gas reduction efforts in California’s history.

Conclusion… more work ahead.

We all take a breath in July as the Legislature goes on summer break, but rest assured – we will be back before it reconvenes in August to continue fighting for our sponsored bills (AB 460, SB 571, and SB 781) and working diligently to track and organize crucial support and opposition to our ongoing battles listed above. Your role in this process is crucial, and we encourage you to stay informed by checking the current status of these bills through the hyperlinked bill numbers above, or by visiting our legislative watch page at any time.