Tag: CEQA reform

OPR Releases Draft SB 743 CEQA Guidelines for the Evaluation of Transportation Impacts

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released a preliminary discussion draft of revisions to the CEQA Guidelines implementing Senate Bill 743 on August 6, 2014. Currently, transportation impacts are typically evaluated based on the delay in traffic flows that vehicles experience at intersections and roadway segments. Delay is measured by the “level of service” or LOS. Mitigation for these impacts often takes the form of traffic improvements focused on increasing roadway capacity such as adding lanes. Recognizing that this practice may actually be counter to public policy by encouraging auto use and emissions, and discouraging alternative forms of transportation, OPR has proposed changes to how transportation impacts are evaluated. Specifically, OPR’s draft revisions to the CEQA Guidelines propose analysis of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), in lieu of LOS, for evaluating transportation impacts.

Most notably, OPR proposes to add Section 15064.3, a new section of the CEQA Guidelines that addresses new methods of measuring transportation impacts. Because Section 15064.3 would be added to Article 5 of the CEQA Guidelines, which relates to the “preliminary review of projects and conduct of initial study,” the new section would apply in the context of negative declarations and EIRs. To conform to the proposed Section 15064.3, OPR has also proposed amendments to the questions in Section XVI, Transportation and Traffic, of Appendix G.

Draft Section 15064.3 includes four subdivisions. Subdivision (a) discusses the purpose of the new section, stating that the primary considerations of a project’s transportation impacts are the amount and distance of vehicle travel associated with a project. Subdivision (a) expressly states that “[a] project’s effect on automobile delay does not constitute a significant environmental impact.” The draft section does not modify CEQA’s general rules regarding the determination of a project’s significant impacts, including the need to consider substantial evidence of a project’s environmental impacts.

Subdivision (b) specifies the criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts. As stated in subdivision (b), VMT is “generally” the best measurement of transportation impacts, thus allowing agencies room to tailor their analyses to include other measures if appropriate. The draft section describes factors that might indicate whether a project’s VMT is less than significant or not, and gives examples of projects that might have less-than-significant impacts with respect to VMT, such as projects that would result in decreased VMT. Subdivision (b) recognizes that not all transportation projects will induce vehicle travel, such as projects improving transit operations, and thus would not result in a significant transportation impact. In addition to a project’s impact on VMT, “a lead agency may also consider localized effects of project-related transportation on safety.” Finally, subdivision (b) states that a lead agency’s evaluation of a project’s VMT “is subject to a rule of reason,” but also states that “a lead agency generally should not confine its evaluation to its own political boundaries.”

Subdivision (c) refers to proposed amendments in Appendix F, which addresses energy impacts. The proposed amendments to Appendix F acknowledge that VMT may be relevant to the analysis and mitigation of energy impacts. The proposed amendments to Appendix F include examples of mitigation measures and alternatives that may reduce VMT. Examples include improving the jobs/housing balance and improving access to transit. Subdivision (c) clarifies that the proposed revisions in the CEQA Guidelines and Appendix F do not limit an agency’s ability to condition a project pursuant to other laws. For example, agencies may continue to require projects to meet LOS designations set out in applicable general plans or zoning codes. Nor do the proposed revisions prevent an agency from enforcing previously adopted mitigation measures.

Finally, subdivision (d) proposes a phased approach to implementing Section 15064.3. OPR proposes that Section 15064.3 shall apply prospectively to new projects that have not started environmental review. Section 15064.3 shall apply immediately upon the filing of Section 15064.3 with the Secretary of State. After January 1, 2016, Section 15064.3 shall apply statewide.

Under the second part of OPR’s proposed revisions, OPR proposes amendments to Appendix F, which discusses the evaluation of energy impacts under CEQA noted above.

The draft guidelines can be viewed at:


OPR is requesting that comments be submitted by October 10, 2014.

OPR’s Preliminary Recommendations for Evaluation of Alternative Methods of Transportation Analysis Available for Review

Senate Bill 743, passed on September 27, 2013 directs the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), in part, to prepare revisions to the CEQA Guidelines establishing criteria for measuring the significance of projects’ transportation impacts. OPR has produced a Preliminary Evaluation of Alternative Methods of Transportation Analysis, which develops those recommendations by exploring new ways to measure environmental impacts related to transportation. The goal of the new transportation-impact metrics is to both reduce environmental review costs and achieve better economic, health, and environmental outcomes from such review.

