Proposed S.B. 226 CEQA Guidelines Seek to Expedite Environmental Review for Infill Development

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Senate Bill 226 was enacted in 2011 to streamline review of infill development projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), directing the Natural Resources Agency to adopt standards for eligible projects by January 1, 2013. On July 27, 2012, the agency issued proposed S.B. 226 guidelines for public comment, due September 10, 2012. If adopted, the proposed guidelines promise substantially faster and simpler approval of infill projects, eliminating repetitive review of issues already addressed in planning-level evaluations. However, it remains to be seen whether local governments will conduct the detailed planning-level reviews and adopt “uniformly applicable development policies or standards” as needed to realize the benefits of streamlining.

CEQA is a cornerstone of environmental protection in California, requiring public agencies to evaluate the impacts of projects they undertake or approve, consider alternatives, and adopt mitigation measures if feasible. However, developers and local governments have long complained that the CEQA process is expensive, time-consuming, and allows NIMBY opponents to wield environmental issues as a weapon, even against environmentally desirable infill development projects. In response to such concerns and to promote construction jobs in a struggling economy, the Legislature enacted S.B. 226.

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