Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Questions about CEQA fast-track legislation now on Governor Brown's desk

Please forgive me for completely missing the news that AB 900, the environmental review fast-tracking bill about which I wrote last week, is further along. Apparently the hollowed-out bill that was filled in with CEQA reforms for Senate votes a week ago has also passed the Assembly - it had to have been after 3:30 AM Saturday, since the Senate still had the bill then, but since I wasn't on a cot in a Capitol hallway, I don't know exactly. 

Eric Richardson of Blogdowntown and I had a lively discussion about this last week. So I decided to read the text of both the AEG stadium speeder-legislation (SB 292) and the big-scale assembly bill that would do the same thing for a whole cohort of anonymous future projects.

In this post I'll lay out some major provisions of AB 900 and raise questions about their impact on CEQA, the state's long-maligned, elephantine, planning law that keeps the legal industry in business

1. As written, the bill would fast-track "leadership projects" valued at 100 million dollars and up. Does anyone know how many projects this would take in? I would think even just one a fancy hotel could be 100 million in construction costs. So if 3 more fancy hotels go in around Farmers Field, they get to go in fast. Doesn't that make urban planning really hard? Is the point of streamlining CEQA to speed job creation? If this is really for jobs, why not tie the qualifying projects to jobs or job hours? SB 292 can, at least, specifically refer to 12 thousand construction jobs and 11 thousand permanent convention center and hospitality jobs AEG's promising in its preamble. AB 900 doesn't have that. 

2. Projects should be certified LEED silver. So why silver and not gold? Why anything when you can't know when you're fast-tracking a project how it will actually rate on the LEED clipboard, since the points are awarded as constructed? This, too, doesn't do much for Senator Steinberg's sometime-cause of SB 375-smart-growth-urban planning. How will California care about that (if it wants to)?

3. The governor is empowered to certify projects on his own, but he's explicitly freed from judicial review. (No wonder Governor Brown likes it.) He's supposed to use the guidelines of the general definition of a project, but without judicial review, who's gonna make him (or any future governor)? 

4. Covered projects "where applicable" should achieve "a 10-percent greater standard for transportation efficiency than for comparable projects." This seems squishy twice. Where applicable is spongy like cake. Eric Richardson argued to me that 10 percent is a loose attempt to parallel SB 292's transportation efficiency standard. But the detail described above in SB 292 is lacking in 900: no enforcement provisions, no reporting back, no life-of-the-project authority. 

5. Projects can offset greenhouse gas emissions, "including greenhouse gas emissions from employee transportation, as determined by the State Air Resources Board pursuant to Division 25.5." This is a reference to AB 32, which doesn't itself apply to "leadership projects." Instead, that law has empowered state agencies to make rules that curtail greenhouse gases. NRDC's David Pettit quips about AB 900's emissions provision, "it's like asking the CHP to regulate airplane speeds." I prefer a Liz Lemon quote here. "What the what?"


(Image of the state capitol in the dark of night by Cal_Gecko via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.)