CSAC Bulletin Article

Housing, Land Use and Transportation update 3/21/2014


Counties Discuss Transportation Environmental Review with Government Accountability Office

Yesterday, county representatives met with analysts from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent investigative arm of Congress, to discuss the relationship between the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as they relate to county federal aid highway projects. The 2012 federal transportation reauthorization bill, MAP-21, required a GAO study of state-level environmental laws to determine which states had laws that offered similar environmental protections and opportunities for public participation as NEPA. Moreover, the study seeks to determine the cost and frequency of duplicative state and federal environmental reviews.

As counties know, CSAC has previously supported CEQA-NEPA reciprocity for federally-funded transportation projects due to the robust environmental review and mitigations required by CEQA. Due in part to advocacy by California’s counties, California is currently the sole participant in a NEPA delegation pilot project, whereby Caltrans, rather than the Federal Highways Administration, takes the lead in ensuring NEPA compliance for local federal aid projects.

While the NEPA delegation pilot has helped improve the environmental process, county representatives stressed that there were still opportunities for further streamlining, including NEPA-CEQA reciprocity. While practitioners have found that the additional requirements of NEPA review have seldom changed the outcome of a project or provided significantly more environmental information, the additional requirements create delays and increase costs. These costs and delays are often related to providing additional technical reports for minor projects that are categorically exempt from CEQA and from rewriting reports in the favored format of various federal agencies charged with reviewing environmental documents.

CSAC staff were joined by public works staff with experience in federal aid projects and environmental planning from the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego and Stanislaus. We want to extend our thanks to these counties for providing the staff resources necessary to give the GAO an on-the-ground perspective. The GAO is still in the data collection phase of the project, but the final report is expected next fall—hopefully in time to influence the next federal transportation bill.

SB 1048 (Roth) – Request for Comments
As introduced February 18, 2014

SB 1048, by Senator Roth, would exclude up to 1,000 pounds of additional gross vehicle weight added to a ready mix concrete truck resulting from compliance with California Air Resources Board regulations from the total gross weight of the vehicle. Cities and counties own and maintain 82% of roadway miles in California, and those local streets and roads are built to standards based on federal law. Case-by-case exceptions to vehicle weight limits in the face of staggering need for maintenance and preservation of the local transportation network will exacerbate the transportation funding shortfall. At the same time, CSAC recognizes statewide mandates to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill’s proponents argue that increasing the gross weight limit will prevent concrete producers from simply making a greater number of trips to meet currently applicable weight limits. CSAC is interested in comments from counties related to the impacts from the proposed exemption and perspectives on the trade-offs associated with clean air and climate change mandates. The bill is set for hearing in Senate Transportation and Housing on April 1.

AB 2173 (Bradford) – Request for Comments 
As introduced February 20, 2014

AB 2173, by Assembly Member Bradford, would create a new definition for a “low-speed electric bicycle.” The new class of vehicle would have two or three wheels, a maximum power output of 750 watts, and weigh less than 80 pounds. Current law prohibits “motorized bicycles” from travelling on bike paths and bikeways, but allows their use on on-street bike lanes. This bill would exempt “low-speed electric bicycles” from the current prohibition of their use on a bicycle path or trail, bikeway, equestrian trail, or hiking or recreational trail.

CSAC is interested in comments from counties related to issues that could potentially arise from allowing the use of “low-speed electric bicycles” on bicycle paths, trails and bikeways. AB 2173 has been referred to the Transportation Committee and can be heard after March 23.

AB 2054 (Olsen) – Request for Comments 
As amended March 20, 2014

AB 2054, by Assembly Member Olsen, would allow the use of an “electrically motorized skateboard” in a bicycle lane, bikeway, or bicycle path or trail provided that the skateboard has a motor with a power output of no more than 1,000 watts, a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour at ground level, and is incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power or gravity is used to propel the skateboard faster than 20 miles per hour. Furthermore, the skateboard must have variable throttle control and independent braking control. The bill would, however, allow counties to adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution prohibiting or restricting persons from propelling an electrically motorized skateboard in a bicycle lane or on a bikeway or bicycle path or trail.

CSAC is interested in counties perspectives as to how the use of electrically motorized skateboards on bike lanes or other local bicycle facilities will impact your county, as well as the requirement that counties opt-out if they choose to prohibit or restrict the use of these device. AB 2054 has been referred to the Transportation Committee and can be heard after March 23.

Public Works Administration

AB 1823 (Wagner) – Request for Comment
As introduced February 18, 2014

AB 1823, by Assembly Member Wagner, would define a “disputed amount” for the purposes of withholding payment from a contractor or subcontractor so that it would not include the amount of any claim for additional compensation by the subcontractor against the prime contractor or owner. Existing law allows specified persons to withhold from a contractor or subcontractor no more than 150% of the disputed amount if there is a good faith dispute over the amount due on a contract payment.

This measure is similar to AB 536 (Wagner) from 2013, which CSAC has not taken a position on. We encourage counties to review this measure to determine whether CSAC should take a position on this issue. AB 1823 can be heard in committee after March 21.

SB 1446 (DeSaulnier) – Request for Comment
As introduced February 21, 2014

SB 1446 by Senator DeSaulnier would allow Caltrans to maintain any files of its final construction plans and right-of-way record maps for all completed state highway projects created on or after January 1, 2014, in electronic form. It would delete the provision allowing the department to submit plans, maps, or drawings in microfilmed form. Instead, the bill would allow the department, in counties maintaining an appropriate electronic database, to submit plans, maps, or drawings to the office of the county recorder in electronic form in lieu of filing in that office as specified.

CSAC is interested in your comments on this measure. SB 1446 has been referred to the Committee on Transportation and Housing and can be heard after March 25.

Land Use

AB 2181 (Bloom) – Request for Comments 
As introduced February 20, 2014

AB 2181, by Assembly Member Bloom, would authorize each city, city and county, or county to require that owners assess the earthquake hazard of soft story and older concrete buildings, and would include concrete residential buildings that were constructed prior to the adoption of local building codes that ensure ductility, as specified, as potentially hazardous if an earthquake occurs. It would also allow local governments to employ seismic evaluation of older concrete residential buildings to address individual seismically hazardous buildings without regard to how the buildings came to the attention of local officials. The bill would require the seismic retrofit of a concrete residential building identified as potentially hazardous to comply with the recommendations of a qualified expert, with nationally recognized research recommendations, or with a nationally recognized model codes.

CSAC would appreciate comments from counties on the local implications of this proposed legislation. AB 2181 has been double-referred to the Committees on Local Government and Housing and Community Development and can be heard after March 23.

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