CSAC Bulletin Article

Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources 2019 Legislative Wrap Up

September 19, 2019

It was eventful end of the legislative year for bills in the CSAC Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources (AENR) policy area. The Legislature and Administration tackled the difficult topics of utility liability (AB 1054, Chapters 79, 2019) before the summer recess, leaving a little less steam for outstanding policy issues in the recycling, waste management and laud use space at the end session. Despite delay in some areas, CSAC was successful in helping to push through several measures that improve fire safety. The following is a brief snapshot of what made it through the final days of session and what did not!

Recycling Measures

Two major recycling bills, SB 54 (Allen) and AB 1080 (Gonzalez), collectively known as the California Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act, failed to make it across the finish line as the legislative session ended last week. CSAC was an early supporter of the measures and the approach taken, which would have called for a 75% reduction in waste from disposable packaging and required manufacturers of products to reduce the amount of single-use and non-recyclable materials used. Counties strongly supported these measures because they would have helped to reduce waste at its source- creating a more cost-effective structure for local governments while protecting the environment.  Despite multiple rounds of amendments which neutralized the opposition of major trade groups like the American Chemistry Council and the American Beverage Association, and even brought on the support of groups such as Dow Inc. and the California Grocers Association, the bills still faced opposition from some industry groups. CSAC will continue to work with supporters and the author’s office to help achieve a successful outcome next year.

Land Use

SB 182 by Senator Jackson, failed to move off the floor last week. This bill would have improved upon the local planning process with the goal of decreasing fire risk to our communities. The bill would have, among other things, imposed new planning requirements on local governments and required cities and counties to make specified findings on fire standards prior to permitting development in very high risk fire areas while maintaining local land use authority. CSAC was an early supporter of the measure as well along with our local government partners. The bill faced concerns from the Senate Housing Committee because of provisions of the measure that attempted to reconcile the sometimes competing goals of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process and development in fire prone areas. Ultimately, the Chair of the Senate Housing Committee, Senator Weiner requested that the bill be transmitted back to the Assembly for additional work next year to address outstanding issues. CSAC will continue to work with stakeholders on this important measure.

Fire Safety Issues

Despite some set-backs, the Legislature was successful in passing several measures related to wildfire prevention and safety. These measures ran the spectrum from improved defensible space programs to CEQA exemptions for egress routes in high fire threat subdivisions. CSAC supported these measures throughout the Legislative Session, and they await signature on the Governor’s desk.

AB 1516 (Freidman) improves defensible space and electrical transmission line vegetation clearance requirements in fire threat areas, and would help Cal Fire provide assistance with fuels management to counties in order to protect against future devastating wildfires. Specifically, CSAC supports counties working closely together with Cal Fire in order to improve defensible space and non-combustion areas near communities and structures in wildfire threat areas to improve outcomes in the future. The Legislature also passed SB 247 (Dodd) to help improve conditions in the Wildland Urban Interface. SB 247 requires IOUs to comply with vegetation management requirements within their wildfire mitigation plans. The measure requires the Wildfire Safety Division at the CPUC to verify vegetation management work completed by the IOUs to confirm compliance with their submitted wildfire mitigation plans.

The Legislature also passed SB 209 (Dodd) which would create a state level Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center to help monitor weather and fire data statewide to improve outcomes during California’s increasingly devastating year round fire season. In addition, the Legislature passed AB 394 (Obernolte) which creates a CEQA exemption process for local communities to develop better egress routes in residential sub-divisions facing high fire threats.

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