Currently, CEQA review of transportation impacts uses the Level of Service (LOS) metric, which focuses on vehicle delay at intersections and on roadways. Mitigation measures to increase traffic flow typically involve increasing the capacity (i.e., width) of the intersection or road, rather than encouraging alternate lower-emission forms of transportation. LOS has thus been criticized as working against state goals like GHG emissions reductions, infill development, and multimodal transportation networks. Other criticisms of the metric are that LOS is difficult and expensive to calculate; LOS measures motorist convenience rather than physical impact to the environment; and LOS skews environmental priorities by characterizing bicycle and pedestrian improvements as detrimental to transportation, thereby discouraging more environmentally friendly modes of travel.

SB 743 requires OPR to provide non-LOS evaluation methods for transportation impacts. These criteria must promote the reduction of greenhouse gases and the development of transportation networks, particularly in areas with transportation infrastructure already in place. The most important way in which SB 743 facilitates achievement of state goals is that once the new criteria are in place, LOS-measured traffic will not be considered a significant impact on the environment. The bill does not limit the type of projects to which the new transportation criteria would apply.

OPR’s preliminary evaluation studies a number of suggested alternative measures of transportation impacts including vehicle miles traveled per automobile or per capita, automobile trips generated, fuel use, and motor vehicle hours traveled. The agency’s analysis highlights the difficulty of using each metric and identifies which mitigation measures and project alternatives might result from the use of each metric.

Comments on the proposed metrics are due by February 14, 2014 to [email protected]. OPR must produce a draft of the Guidelines revisions by July 1, 2014.

Updated SB 731, CEQA Modernization Act of 2013, released by Steinberg

A revised version of SB 731, the CEQA Modernization Act of 2013, has been released by California pro tem Darrell Steinberg. This bill includes numerous but limited revisions to CEQA, with a focus on streamlining the approval process for what the bill considers to be environmentally beneficial projects. Various revisions address transportation issues and infill development to further facilitate the Sustainable Communities Strategy previously adopted by SB 375. The most substantive revisions to CEQA in SB 731 are described below.

One provision addressed in SB 731 revises Government Code section 65457, which exempts residential development projects from CEQA within specific plan areas for which an EIR has been certified. Under the current law, this exemption cannot be applied if an event specified in CEQA (Pub. Resources Code) section 21166 occurs. The revision states, that for the purposes of Government Code section 65457, an event specified in CEQA section 21166 does not include “any new information consisting solely of argument, speculation, unsubstantiated opinion or narrative, evidence that is clearly inaccurate or erroneous, or evidence of social or economic impacts that do not contribute to, or are caused by, physical impacts on the environment.” This provision could reduce redundancy in EIR preparation by making the use of tiering under these circumstances more defensible.

SB 731 also proposes standardized thresholds of significance for environmentally beneficial projects. This revision directs the Office of Planning and Research to propose revisions to the CEQA Guidelines establishing thresholds of significance for noise and for transportation and parking impacts of qualifying projects within “transit priority areas.” In addition, this revision declares that aesthetic impacts of qualifying projects within transit priority areas shall not be considered significant impacts on the environments. The bill does not prevent local jurisdictions from considering aesthetic impacts pursuant to local ordinances or other discretionary powers.

Another substantive revision addresses preparation of the administrative record in CEQA cases. The bill would add section 21167.6.2 to CEQA, which describes a process by which the administrative record is prepared concurrently with the administrative process, and documents must be made available electronically to the public shortly after receipt by the lead agency. This process will be applied to projects of statewide, regional, or areawide environmental significance, or if requested by the project applicant.

SB 731 would also amend Section 21091 of the Public Resources Code and related provisions of law to establish clear statutory rules under which “late hits” and “document dumps” are prohibited or restricted prior to certification of an EIR, if a project proponent or lead agency has not substantively changed the draft EIR or substantively modified the project.

The bill would also revise CEQA section 21081.5 to require agencies to make findings described in section 21081 available in draft form for public review at least fifteen days prior to approval of the proposed project.

The revised SB 731 also adds a provision to section 44273 of the Health and Safety Code to provide funding of up to $30 million annually to the Strategic Growth Council in order to fund planning activities for transit priority projects by local agencies.

Finally, SB 731 revises CEQA section 21168.9, which describes how courts should proceed when issuing a writ of mandate in a CEQA action. Section 21168.9 already encourages courts to issue detailed writs which are no more broad than necessary to address defects in the CEQA process. The revised section 21168.9 requires even further specificity in a writ of mandate. The bill can be viewed at: http://ct3k1.capitoltrack.com/Bills/13Bills/sen/sb_0701-0750/sb_731_bill_20130423_amended_sen_v98.pdf  [John Wheat]