CEQA “Modernization”: Taking the Reform Out of CEQA Reform

by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Earlier this year, we reported on Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's CEQA modernization bill, SB 731.  As the legislative session nears its end, SB 731 has again been amended - most recently on August 6 - and is scheduled for hearing in the Assembly Appropriations committee tomorrow morning.  Unfortunately, although the year started out with a great deal of optimism for comprehensive CEQA reform, the hoped-for reforms have not materialized.  In fact, in many ways this latest iteration of SB 731 takes a significant step backwards for project proponents.  As we highlighted in our May 23, 2013 newsalert, new noticing requirements, heightened local agency oversight of project implementation, and provisions requiring concurrent preparation of an administrative record with project processing are potentially bad for business.

Attentive CEQA watchers will recall that the original intent of SB 731, The CEQA Modernization Act of 2013, was to (1)  provide greater certainty for smart infill development, (2) potentially expand the definition of infill and accommodate infill development in the Central Valley, (3) streamline CEQA for renewable energy projects, advanced manufacturing projects, and transit, bike, and pedestrian projects, (4) establish statewide thresholds of significance for noise, aesthetics, parking, and traffic, (5) potentially expand CEQA's plan streamlining processes, (6) and prohibit or restrict the disfavored late hits and document dumps. 

As explained below, the latest iteration of SB 731 strays further and further from comprehensive CEQA reform in that: (1) so-called "late hits" and "document dumps" are no longer part of the bill; (2) the eligible range of projects has continued to shrink; and (3) the bill's definition of "infill site" could create confusion.

SB 731 No Longer Proposes To Prohibit Or Restrict Late Hits or Document Dumps.  The latest version of SB 731 has been stripped of almost all of the previous intent language, including the intent language related to prohibiting or restricting "late hits" and "document dumps."  While it is disappointing this intent language has been deleted, we note that the original bill did not actually contain any operative statutory amendments that would have effectuated the original intent to prohibit or restrict late hits and document dumps.  So although not much was lost here substantively, many of us are disappointed that late hits and document dumps are officially off the table in SB 731.

The Range Of Projects Covered By SB 731 Continues To Shrink.  Whereas the previous version of SB 731 proposed that aesthetic impacts would no longer be considered significant impacts on the environment, the most recent version of SB 731 would remove this subjective matter from environmental review only under limited circumstances.  The specific prerequisites are that (1) the project is a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project, (2) located on an infill site, (3) within a transit priority area.  The revised bill would also remove parking impacts from CEQA's purview in the same manner.  The limiting factor in the revised bill is its new definition of "infill site," as "a lot located within an urban area that has previously been developed, or on a vacant site where at least 75 percent of the perimeter of the site adjoins, or is separated only by an improved public right-of-way from, parcels that are developed with qualified urban uses." 

The New Definition Of "Infill Site" Could Create Confusion.  As noted above, the most recent version of SB 731 includes a new definition of "infill site."  (Other existing sections of CEQA refer to "infill projects" - for example, Pub. Resources Code, § 21094.5.)  The new definition includes a term not defined in SB 731 -  "urban area." While "urban area" is defined elsewhere in CEQA, that definition (Pub. Resources Code, § 21094.5) only applies to that specific statute.  Further, it appears the use of "urbanized area" (Pub. Resources Code, § 21071.) was intentionally avoided.  This new term could create confusion for CEQA practitioners attempting to implement SB 731.

With only a few more weeks left in the legislative session, additional last-minute amendments to SB 731 are likely.  Further, should SB 731 be voted off the Assembly Appropriations suspense file, it still faces a full Assembly vote, followed by a Senate concurrence vote.  The legislative session officially adjourns on September 13, 2013, and the Governor has until October 14 to act on pending bills.  If passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, SB 731 would take effect on January 1, 2014.

Written by:

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.