Broad Reform of the California Environmental Quality Act Shelved for 2013 - Several CEQA Bills Await the Governor’s Signature

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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After promises of far-reaching reform in 2013, the state Legislature has instead proposed only a few tweaks to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Several CEQA-related bills were passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor, who has until October 13 to sign or veto them.

Senate Bill 743 by Senator Darrell Steinberg, who initially sought to greatly reform CEQA, proposes a few reform measures although the bill’s main purpose is to streamline environmental review for a proposed arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The bill makes the following changes to CEQA on a statewide basis:

  • Requires that challenges to a public agency’s certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) and approval of an environmental leadership development project, including any appeals, be resolved within 270 days of the certification of the record of proceedings.
  • Specifies, in order to aid development in urban areas, that aesthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential or employment center project on an infill site and within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.
  • Extends an existing CEQA exemption by revising the definition of an “infill opportunity zone” for purposes of a county’s congestion management plan, as that which is designated by a city or county and is within one-half mile of a major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor included in a regional transportation plan. The bill authorizes the designation of an infill opportunity zone if it is consistent with a sustainable communities strategy or alternative planning strategy adopted by an applicable metropolitan planning organization. For those regions that have adopted such strategies, this may limit CEQA review for urban projects in transit priority areas.
  • Requires that the state Office of Planning and Research establish new thresholds of significance for noise and transportation impacts of projects within transit priority areas. The new transportation thresholds, once adopted, would specify that automobile delay, as described solely by level of service, shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment and would provide for some alternative metric for assessing impacts from traffic congestion.

In addition to SB 743, these CEQA bills have been enrolled and sent to the governor:

AB 417, introduced by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, exempts bicycle transportation plans for urbanized areas from CEQA. It also provides that the local agency shall not prepare a traffic and safety impacts assessment for the bicycle plan if certain conditions are met, including if measures to mitigate these impacts are identified in an EIR, negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration.

SB 359, introduced by Senator Ellen Corbett, appropriates funds for the modernization, retirement or replacement of vehicles in order to lower air emissions.

Assemblymember Marc Levine introduced AB 253 to exempt from CEQA the conversion of an existing rental floating home marina to a resident-initiated subdivision, cooperative, or condominium for floating homes under certain circumstances.

Assemblymember Jeff Gorrell’s AB 628 authorizes the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation Ports, and Conservation Districts and specified harbor and port districts, jointly with an electrical corporation, gas corporation, community choice aggregator, or publicly owned electric or gas utility serving the district, to prepare an energy management plan to reduce air emissions and promote economic development through the addition of new businesses and the retention of existing businesses in the district.

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