CEQA bill on infill development opposed by business

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, Sept. 12, 2013

A bill to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), SB 731 (President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento) is being amended today, Wednesday, September 11. The CEQA Working Group, including business, local government and other stakeholders say it does not accomplish its mission for meaningful CEQA reform and introduces new litigation hooks and delays related to infill development projects.

Early this year, the CEQA Working Group hoped that SB 731 would streamline CEQA and eliminate duplicative review for projects already approved as part of plans for which an Environmental Impact Report has been prepared. It could also provide that compliance with California's stringent environmental laws would serve as substantial evidence to satisfy requirements in CEQA that developers mitigate the environmental impact of their projects.  These needed reforms are not included in the bill.

Instead, the bill attempts, but fails, to make infill development more feasible under CEQA. SB 731 continues to restrict the ability to utilize streamlining for “transit priority projects” by excluding suburban and rural areas with poor transit service. It also fails to eliminate "aesthetics" as an impact for certain infill locations. And it fails to eliminate “parking” as a CEQA impact in infill areas – it expressly preserves as a CEQA impact emissions from cars that spend time hunting for parking.

SB 731 also requires the Office of Planning & Research (OPR) to study economic displacement issues caused by infill development, and to provide guidelines and recommendations for their alleviation. Petitioners and courts could reasonably read the addition as having immediate statutory effect, and begin litigating under this new non-environmental theory. This would place a new, ambiguous and litigious uncertainty squarely onto the back of infill development.

For these reasons, CMTA is not supporting SB 731. 

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