Steinberg bill to make CEQA work better statewide signed into law

September 27, 2013

Changes will cut red tape for urban development statewide and streamline construction of Downtown Sacramento Arena

(Sacramento, CA) – Urban development and economic growth across California received a significant boost today, after Governor Edmund G. Brown signed into law a bill authored and negotiated by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D – Sacramento) to modernize CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. The new law also holds specific provisions to help the on-time construction of a major economic development in downtown Sacramento.

“Modernizing a good law means making it work better, as opposed to stripping it of meaning. That’s what these changes to our environmental regulations achieve”, Senator Steinberg said. “CEQA has been a great defender of California’s irreplaceable natural beauty. This bill’s changes fuse CEQA with the promotion of smart urban growth, which is a victory for the economy, for the environment, and for California.”

Senator Steinberg’s proposed changes to CEQA were endorsed by California developers, who urged the Governor to sign Senate Bill 743. On Tuesday, the California Infill Builders Federation wrote that the measure “will advance infill development creating economic benefits, promoting the state’s GHG [Green House Gasses] and air quality goals, and revitalizing our urban centers.” Urban planning expert, academic author and Ventura Mayor, William Fulton wrote recently, “Steinberg actually got some significant reform.”

The major statewide modernizations of CEQA signed into law today are:

  • Removing parking and aesthetics standards as grounds for legal challenges against project developments in urban areas. These standards are most commonly used as CEQA litigation hooks to slow or terminate a new development project. The standards remain in place for green-field developments.

  • Modernizing the statewide measurements against which traffic impacts are assessed and resolved. Currently, a project’s traffic impact can be mitigated by increasing surface parking lots and new vehicle lanes, which increases congestion and pollution. A modernized metric allows traffic impacts to be offset by mass-transit stations, which won’t be subject to CEQA litigation.

  • Expanding an exemption from CEQA litigation for projects located within transit priority areas where a full Environmental Impact Review has already been completed and the project doesn’t deviate from the local specific plan. Currently, the exemption applies only to residential projects but the new proposal expands that exemption to include mixed use (residential/commercial) projects. Examples of mixed-use developments include Rockridge in Oakland, CA or Midtown in Sacramento, CA.

The law also speeds-up judicial review of CEQA litigation challenging the downtown Sacramento Sports and Entertainment complex, while maintaining high standards for environmental protections through demanding a full Environmental Impact Report, public comment, and mitigation of any adverse environmental impacts related to construction of the Sacramento Kings arena.

With regard to the Sacramento provisions, Senator Steinberg said “The whole community has a part to play in keeping one of the region’s most valued assets. The Governor’s signature of SB 743 will help create up to seven billion dollars in economic impact to Sacramento over the next thirty years, and over 3,700 Sacramento area jobs.”

In addition, a portion of the measure applies to all large, high wage Environmental Leadership Projects statewide as a fix to AB 900, after a ruling by Alameda County Superior Court. This measure addresses that issue by requiring an expeditious environmental challenge review process at the county superior court level, in addition to an expeditious review process at the appellate court level.

Senate Bill 743 was authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg. Co-authors were Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin), Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Roseville), Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), Assemblymember Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), Assemblymember Dan Logue (R-Marysville) and Assemblymember Richard Pan (D-Sacramento).