California Legislature Passes Bill to Maximize Creation of Public Transportation Infrastructure

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Key Points

  • California Legislature passes SB 288, which adds statutory CEQA exemptions for bicycle and mass transit projects.
  • Extends CEQA Exemption for bicycle-related highway projects from Jan. 1, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2030.
  • Relates only to projects for which the lead agency and the entity carrying out the project are public agencies.

The California Legislature passed SB 288 on Aug. 31, 2020. This bill provides one extended and one new statutory California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for bicycle and mass-transit transportation projects. CEQA Section 21080.20 was modified to extend an existing exemption for bicycle transport projects (e.g., highway restriping, bicycle parking, and signal timing improvements) that was to expire on Jan. 1, 2021 until Jan. 1, 2030.

CEQA Section 21080.25 was added to exempt from CEQA projects located in urbanized areas and along public rights-of-way such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, transit prioritization projects, conversion of existing highway lanes to bus-only lanes, projects instituting or expanding rapid transit buses or light rail, zero-emission charging facilities for buses, and projects that reduce minimum parking requirements. No projects that involve an increase in automobile capacity are included in this exemption and no project that will cause the demolition of affordable housing is subject to the exemption.

Section 21080.25 provides for three noticed public hearings to consider the use of the exemption, one of which is designed to provide public comment on two required documents—the project's "business case" and a "racial equity analysis." The project business case must address:

  1. how the project will solve a problem or address an opportunity;
  2. outline strategic goals and objectives of the project;
  3. evaluate other options to achieve the project’s objectives;
  4. describe the economic costs and benefits and financial implications of the project; and
  5. establish what is required to deliver and operate the project.

The racial equity analysis must identify the racial equity impacts of the project, identify who will benefit from and be burdened by the project, and, where significant or disproportionate impacts exist, suggest strategies, designs, or actions to mitigate those impacts. The procedures outlined in this section only apply if the lead agency seeks to use this exemption—lead agencies are not barred from using any other applicable exemption or simply using existing CEQA procedures.

Construction of such projects must be performed by contractors who have a contractual commitment to use a "skilled and trained workforce" under the Public Contract Code or who are subject to a negotiated project labor agreement with the public entity and applicable union organizations.

The legislation's stated goal is to maximize the creation of public transportation infrastructure in the state and provide jobs and economic growth to offset the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exemptions and the alternative project review procedures provided in SB 288 are designed to streamline the process for such projects but maintain public transparency and participation in the process for considering the projects.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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