CSAC Bulletin Article

Housing, Land Use and Transportation 08/26/2011

California Environmental Quality Act 

SB 226 (Simitian) – Concerns
As Amended on August 23, 2011

SB 226, by Senator Joe Simitian, would makes changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) related to solar facilities and the CEAC comment process.

For information on the CEQA changes related to solar facilities, please see the Agriculture and Natural Resources article in this same issue of The CSAC Bulletin. 

With respect to the CEQA comment provisions, CSAC has concerns related to the amendments to Public Resources Code §21177 that appear to address issues local agencies have with receiving late comments on CEQA documents. CSAC supports an alternative proposal as recommended by the American Planning Association. Their suggested amendments outlined below would allow productive public comments on environmental documents and any significant new information or comments related to the adequacy of the previous response from the public agency. 

Specifically, a public agency should be required to consider only comments pertaining to the adequacy of previous public agency responses to comments received prior to a final environmental impact report or negative declaration and significant new information, including:

  • a new significant environmental impact;
  • a substantial increase in the severity of an environmental impact; and
  • a feasible project alternative or mitigation measure that is substantially different from previously analyzed alternatives or mitigation measures.

This suggested change provides clear guidance regarding when, and to what degree, a lead agency must consider written materials received after the close of the public comment period.

SB 226 was passed out of the Assembly Agriculture Committee on August 25.

Public Works Administration

SB 293 (Padilla) – Oppose 
As Amended on August 15, 2011

SB 293, by Senator Alex Padilla, would cap retention on a public works project at five percent. Current law requires retention of at least five percent on public works projects, with the flexibility for public agencies to utilize the most appropriate retention, case-by-case, to protect taxpayers, ratepayers and Californians who depend upon core local services.

A five percent retention cap imposes a one-size-fits-all policy and removes flexibility to appropriately manage risk on a project-by-project basis. Local agencies must accept the lowest responsible bidder when awarding contracts. The flexibility provided in existing law allows agencies to do a project risk assessment and determine retention provisions that are appropriate to the level of risk assessed for a project.

Prohibiting retention over 5% is bad policy at the worst possible time. During this difficult economic and budgetary time, public agencies, taxpayers and ratepayers cannot afford failures on the part of contractors. Furthermore, in this climate, contractors faced with difficult financial decisions are more likely to abandon a project when he or she deems the remaining work to be unprofitable. 

Supporters assert that this bill is in response to the downturn in the economy; however, this is the eighth attempt to enact this legislative proposal, the first of which dates back to 1996. We do not believe that this legislation is in response to the hard economic times, rather a solution in search of a problem. Furthermore, local agencies have been equally hurt from the downturn in the economy, slashing budgets and staff, and operating in extremely fiscally constrained environments.

Existing law affords contractors an interest-bearing escrow account for all retention proceeds. Current law provides contractors the ability to establish escrow accounts that allow retention proceeds to gain interest payments for the contractor while providing adequate assurance to the public agency that the project will be completed. Additionally, local agencies commonly reduce retention to 5% at the half-way point of project completion, if adequate progress is being made and the contractor is acting in good faith. SB 293 would thwart the ability of local agencies to properly ensure projects are completed. 

SB 293 was passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 25.

Transportation

AB 650 (Blumenfield) – Support
As Amended on August 15, 2011

AB 650, by Assembly Member Bob Blumenfield, would create, until March 30, 2013, the Blue Ribbon Task Force (Task Force) on Public Transportation for the 21st Century. The Task Force, a 12-member body appointed by the Senate Rules Committee and the Speaker of the Assembly, would be required to submit a written report to the Governor and Legislature by September 30, 2012 that shall include, among other things, specific findings and recommendations relating to the current state of California’s transit system, the level and types of transit needed to meet economic, equity, public health, and sustainability goals, the estimated cost of creating the needed transit systems, potential funding sources, and recommendations for future actions resulting from these findings. 

AB 650 will provide valuable information and data to the Legislature and Governor regarding the current cost and demand for public transportation, including how to pay for it. Without this information, it will remain difficult for policy- and decision-makers to make vital funding decisions and support public transportation in the state. For these reasons, CSAC supports AB 650.

AB 650 was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 25.

Indian Gaming 

AB 1417 (Hall) – Support
As Amended on August 25, 2011

AB 1417, by Assembly Member Isadore Hall, would, as amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee, appropriate $9.1 million from the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund (SDF) for grants to local governments to help off-set the impacts on infrastructure and public services from tribal gaming.

The author agreed to amend the measure and reduce the total appropriation after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg expressed concerns over the long term viability of the SDF. While the SDF is a special fund and therefore this bill does not affect the State’s General Fund bottom line in FY 2011-12, the State General Fund must backfill shortfalls which are predicted in the future for this program. 

AB 1417 was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 25.

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