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California Attacks GHGs By Unifying Planning and Transportation

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., October 3, 2008

On September 30, 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 375, designed to inject comprehensive transportation and land use planning into metropolitan development.  The bill aims to curb urban sprawl and to emphasize public transportation over use of cars by tying together regional housing, transportation, and environmental planning.  Specifically, it: (1) requires the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for the automobile and light truck sector; (2) requires that regional transportation plans each include a “sustainable communities strategy” (“SCS”) designed to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets; and (3) requires metropolitan planning organizations (“MPOs”) to guide housing development to act in conjunction with regional transportation plans by rezoning to encourage development near public transportation.  To encourage compliance with this law, the state will prioritize transportation funds in favor of development which adheres to the law.  As added incentive, the bill relaxes CEQA requirements for housing developments which comply with a sustainable communities strategy. 

The transportation section of the bill requires that CARB release preliminary greenhouse gas reduction targets for each MPO for the automobile and light truck sector by June 30, 2010, followed by final targets by September 30, 2010.  Then, each of the 18 MPOs will develop an SCS as part of its regional transportation plan designed to meet the target.  If the sustainable communities strategy section of the plan does not meet CARB’s targets, the MPO will be required  to develop, as a separate document, an alternative planning strategy.  The law requires that the SCS be “internally consistent” with the regional transportation plan, which dovetails with current legal requirements that transportation funds only be spent on projects consistent with those plans.    

The housing section of the bill amends the Department of Housing and Community Development process for setting regional housing allocations for MPOs to make sure that housing strategies are consistent with the SCS.  Specifically, the regions will be encouraged to foster dense, urban-type housing (by adopting minimum density standards) in close proximity to employment centers and  public transportation.  Local governments will be required modify their housing elements not less than every eight years and to rezone property as necessary to foster this type of development. 

To encourage residential and mixed-use development that meets CARB greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, the law allows that any projects deemed to be consistent with an SCS can skip certain CEQA analyses.  For example, those projects will not be required to conduct an analysis of growth-inducing impacts, impacts on global warming, or impacts on the regional transportation network.  In addition, the lead agency on the CEQA review will not have to consider reduced density alternatives, which are designed to reduce car and light duty truck trips, and local governments will be permitted to establish unique mitigations standards for traffic impacts.  Further reduced CEQA review will be permitted for dense housing projects (20 or more units per acre) which are in close proximity (1/2 a mile) to public transportation.  A very specific subset of transit projects will be completely exempt from all CEQA analysis, but that exemption will be limited to projects declared to be “sustainable communities projects” by a local legislative body. 

To read the press release accompanying the bill signing, click here.  For further information, please contact Nico Van Aelstyn at (415) 262-4008 or NvanAelstyn@bdlaw.com, or Fred Wagner at (202) 789-6041 or fwagner@bdlaw.com. This article was prepared with the assistance of Daniel M. Brian.