CSAC Bulletin Article

CEQA Bills Continue to Advance – Feedback Needed

June 4, 2020

The Legislature has been holding hearings to consider bills in policy and fiscal committees since it reconvened from emergency recess in early May. The number of bills has been pared-back significantly compared to what’s typical for this time of the year. And although response to COVID-19 and its economic fallout has become a key legislative focus, other legislative priorities also continue to advance. CSAC has been actively tracking several CEQA-related measures described below with implications for small water projects, housing, and transportation projects.

These bills must pass out of the house in which they were introduced by the end of June to continue moving through the legislative process this year. To meet that deadline, the Legislature has revised its original calendar and has set a more compressed schedule for bills to be considered by policy and fiscal committees.

Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources

SB 974 (Hurtado) – CEQA exemption for small disadvantaged community water systems: This bill would exempt from CEQA projects that primarily benefit a small disadvantaged community water system. These projects must improve water quality or water supply reliability, or encourage conservation. The bill specifically does not include new facilities for diversion or conveyance of surface water. The Senate Environmental Quality Committee added several clarifications to the bill including excluding desalination, clearly defining contaminant levels, and limiting the types of projects that may be exempt. The bill most recently passed that committee without receiving a “no” vote. CSAC expects further amendments to this bill to exclude projects, among other things, that do not impact wetlands, historical resources, or other significant environmental impacts. This bill could impact counties with community water systems in disadvantaged communities.

CSAC’s Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources team is seeking feedback on this bill. Please email Catherine Freeman or Nick Cronenwett with any comments or concerns.

Housing, Land Use, and Transportation

AB 2323 (Friedman and Chiu) – CEQA housing exemptions: Would expand CEQA exemptions for housing and other projects by:

  • Permitting community plans to serve as the basis for exemption of residential, mixed-use and employment center projects near transit
  • Permitting specified exemptions to be claimed on former toxic sites cleared for residential use by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)
  • Eliminating the exclusion of sites within the boundaries of a state conservancy from existing exemptions for affordable agricultural housing, affordable housing, and infill housing

In response to concerns regarding the bill’s provisions related to clearing of toxic sites by DTSC, the author has committed to removing Section 3 of the bill, which is where these provisions are included in it.

SB 288 (Wiener)CEQA exemptions for qualifying transportation projects: Was recently amended to provide a broad CEQA exemption for new bicycle and pedestrian facilities and, only within urbanized areas, electric vehicle charging stations. SB 288 also extends an existing exemption for bicycle plans, but only for restriping, signage, bicycle parking and storage, and signal timing, and only within urbanized areas.

Finally, the bill creates a new exemption for the following types of transportation projects:

  • Mass transit projects on existing rail or highway rights-of-way,
  • Passenger or commuter service on high-occupancy vehicle or existing roadway shoulders,
  • Rail, light rail and bus maintenance repair, storage, administrative and operations facilities,
  • Repair or rehabilitation of bridges on roadways with a local, major collector, minor collector, or minor arterial functional classification.

The bill includes several qualifications for use of the exemptions, including requirements that projects must be located in an urbanized area or, connect two urbanized areas, and a requirement to certify that the project will be completed by a skilled and trained workforce.

SB 995 (Atkins) – CEQA relief for large residential projects: Would extend the AB 900 environmental leadership program, which allows for streamlined judicial review of CEQA challenges to qualifying projects (details about the existing program are available here) to 2025 and lower the current $100 million project threshold to $15 million. 

This bill passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee last week. It is part of the Senate Housing Production Package, which CSAC discussed in a recent bulletin article. CSAC has expressed our desire to work with the Senate authors and is working with to secure amendments that address concerns with these measures. CSAC’s letter with UCC and RCRC on the main elements of the package is here.

SB 950 (Jackson) – CEQA housing and land use: Would have made significant changes to the CEQA process by exempting emergency shelters, supportive housing, and transitional housing from CEQA requirements, while also expanding document translation requirements and making other technical and procedural changes.

The bill, which faced stiff opposition from business interests and other groups, failed passage out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee last week, and the author has indicated that she does not intend to attempt to continue moving it during the current legislative session.

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