CEQA Bills of Interest Introduced

CEQA Modernization

On February 22, State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced SB 731, which contains intent language designed to reduce duplication in EIRs by expanding the use of “tiering”, allowing the courts to send back for repair only the portion of an EIR that is found to be incomplete or lacking required specificity, limiting or prohibiting “late hits” and “document dumps” designed solely to delay projects late in the environmental review process, and aappropriating $30 million in new funding to local governments to update their general, area, and specific plans so that they can be better used to “tier” and streamline environmental review of projects built pursuant to those plans.

AB 731 has been read for the first time, it has not yet been referred to committee.

CEQA and the Courts

Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) introduced Assembly Bill 515 on February 21, to establish regional CEQA courts which would have exclusive jurisdiction over CEQA litigation.

AB 515 would establish two compliance courts, one in Northern California and one in Southern California, with sole original jurisdiction to review writ of mandate cases involving CEQA. The decisions of the newly established CEQA compliance courts would be appealable only to the Supreme Court. The CEQA compliance courts would issue preliminary decisions, based upon the briefing before oral argument. In the event of a ruling against a public agency under AB 515, the court’s decision would have to identify the agency’s error and specify an action to be taken in subsequent administrative proceedings to correct the error.

AB 515 has not yet been referred to committee.

In January, Senate Majority Leader Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) introduced SB 123 to create a division within each Superior Court specific to lawsuits regarding CEQA or other environmental topics. Existing law requires counties with a population of over 200,000 to have one or more judges with CEQA experience. SB 123 removes the population limit and expands the type of environmental cases heard by CEQA Judges.

SB 123 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

CEQA and High Speed Rail

On February 21, State Senator Galgiani (D-Stockton) introduced SB 525, which provides that a project by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission and the High-Speed Rail Authority to improve the existing tracks, structure, bridges, signaling systems, and associated appurtenances located on the existing railroad right-of-way used by the Altamont Commuter Express service qualifies for the CEQA exemption listed at section 21080(d)(10) of the Public Resources Code. The exemption currently excludes projects for the institution or increase of passenger or commuter services on rail or highway rights-of-way already in use, including modernization of existing stations and parking facilities.

SB 525 may be acted upon on or after March 25, 2013.

(By Holly Roberson)